Virus challenge gives Singapore chance to improve: MPs , Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Virus challenge gives Singapore chance to improve: MPs

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These include wider e-commerce adoption, having flexible work arrangements

While the coronavirus outbreak has battered businesses, it has also created opportunities to better prepare Singapore for future challenges, MPs said yesterday.

Speaking on day two of the debate on the Budget statement, they said these include getting more companies to adopt e-commerce, diversifying supply sources as well as making flexible work arrangements permanent for working parents and caregivers.

Fifty-four MPs, including political office-holders, spoke over two days on various aspects of the Budget.

Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) said the shortage of surgical masks highlights the need to diversify Singapore's supply sources as the virus affects the global trade of goods and supplies.

While the Government has announced its intention to seek new sources and look into manufacturing masks locally, "we need to take stock of what other items, besides masks, we potentially need to manufacture on our own in the future".

Mr de Souza asked whether government support is available to help companies facing difficulties connect with more trade partners.

Business continuity plans put in place by companies also provide a chance to test whether flexible working arrangements are feasible, he said.

"If it works, more firms may be ready and confident to try adopting it as an available standard practice to support our working parents with young children and working caregivers."

Mr Chong Kee Hiong (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) asked for more support for companies that are adopting or expanding e-commerce operations.

"This crisis provides the impetus to push SMEs which have been reluctant to consider this sales avenue," he said of small and medium-sized enterprises.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) called for more recognition and support for freelancers, whom she said are especially vulnerable to changes in economic conditions. Many have little savings to see them though a work drought, she said, noting that events and work assignments have been cancelled or deferred over the outbreak.

She asked whether working capital loans or other measures aimed at helping businesses with cash flow issues could be extended to freelancers as well.

Some MPs also echoed calls by those who spoke on Wednesday in urging more immediate and extensive financial support for companies and employees.

Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) asked whether Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat would consider a second relief package, if warranted.

"With the $7.7 billion of budget surplus left for this term of Government to tap on, DPM Heng has ample ammunition to do more," she said.

At least six MPs praised front-line workers such as doctors, nurses and cleaners, with many calling for stronger social and financial support for those most exposed to the virus.

Nominated MP Walter Theseira pointed out the disparity between the wages workers such as cleaners earn and the social value they bring, particularly during a public health crisis. The solution, he said, is to raise the wages of lower-paid workers.

DPM Heng will respond to the MPs when he rounds up the Budget debate today.

Singapore Politics