Water, diesel price hikes raised at forum with Chan Chun Sing

This article is more than 12 months old

Cost concerns and manpower issues came to the fore at a Budget forum yesterday as business leaders questioned if the Government can help relieve the impact of a water price hike, a diesel tax and strict foreign manpower controls.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing urged businesses to continue improving their value-add and venturing overseas for growth.

Mr Chan joined a panel discussion with the Singapore Food Manufacturers' Association president Thomas Pek and the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Roland Ng.

The Chinese-language session, with an audience of 250 people in the business sectors, was part of the Lianhe Zaobao Singapore Budget Business Forum at Shangri-La Hotel.

"Food manufacturing uses a large amount of water, and my industry peers have urged me to ask whether it's possible for us to have some government relief," Mr Pek said.

The 30 per cent water price hike has been debated since its announcement in this year's Budget. The new 10-cent-per-litre diesel duty will also affect industrial users, Mr Pek warned.

The discussion needs to go beyond cost management, Mr Chan said in response.

"The focus is often on costs. But when we are not able to compete on costs due to structural constraints of land or manpower, we must, in turn, improve the value of our products," he added.

While the Government has "no choice" but to raise water prices due to scarcity and high usage, other initiatives are on the cards to create a more cost-effective business environment, Mr Chan said. These include the push for a nationwide natural gas network.

To help businesses, the Government needs trade chambers and associations to play a larger intermediary role.

Mr Chan noted that a target approach is needed as our economic challenges are "more diverse" today.

"The Government can do this only if we work closely with trade and business associations, as they are closer to the ground and know their respective needs."