An unprecedented four budgets in a year — Unity, Resilience, Solidarity and Fortitude were rolled out in quick succession as Singapore battled the global Covid-19 pandemic. The budgets cost a total $192.5 billion, of which $92.9 billion were in support measures to help Singaporeans and businesses fight the virus, and seize new opportunities. Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who presented them, assured Singaporeans that everything will be done with their interests at heart. Here are some highlights from Mr Heng’s speeches in Parliament.
Urgency of the four Budgets
The Covid-19 pandemic is a generational crisis with no precedent, and the Government has summoned all the country’s resources and administrative capacity to help workers, businesses and families weather the storm, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.
“ We will adopt a nimble fiscal posture so that we can quickly channel the resources at hand to the most urgent and important needs of our people,” said Mr Heng who is also Finance Minister.
The Unity Budget, delivered on Feb 18, was soon followed by Resilience (March 26), Solidarity (April 6) and Fortitude on May 26. The last three budgets will require a total of $52 billion to be drawn from past reserves to fund them. It is the first time the Government is tapping on reserves since 2009.
“We have the plans, and the fi resources to carry out these plans without burdening future generations with the bill. We are grateful to our founding generation for their foresight and discipline,” he added.
The key, he said, is how Singapore pulls together as a nation to implement these plans, and to adjust along the way as the situation evolves.
Pay cut for ministers, bonus for frontline healthcare workers
Public healthcare officers who are directly combating the Covid-19 outbreak will get up to an extra month of special bonus. Healthcare workers at the Ministry of Health, restructured hospitals and officers at other frontline agencies who have been directly involved will qualify for it, in recognition of their “outstanding courage and dedication”.
In a show of solidarity, all Cabinet ministers and political office-holders will take a three-month pay cut. President Halimah Yacob, the Speaker and both Deputy Speakers have also volunteered to take a similar pay cut. All MPs will take a one-month cut in their allowance.
“It is in times of crisis that the true character of a nation can be seen. We are all in this together, and we must all look after one another in these trying times,” said the DPM.
Strong trust between people and Government
Mr Heng said Singapore has been able to respond strongly and effectively to Covid-19 due to the “trust and solidarity” between citizens and the Government, built up painstakingly over the years.
“We do not hide bad news. We do not fl from doing the right thing. We will go the extra mile to help every one of us come through this together,” he said.
That is why there is a sense that Singapore is a safe country where people can carry on with their lives.
Reserves are our strategic defence
The DPM expressed his gratitude at being able to tap on Singapore’s deep financial reserves, in order to respond to the crisis without having to borrow.
“Our reserves serve as a strategic defence. It gives us the wherewithal to resolutely defend the Singapore dollar against speculative attacks. This contributes to a stable Singapore dollar, which in turn bolsters the confidence of investors and citizens,” he said.
“The reserves are our nest egg, borne of hard work and discipline. Our reserves give us the confidence, as a small country with no natural resources of any kind, to deal with the ups and downs in the world.”
Saving lives and jobs
The Government is acting decisively now, and Singaporeans must accept the short-term pain so as to save lives and prevent the Covid-19 virus from spreading. While saving lives is the top priority, the next big task is to save jobs, pointed out the DPM. When people are unemployed, there will be a major cost to both the individual and society.
The Jobs Support Scheme will help enterprises retain their workers, with the Government co-funding part of their salaries. It will benefi some 1.9 million local employees.
Emerging stronger, Singapore together
The Emerging Stronger Task Force – co-chaired by Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee and PSA International Group Chief Executive Offi er Tan Chong Meng – will study ways to help the economy bounce back from the crisis. It will report to the Future Economy Council which Mr Heng chairs. The Singapore Together movement, led by Ministers Indranee Rajah and Desmond Lee, is tapping on the creative energies and commitment of all Singaporeans to shape a better future.
The two ministers will mobilise citizens to explore how to deepen the country’s social fabric and partnerships between the Government and the people, and between Singaporeans and people around the world.
Tackling climate change head-on
The Government is setting aside $5 billion for the new Coastal and Flood Protection Fund. It is making this heavy commitment to ensure future generations are safe from rising sea levels in decades to come, said Mr Heng.“Climate change threatens our very existence, as a small, low-lying island state. We are meeting this challenge head-on with an ambitious plan,” he said. “We are not only securing our coasts, but also transforming our sources of food and water, and remaking our entire economy and city for a green and sustainable future.”
The success of this whole-of-society, multi-generational effort depends on all Singaporeans taking action, and Mr Heng is cheered that many young citizens are passionate about this cause and want to be part of the solution.
On food security, he said: “We are strengthening our food resilience for the long term. Under our 30 by 30 vision, we aim to produce 30 per cent of our nutritional needs by 2030, up from less than 10 per cent today.”
Boosting cyber-security efforts
A sum of $1 billion will be set aside for the next three years to build up the Government’s cyber and data security capabilities. The DPM said it will safeguard Singaporeans’ data and the nation’s critical information infrastructure systems.
“We must be prepared to deal with cyber threats, as digitalisation becomes more pervasive. Data security is a vital pre-requisite and key enabler of Singapore’s Digital Economy. It is key to preserving trust in a digitally-connected world,” he said.
$33 billion Fortitude Budget to save and create jobs, support workers and firms
The central focus of the $33 billion Fortitude Budget is to save jobs and support our 1.9 million local workers – now and for the future, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.
A key plank of this fourth Budget, which will require a further draw of $31 billion from the reserves, is the $2 billion SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package which will be launched to create over 40,000 jobs in the public and private sectors, around 25,000 traineeships and 30,000 full-time training places.
Employers will receive an incentive when they hire local workers of all ages who have completed traineeship or training schemes.
“This will support the immediate needs of our workers, and raise the skills of our people for future jobs. Together, these cater to workers with different skill levels and career aspirations, and to the needs of diverse firms across industries,” said Mr Heng on May 26, 2020.
Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who is Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, will chair a new National Jobs Council that will focus on creating jobs and building deep skills. Its work will be in tandem with the Future Economy Council on the overall upgrading of Singapore’s economy.
Speeding up digital transformation
Covid-19 has accelerated the rise of digital transformation, as well as the decline in support for globalisation, and shifts in global supply chains.
Mr Heng noted that digital solutions will become more deeply embedded in everyone’s lives, as telecommuting, online food and services, and virtual events become the norm. He said businesses in Singapore must accelerate their move to go digital, with the Government allocating over $500 million to help them.
Stallholders at hawker centres and wet markets will get a $300 monthly bonus for five months if they use e-payments. A new Digital Resilience Bonus will help businesses take their next step to digitalise.
Cash flow, costs, credit
To help companies as they resume operations after the Circuit Breaker, the Government will give extra support on the 3Cs – cash flow, costs and credit.
Among the many measures being rolled out is the enhanced Jobs Support Scheme which will disburse a total of $23.5 billion to firms to support wage costs for 10 months. To help
with rental costs, a $2 billion cash grant will be given to small and medium-sized enterprises.
Another $800 million has been set aside for the Covid-19 Support Grant to help those who have lost their jobs or suffered salary cuts. The Enhanced Fund-Raising Programme and Invictus Fund for social service agencies will receive top-ups of $100 million and $18 million respectively.
This story first appeared in our latest edition of Petir. Read more stories in Petir June 2020: Saving Lives and Jobs.