Amid the global health crisis, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Wednesday (27 May) said that Singapore has been “very fortunate” because the country has sufficient reserves to tide through a “even more prolonged difficult period” of COVID-19.
However, Mr Heng cautioned that the nation would need to be “very careful” in spending the national reserves and make sure that it is used wisely.
“What has been very fortunate is that we have sufficient reserves to tide us even through a more prolonged difficult period. But we have to be very careful in how we spend this and make sure that we use it wisely and use it well,” the Finance Minister said during the interview with Channel New Asia (CNA).
Wary of deterioration in global economic condition, Mr Heng conceded that Singapore’s financial position will be a lot weaker in the coming years.
As the Government continues to find ways to manage “this difficult financial situation”, he stressed that the top priority is the safety of the people, followed by getting the economy back on track as much as possible.
“For now, I feel the most important things is first keep our people safe and second let’s get the economy going again as much as possible. It will not be easy, but if we put our minds to it, we can emerge stronger, and with that, I think we can begin to rebuild our resources over time,” he said.
As part of the Government’s effort to fight against COVID-19, a S$33 billion Fortitude Budget was unveiled on Tuesday (26 May), aiming to provide jobs and support to workers as well as businesses to tide through the COVID-19 period. About S$31 billion of the budget is drawn from the country’s past reserves.
Following the Unity, Resilience and Solidarity Budgets that were rolled out in the previous months, the Fortitude Budget is the fourth round of the Government support measures announced for the current financial year.
It was also noted that more than 40,000 job opportunities in both public and private sectors, 25,000 traineeships as well as 30,000 skills training placements will be provided through the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package under this Fortitude Budget.
On this note, Mr Heng addressed the condition of global economic while projecting that the economic condition “is likely to get worse”.
He said, “When we look at the situation compared to the last three budget, it’s quite clear that the global economy situation is much worse than we expected earlier if look at the situation in US and Europe. At the same time, the uncertainty about COVID-19 and how it evolves remain significant, and therefore we must expect the economic condition is likely to get worse.”
Hence, he explained that it is very important for the Government to provide “a very focused support” for the people who are seeking jobs, including those who have been retrenched as well as those new students, graduating students, from ITEs, polytechnics and universities.
He went on, “This SGUnited Jobs and Skills package has a very clear component to create jobs, as well as traineeships and company-level traineeships in order to ensure that everyone who wants to learn something, who wants to do something, is able to do so.”
Mr Heng also noted that the numbers of opportunities provided under the jobs support scheme, which is around 100,000, are based on the range of projected job losses and the number of new entrants that enter into the labour market every year.
“So this is how we’ve sized it. I believe that for now, that will be sufficient. But if there is need for us to do even more, we have the resources to do that,” he remarked.
Responding to a question on whether a fifth supplementary budget will be announced later for a prolonged COVID-19 situation, Mr Heng said, “After presenting four Budgets within such a short period of time, I will say that ‘never say never’.”
He then stated that the budget has been sized in such a way to allow Singapore to respond if the situation continues to worsen.
“That is why in this Budget I have a bigger contingent sum. So, I hope that we do not need to have another Budget in order to respond because if the situation deteriorates, it is going to be very very fast,” he added.