Following his 2019 Budget Presentation in Parliament on Monday (18 Feb), Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat participated in a forum on national TV to discuss the contents of the budget and address concerns from members of the public.

Merdeka Generation Package and the focus on elderly Singaporeans

To start off with, Mr Heng was asked about the highly anticipated Merdeka Generation Package (MGP) for which details were announced on Monday and which included a heavy focus on healthcare.

Mr Heng noted that about half of those considered the Merdeka Generation – those born between 1950 to 1959 – are still in the workforce, so the emphasis of the MGP is to help this group of young seniors to stay active, healthy, and engaged in the community.

Having said that, a member of the public raised concerns that the 2019 budget seems heavily focused on the elders of Singapore.

Mr Heng said “But first let me say, it is not possible for one budget to cover everyone in Singapore.” This is a point the Minister repeated throughout the course of the forum.

The minister went on to say that there are already a number of initiatives in the budget for younger people such as the emphasis on training for youth as well as MediSave contributions for those who just missed out on the MGP.

The minister also highlighted the tripartite workgroup which was announced during the budget to address issues like healthcare and concerns of seniors as Singapore ages.

High cost of living

One audience member noted that there were a few ‘glaring omissions’ in the budget, chief of which were the sandwich class that missed out on the MGP and other packages targeted towards the youth. He raised the issue of the rising cost of living and asked if greater consideration could be given to this group of people.

Mr Heng said, “It’s important that we try and keep the cost of living affordable for our people and there are a few things that we do. First and foremost, we operate a very open competitive system.“

He said that the fact that Singapore operates an open system with no tariffs on imports keeps the market competitive which is, in the long run, good for the consumers. He added that the fact that the Singapore Dollar has strengthened also helps in terms of cost of living at home because imported goods are now cheaper.

But the reality on the ground doesn’t seem to match Mr Heng’s assessment. Looking at comments section of the video on Facebook, many netizens disagreed that goods are cheaper and that cost of living in Singapore is affordable.

One person question the Minister on whether the government would consider absorbing GST for essential items such as food as a measure to bring down the cost of living for middle-income to low-income families.

Mr Heng replied, “This was very carefully studied before we introduced GST. And I took a look at it again recently when this was discussed. “

He pointed out that countries which sought to differentiate between essential and non-essential items often disagree and that it ends up being very ‘distortionary’.

The system Singapore choose to employ is simply, he said, and does not incur any administrative cost. “We do not cause any confusion, everybody pays the same amount for everything we purchase,” he added.

Low birth rates

Naturally, the question of cost of living led into the concern of Singapore’s low birth rate. On this point, Mr Heng said it is a ‘very important issue’.

He pointed out the various subsidies and packages that the government has implemented over the years to encourage Singaporeans to have more children such as the baby bonus, the Child Development Account and the education subsidies in place for children who opt to further their education in institutes of higher learning.

He stressed that the most important factor is mindset, saying that a “fundamental change in mindset” is important.

Unfortunately, Mr Heng did not address how the rising cost of living might be affecting the decision of young Singaporean couples to have more than one child.

Business restructuring

As for how the current budget might affect business, specifically the reduction in foreign worker quota in the service sector, Mr Heng said, “I know it is not easy for us to just restructure. But my concern is if we do not act now, we will be storing up problems for the future”.

He said that while this route is harder, it will eventually lead Singapore to a desirable destination – which is an economy that is less dependent on foreign talent.

He also pointed out Singapore’s ‘vibrant’ startup system. He said, “It’s good that our startup system is becoming more vibrant and that many of our startups are growing nicely. The next stage is to help them scale up.”

He also repeated what the government has said before about the how “digital technology will have a very significant impact on every sector in the economy”.

How will Singapore fund this budget?

The moderator then mentioned that the budget has been described as ‘expansionary’ and ‘generous’, and asked how the government is intending to fund it.

Mr Heng said, “I’ve very grateful as Finance Minister that I inherited a very good situation. And In particular, I’m very grateful to our founding fathers for leaving us with these reserves”

He mentioned that Singapore has accumulated reserves in the early years. Now, he says Singapore needs proper principles in place to safeguard its fiscal position in order to be responsible not only to the current generation but future generations as well.

Mr Heng also noted that some of the surpluses gained in the previous year came from ‘unexpected developments’ such as the collection of more stamp duty and higher stat board contributions due to a healthier financial market.

He said that it is also important to recognise that at the end of term any surplus will be logged into the past reserves. ”The past reserves are then invested for our people,” he added.

But Mr Heng also cautioned that these were “one off events” and that a budget cannot be planned on the basis that there will be some good luck. And it a surplus today doesn’t mean that the government will splurge tomorrow.

“In fact, if our founding fathers had taken that approach, we would not even have one cent of this net investment return contribution to talk about and we’ll not be talking about increasing GST from 7% to 9%, it will be much more,” he continued.

Election budget?

With the impending general elections – predictions are that it will be called sometime this year – the moderator asked for Mr Heng’s response to those who described the 2019 Budget as an ‘election budget’.

Mr Heng responded, “If they mean that they are very happy with the budget, then I’ll say that is good. But I don’t plan on that basis.”

“First and foremost, the budget…is really a strategic plan to allocate resources for Singapore to remain successful, vibrant in the long run and to be fair across generations. So it’s not about we’re near the elections so let’s spend this, let’s spend that,” he added.

In coming up with the budget, Mr Heng said he had “many meetings with various ministries and Ministers”, always starting with a very long list of requests which had to be cut down. Eventually, he would have discussions with the Prime Minister on the country’s priorities and what the government ought to spend on.

“This is the way that we plan our budget and I must say that let us maintain that”, he continued.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
You May Also Like

Poor children have 10% chance of making it to the top?

~by: Leong Sze Hian~ I refer to the article “Mobility in S’pore…

New stricter measures may not have a major impact but will “buy time”: Prof Paul Tambyah

Infectious diseases expert Professor Paul Tambyah says that while the measures may…

“挑动群众斗群众”伎俩遭踢爆 港媒吁慎防免转发假消息

香港民众反逃犯条例仍在持续,但是已引起中港台和全球中文圈民众对香港情势的两极化激烈讨论。有者支持港民群众运动坚持撤回条例修法和释放示威者;但亦有评论非议示威群众持续抗争。 支持建制派和反修例两派人士,在舆论界的辩论亦十分激烈。然而, 香港传媒亦踢爆,有者拍摄“伪示威者”现身说法批斗父母的视频,企图把示威者皆抹黑和标签为“不孝”、“反国反港”罪名,分化群众以制造“群众都群众”的优势。 据香港打假脸书专页“求验传媒”揭发,本月6月21日,一个声称“Louis Yuen”的男子在一段视频中,声称自己参与了6月9日及6月12日反送中游行,然后发表了一段有关父母的言论。片段中他没有提供任何证据,以证明他有参与上述游行,也没有提供任何自己的背景资料。 “Louis Yuen”质疑连日抗争只是年轻人却不见上一代,认为是父母已不爱子女的表现。 求验传媒就揭发, 这名男子发布该片段的FB 专页“Louis Yuen”是在6月15日成立,至今只有28个赞和43个追随者。 然而,虽然原版本已经删除,然而建制派、亲政府平台或媒体“如获至宝”,许多经过修改的版本遭广传,以偏概全将“Louis…

Netizens call out an online user for sliming Workers’ Party over PMD accident that left elderly woman in coma

On Saturday (21 September), a 65-year-old woman was knocked down after her…