NTU Bi-Annual Economic Forecast

The NTU bi-annual economic forecast was widely anticipated because the report usually provides a fairly accurate prediction of the overall performance of the Singapore economy in the near future; and it’s highly regarded by the business community and the government. Hence I was surprised when Dr Ng Eng Hen, the Acting Minister for Manpower, called a press briefing to criticize the NTU professors’ report on employment figures.

Perhaps I should not be surprised at all. The government is having a hard time rallying the workers’ morale amid retrenchments and wage cuts, and the NTU report couldn’t have been released at a worse time.

Many analysts are urging the government to be more open about labour figures, since the figures that MOM used to correct the NTU report were previously classified and unavailable to the NTU professors. Their arguments are not without merit: other countries make labour figures public information; and if the Singapore government wants a proper discussion, they ought to provide researchers with the proper figures.

Dr Ng explained that certain sensitive data have never been published because of national interest. Indeed, we have such a large number of foreign workers in Singapore that it makes us vulnerable to foreign interventions in our domestic affairs. Singapore has about 800,000 foreign workers, making up about 37% of our labour force. Suppose our neighbouring countries restrict the number of their citizens working in Singapore using a quota system, it’ll cause massive disruptions to many industries.

However, after being administered by a one-party government for nearly 4 decades, it’s hard for Singaporeans to distinguish national interests from the ruling party’s interests. This is a dilemma faced by the Singapore government too: how to convince skeptical Singaporeans that certain policies are implemented in the nation’s interests and not for political gains.

In the face of global economic slowdown and threats like Sars and terrorism, we’ll have to find a balance between government transparency and national security.

03 August 2003 · Money

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