Source: CNA / Mediacorp

To ease the financial commitments of Singaporeans during the COVID-19 outbreak, Singapore will freeze all government fees and charges for a year, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

Delivering his ministerial statement on a S$48 billion supplementary Budget — called the Resilience Budget — in Parliament on Thu (26 Mar), Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, said that the measure will take effect from 1 Apr this year to 31 Mar 2021.

Mr Heng said that the Government will also suspend all repayments and interest charges for one year for university and polytechnic graduates who have taken a government loan.

The suspension will take effect from 1 Jun this year to 31 May next year.

Late HDB mortgage repayment charges will also be suspended for three months, said Mr Heng.

“HDB will continue to exercise flexibility when providing assistance during this period, through existing measures such as deferring payment of loan instalments for six months,” he said.

The new stimulus package, at its core, focuses on the need to “save jobs, support workers and protect” the livelihood of Singaporeans in the midst of a weakened economy as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Realising how many Singaporeans are “concerned about how they will pay their bills and household expenses if their livelihoods are affected during this uncertain period”, Mr Heng said that the Government “will put more cash in the hands of all families to help them cope”.

The Government, he said, will do so by enhancing the Care and Support Package announced in the Unity Budget last month.

The enhancements will see cash payouts for all adult Singaporeans tripled to a range between S$300 and S$900, from the earlier announced range of S$100 to S$300.

Families with young children will also have their additional cash payouts tripled. This measure will apply to each Singaporean parent with at least one young Singaporean child.

Low-wage earners will be receiving S$3,000 in cash for this year to supplement their household needs. This will be done through the enhanced Workfare Special Payment scheme, said Mr Heng.

“To further help needy Singaporeans with their daily expenses, and in particular, the cost of food, I will triple the Grocery Vouchers given to them this year from S$100 to S$300.

“Together with the S$100 which will be given to them next year, needy Singaporeans will receive S$400 in Grocery Vouchers over 2020 and 2021,” he added.

A cash PAssion Card top-up will also be given to Singaporeans aged 50 years an above, said Mr Heng, in order to avoid beneficiaries from queueing at top-up stations during the outbreak.

“With these enhancements, a young family will now receive around S$2,900 instead of S$1,300 under the Care and Support Package. A three-generation family will receive about S$6,700 instead of S$1,800,” said Mr Heng.

Other than households, self-help groups and Community Development Councils (CDCs) will also be benefiting from the supplementary Budget through larger grants.

“Self-help groups and Community Development Councils, or CDCs, have stepped up their efforts to help families and vulnerable groups through their own assistance schemes. I will support them to do more and better meet the needs of their communities and residents.

“I will double the grant given to Self-Help Groups to S$20 million over two years, and increase the additional grant given to CDCs from S$20 million to S$75 million.

“Together with the other Care and Support measures announced during the Unity Budget, the enhanced Care and Support Package will cost around S$4.6 billion,” said Mr Heng.

Referencing the Budget debate in Feb regarding a voluntary one-month salary cut among the political leadership, Mr Heng announced on Thu that “all political office holders will take an additional pay cut of two months, altogether a three-month cut in their salary”.

This move was made as a means of expressing their “solidarity” with Singaporeans.

“The President, Speaker, and both Deputy Speakers have informed me that they will join in, and take a similar three-month pay cut in total,” he said.

Calling the Resilience Budget a “landmark package” and “a necessary response to a unique situation”, Mr Heng said that the Government will be drawing around S$17 billion from Singapore’s past reserves to partially fund measures introduced in the supplementary budget.

The COVID-19 crisis, he said, is the “sort of event that we had accumulated reserves for”.

“We have saved up for a rainy day. The COVID-19 pandemic is already a mighty storm and it is still growing,” Mr Heng added.

The Government, said Mr Heng, has obtained President Halimah Yacob’s in-principle approval to draw the aforementioned amount from the past reserves.

Singapore, he noted, has only drawn from its past reserves once — during the global financial crisis in 2009. The Government drew S$4.9 billion at the time.

Prior to Mr Heng’s speech, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin said the economic hit resulting from COVID-19 is “different from the ordinary business cycle downturn” and is “likely to last longer than” that experienced by Singapore during the SARS outbreak and the 2009 Global Financial Crisis.

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