COVID-19 SPECIAL

Emerging Stronger Taskforce focused on economic recovery

The 17-member Emerging Stronger Taskforce was set up to guide the country's economic recovery from Covid-19, which is why only certain economic sectors are represented, said Minister for National Development Desmond Lee.

There are other avenues for representatives from other sectors to be consulted, or for concerned Singaporeans to air their views on other issues, whether social or environmental, added the task force co-chair.

These include initiatives such as the Alliances for Action, which are industry-led coalitions to devise ideas for projects and generate new jobs, and the Emerging Stronger Conversations dialogue series, which all Singaporeans and permanent residents can register for.

"If the task force is seen as the be all and end all, there will be a hundred people around the table, and that will still not be sufficiently inclusive from different people's perspective," he said in an interview with The Straits Times.

Being inclusive, he said, has to go beyond just including various people in a committee.

"The reality is you need to have multiple action networks, all of which should not be echo chambers themselves," he said.

Mr Lee was responding to criticisms that the task force, announced by the Ministry of Trade and Industry on May 6, lacked representation in terms of gender, minority groups and vulnerable communities, among others.

In June, an open letter calling for more diversity in the task force was submitted to the Government. It was signed by more than 45 individuals, some of whom represent not-for-profit organisations, social enterprises and arts groups.

The task force, led by Mr Lee and Mr Tan Chong Meng, group chief executive of port operator PSA, includes representatives from the technology, banking, property, agri-business, aviation and petrochemical sectors.

 
 
 

Mr Lee said the requests for more inclusion in the task force were well intentioned and understandable.

"They see that... Singapore wants to seize opportunities and re-think, re-imagine, build hope again in a post-Covid world. And in a crisis like this, a lot of people are prepared to re-examine the status quo... and I think that spirit needs to be encouraged," he said.

Mr Lee pointed to the Alliances for Action as an example of how economic-focused groups have roped in different segments of society.

"They're engaging civil society, non-government organisations, bringing in small and medium enterprises, and they're just creating an ecosystem on their own - the Government is catching its breath trying to catch up with that energy," he said.

But he also acknowledged that even as the economy transforms, people are also looking forward to seeing social change.

"I hope that you can see that the effort to be inclusive and diverse is by design," he said.

"And if you want to go beyond lip service to say I'm inclusive because I got (a certain number of) people in my committee... we (should) be diverse and inclusive in substance, in practical structures."