Workers’ Party (WP) Pritam Singh expressed in Parliament on Monday (6 April) that he supports the Resilience and Solidarity Budgets introduced by the Government to help ease the public’s financial burden amid COVID-19, but questions if these financial schemes will become a “new normal” in Singapore.
Although Mr Singh stated that the aids given under the Resilience Budget will be helpful for three to nine months, but he questioned the sustainability of the economy in the long run, after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
“I am of the view that this is rightly called a Resilience Budget, because resilience is about being able to take a hit and recovering to continue like before. But if the pandemic is likely to take at least one year to be resolved, how long would the economic effects last? What is the Government’s assessment of future scenarios?” he asked.
Additionally, Mr Singh also said that though he and other WP Member of Parliaments (MPs) voiced their support for the Budget, but asked for the Government to look into the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic after the next nine months.
With the long-term effects of the pandemic on the country’s economy and society, he asked if Singaporeans who continue to see reduction in job prospects will be able to get more support beyond nine months.
“For Singaporeans who will continue to see disruption and technology reduce their job prospects, can we expect continued support for them in the 9 months after this package expires, particularly for training and wage support for example?” Mr Singh questioned.
If that’s not all, he also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed sectors of the economy that could be manned by local workers in the future “for better resilience and national outcomes”.
Mr Singh continued, “A thorough review of what a living wage in Singapore ought to be for Singaporeans who man our critical infrastructure and keep the country’s heart beating would also be appropriate and timely, the same way strengthening our food security and critical supply chains are.”
The opposition party chief also pointed out that the important roles of both local and foreign “army of cleaners” as well as local SMEs and cleaning companies play during this pandemic.
“Singapore owes them a debt of gratitude in this difficult period and it is time that our workers who keep Singapore clean are paid far more respectable wages, with Singaporeans ready to play their part,” he expressed.
“I don’t think many of us truly appreciate how much more work they are doing trying to keep our HDB estates clean while continuing to clear our garbage and bulky items, and keeping to their daily routine.
“But that is not all. It’s the respect all of us must extend to them and all those who earn an honest living that matters so much in shaping the type of progressive society we aspire to be. Only then can we say we are people who leave no one behind.”
Mr Singh also highlighted that after Singapore defeats the deadly coronavirus, it will be time to focus more on the “Singaporean worker and their families, the reality of inequality and job competition”.
What happens to the Reserves in the future
In his speech, Mr Singh also talked about the timing of the COVID-19 crisis on the country’s fiscal policy and annual budget exercises. Although he supports the need to use the country’s Reserves to help the public in this challenging times, he asked how the Government is going to balance the future Budget if the resilience if going to be a long-term measure that lasts for years.
“But if resilience is going to be a longer-term issue lasting perhaps up to 5 years, and a major restructuring of the economy and society is required, how is the Government going to balance the Budget in the next term of Government?” he said.
Mr Singh added, “Would we need to adopt belt-tightening austerity measures to balance the Budget? Can we afford to tighten the belt? And do we need to adopt a different stance towards the reserves, debt financing and deficits?”
As such, the politician said that all these are going to play a role in the lives of Singaporeans as well as the country’s political system. This is because the next Government that is formed after the GE will “face an unprecedented problem in recent memory”.
“The initial period of the team of Government would require extra financial prudence and it also means less fiscal firepower to deal with the mighty story of the pandemic and its aftermath.
“A Government drawing on the reserves in its first year of the new term is unprecedented, but this may be the case if we are looking at additional support in the coming months.”
In reference to former American president Franklin Roosevelt’s series of financial reforms in the 1930s after the Great Depression, Mr Singh said, “Rather than focus on the timing of general elections, I think the public debate will be better focused on the choices before us, whether the resilience and solidarity budgets are the shape of a New Deal for Singapore? A new social compact for Singapore?
“How are we going to renew, rebuild and reinvigorate our economy and society after the storm has passed and the dust settles?”