The ball is now in the court of businesses

IT'S been about two months since businesses ramped up precautionary measures against the Covid-19 outbreak. The last two months have been one of the longest for many business owners, civil servants and members of the workforce.

We've been tossed up and about by the developments of the spread of the coronavirus, sending top lines of businesses into a tailspin.

Facing monthly operational costs (without corresponding revenue) and oncoming losses, the last two months have wiped out many entrepreneurs' years of effort in savings and buildup of their enterprises.

Some are facing closures but none I know are stopping the fight. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought out the fighting spirit of many owners of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

It has brought the business community closer together in unity. We realise that we all need each other more than we thought.

I have served in the Association of Small & Medium Enterprises (ASME) for the past 19 years, but this is the defining moment where I witnessed what Singaporeans are truly made of.

Through this crisis, many entrepreneurs have emerged to help each other. I have seen in the last two months more selfless entrepreneurs than I've seen in the last 19 years.

The crisis also brought out the closest of partnership between SMEs and the government.

I can't even begin to count the number of long nights public service officers and leaders have laboured as they work with businesses to try to bridge gaps, get feedback, and churn out infographics in an easily understandable format that businesses can quickly digest and act on.

I would like to thank so many of them at Enterprise Singapore, Workforce Singapore, the Infocomm Media Development Authority, SkillsFuture Singapore, the Ministry of Manpower, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, as well as the Ministry of Finance.

I see the anxiety of many business owners. Many small businesses do not know how they are going to get through the next one to two months.

Last week, I started receiving queries about retrenchment exercises. This time, even the big corporations know they may not be spared. The Covid-19 pandemic has humbled all of us.

We realise we can only get through this if we all unite together as one. In the end, some will die, some will be badly injured, but the hope is that the bulk of us will pull through. This is an uphill battle.

The Resilience Budget could not have been more timely. I described it as "an astounding budget".

We can't do enough justice just by outlining it as a basket of help and assistance measures, when it is really a budget that will support multiple economic layers so that Singaporeans can have their jobs and livelihood, so that we can have our country as intact as possible after the crisis is over.

Everyone of us - employers, employees, public servants and all Singaporeans - have a duty to play our part in fighting this battle as one. There is no room to bicker, there is no bandwidth for slow thinking.

As we enter into the next challenging phase of the pandemic, everyone needs to put in a little bit more selflessness, chip in a bit more with the community efforts, so that we, as a collective, can reduce the risk elements and come out of this in the best state possible.

Businesses should be mindful the ball is now in your court to make the best of the situation. Businesses need to update themselves with the latest advisories at least twice daily, accept that they will have a lot less revenue, and adapt to all the social distancing measures.

Individuals should also exercise a high level of alertness in how they carry on with their daily lives.

I know many public officers must have been greatly disappointed when they laboured so hard to keep everyone safe, trying to strike a balance between implementing the closure of entertainment outlets with some buffer time for operators, only to see people frivolously and dangerously flaunting their last night out partying.

We all need to prioritise our society's health and safety above all other wants. This is really a time where we need to put others before ourselves. This is a time when what you do may unintentionally hurt others.

I have full confidence that the government will do their utmost. With trust and confidence, in unity, we can get through this together.

When we do, I suspect we will lose some of our selfish "kiasu-ness", we will learn that we can achieve more when we work together as one.

  • The writer is president, Association of Small & Medium Enterprises.