Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said that this year’s Budget expresses the Government’s confidence in Singaporeans tackling challenges together as one Singapore, and getting through the Covid-19 outbreak stronger.
Touching on the theme of “unity” in his round-up speech for Budget 2020, DPM and Finance Minister Heng reiterated that Singapore remains united in our determination to preserve and enhance jobs, as well as support businesses impacted by Covid-19.
“In the weeks and months to come, we will need to draw deeply on Singapore’s reserves of resilience trust and solidarity. This unity of purpose across our whole society is what will see us through this challenging times.
“If we conduct ourselves well in this crisis, we will replenish those reserves and strengthen our resilience and unity for another generation,” he said.
Here are five things that you need to know from DPM Heng’s wrap up for Budget 2020.
#1 Payouts for the Jobs Support Scheme will be disbursed by end-May
In response to questions from MPs on whether payouts under the Jobs Support Scheme can be expedited, DPM Heng said the initial projection was for the payouts to reach companies by the end of July as the disbursement of payouts “is operationally more complex” due to the need to check and validate information on workers, employers, and payment mode.
But over the last few weeks, government agencies have redoubled efforts and are now targeting to bring forward the payment for JSS from end-July to end-May.
Employers using bank crediting will get the payout about a week earlier, he added, while enhancements to the Wage Credit Scheme will be provided in the second half of this year.
#2 One-month special bonus for frontline healthcare workers
DPM Heng announced that public health officers on the frontlines will get up to one additional month of bonus for their efforts in fighting the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak in Singapore.
This will include the many healthcare officers at the Ministry of Health, the restructured hospitals, as well as some officers at other frontline agencies who have been directly involved in battling Covid-19.
Other public officers who have contributed significantly will be recognised in appropriate ways, he added.
Public Health Preparedness (PHP) clinics will also receive a one-off Covid-19 grant, to support them in their active role of caring for patients with respiratory symptoms.
#3 Pay cuts for political office holders, Members of Parliament, and the President
Mr Heng said that Singapore has been able to respond strongly and effectively to COVID-19 because there is “strong trust between the people and the Government and the sense that we are all in this together”.
He announced that the political leadership will do their part in solidarity with Singaporeans, and they will take a one-month cut in their salary, while all Members of Parliament will also take a one-month cut in their allowances. President Halimah Yacob will also be taking a similar one-month pay cut
Senior public service officers will take a half-month pay cut.
#4 GST hike and financial prudence
On the planned goods and services (GST) tax hike, which will rise from 7 per cent to 9 per cent by 2025, DPM Heng said that it cannot be delayed or dropped entirely because the money is needed to fund societal needs like healthcare spending.
He explained that as Singapore’s population ages, healthcare spending in the next decade will grow significantly, and as such spending benefits all Singaporeans.
“This is about all of us taking shared responsibility to pay for our needs and our society’s needs, and sharing in the effort to provide for them,” he added.
There have been calls to delay or not even increase the GST rate, but Mr Heng clarified that delaying the GST increase is not the same as raising the GST and providing offsets.
Through the offsets, Mr Heng explained that a larger proportion of the net GST – the amount of GST borne by each household, after accounting for the GST Voucher they receive – will be borne by foreigners and higher-income households, which is estimated to be over 60 per cent.
On using Singapore’s reserves to fund the country’s needs instead of raising the GST, Mr Heng said that if the situation “deteriorates significantly” and calls for the Government to “tap on our past reserves”, he will make a case to the President to seek her approval to do so.
#5 Climate changes are long-term investments
DPM Heng reiterated that the efforts made to tackle climate change are long-term investments that represent the Government’s commitment to coming generations of Singaporeans.
On the injection of $5 billion into new coastal and flood protection fund to protect Singapore from rising sea levels, Mr Heng said: “By making the commitment today, these resources will go towards pumps, tidal gates, and infrastructure that will keep our children, and their children, safe from rising sea levels in decades to come,”
Highlighting the need for a mindset shift, and the participation of everyone in this battle against climate change, Mr Heng said that this would be a whole of society, multi-generational effort that could take a long time.
“If we take the long-term view, and each generation plays its part, Singapore can face the future with confidence,” he said.
Photo from DPM Heng Swee Keat’s Facebook