The Signs of The Future – Prelude to Budget 2018

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Fortune-telling is a universal thing. From centuries back to the modern day, people consult astrologers to identify auspicious dates for important occasions like weddings or business openings, or to find answers to questions. Remember Mani the Parakeet Astrologer from Little India? He gained international fame in 2010 after picking all four winners in the World Cup quarter-finals. He had “clients” from the world over and at one point topped Google’s “Hot Searches”!

Why are we so fascinated with foreseeing the future? Fundamentally, it’s because we want to know what lies ahead, so that we can avoid danger, have good outcomes and solve our problems.

For the same reasons, we as a country also want to know what lies ahead. Except, of course, here no astrology or fortune-telling is involved. Instead what we need is a clear-eyed reading of the political, economic and social signs.

These signs show that our future will be significantly affected by three things:

– A shift in the world’s economic centre of gravity;

– Technological disruption;

– An ageing population.

The world’s economic centre of gravity is shifting to Asia, along with the rise of China, the growth of India and development of ASEAN. The fastest growing economies and middle-classes are in Asia. This will fuel demand for goods, services and infrastructure and generate business and create opportunities.

Singapore is well positioned to ride on this growth. Geographically, we are right in the middle of the activity. As a transport hub, we are connected to key cities in Asia. Our multiracial population is our strength. We have relatives, friends and many links to other Asian countries.

To take advantage of the opportunities presented by Asia’s growth, our businesses must internationalise and go into the region. Singaporeans must acquire deep knowledge of Asian countries. This includes overseas school visits and internships, immersion programmes and regional work postings.

Next, technology is disrupting everything. It is changing how we live, work and play. It is changing how jobs are done. In some cases, it is eliminating jobs completely. It is also disrupting entire industries.

Uber and Air BnB have disrupted taxi and hotel industries. In January 2018, Amazon launched Amazon Go, the first supermarket with no checkout. You just pick the items you want from the shelf, leave the shop and get automatically billed.

How is this possible? Answer: technology. Shoppers swipe their smartphones installed with the Amazon Go app at the barrier before entering the store. Inside hundreds of cameras and electronic sensors identify each customer and track every item selected. This data is linked to the app. When they leave, the purchases are automatically billed to the shopper’s credit card.

Imagine this technology being applied in stores like NTUC Supermarkets or Mustafa’s. It will be very convenient for shoppers. But there will be no more cashiers, salespersons or security guards. All removed by technology.

However, technology also creates jobs – there is huge demand for people who can write code, develop apps, do data analytics and create IT solutions. But to get these jobs, our people must have the right skills, qualifications and training.

Then there is our ageing population. In 2015, 1 in 8 (around 450,000) Singaporeans were aged 65 and above. By 2020 this will double – 1 in 4 (around 900,000) Singaporeans will be 65 and above.

This has several implications.

First, healthcare needs and expenditure will increase. Older people have more health issues than younger ones. Hospitalisation, medication and medical services will have to be paid for. For individuals, the most important thing is to stay healthy. Our nutrition and lifestyle when we are young affects how healthy we are when we are old. It is never too late to start a healthy lifestyle. Even half an hour of exercise a day makes a difference. Don’t smoke or drink alcohol. Join the War against Diabetes. Continue to work if you can. After retirement, stay active. Get involved in community and social activities. Social interaction promotes mental and emotional health.

Second, jobs in the healthcare sector will grow – we will need doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, radiologists, medical technicians and many others. Those who get job satisfaction from caring for others should consider this sector. We must also have community support for the elderly.

Third, we must ensure that this healthcare is financially sustainable, given not only the increase in numbers but also that we are living longer. To do that, we will have to increase taxes.

As a country, we must prepare ahead of time to seize the opportunities and overcome the challenges presented by these trends. The Indian community must be part of this endeavour. We must not fall behind. We want our children to get good jobs, to be part of Singapore’s growth and to be able to provide for our parents when they age.

On February 19, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will deliver Budget 2018. The Budget is not simply the nation’s balance sheet of revenue and expenditure. The Budget is our strategic financial plan for the future. It will position us to deal with these 3 trends and more. Tune into the Budget when it is delivered and let us build our future together.


A monthly column where pertinent themes and concerns relating to the Indian community are discussed by Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law and President, SINDA. Look out for it in Tamil Murasu on the first Sunday of each month.