The newly minted Leader of the House Indranee Rajah took to Facebook on Sunday (23 August) to explain why Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat delivered the country’s 5th COVID-19 Budget measures last week via broadcast instead of in Parliament.
As a response to this, Ms Indranee pointed out two main reasons to why this decision was made. The first reason was that it offers businesses and workers some clarity on the Government’s plan, while the second was to give MPs and the public sufficient amount of time to think of the measures before the opening of Parliament.
“First, it was to give businesses and workers clarity on the Government’s plans to support them before the opening of Parliament. Some of the measures are expiring soon. The Jobs Support Scheme’s coverage will end in August and many jobs are at stake if there is no clarity on Government’s plan,” Ms Indranee, who is Singapore’s Second Minister for Finance and National Development, said.
She added, “Second, similar to other Budget statements, we should give MPs and the public enough time to consider the measures ahead of the opening of Parliament”.
On 17 August (Monday), Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minsiter, presented his ministerial statement through broadcast in which he announced S$8 billion worth of support measures that highlighted Government’s plan to continue to help workers and businesses.
Some of the measures include extending the Job Support Scheme for up to seven months until March 2021, and a S$1 billion programme to subsidise the salaries of new local hires for a year, which is subject to a cap.
In the post, Ms Indranee, who is also a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, clarified that announcing the measures via broadcast does not mean that it is not subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.
She explained, “When there are significant Budget measures, the usual practice is to announce them ahead of time. This gives the MPs time to form their views on the plans. It also gives the public time to provide feedback to their MPs and the ministries. This is then debated in parliament.
“That’s why the annual Budget Statement is delivered first and the Budget debate comes about a week later.”
Ms Indranee went on to state that today’s (24 August) session is the official opening of Parliament and the agenda for the day is full, giving no time for any ministerial statement to take place.
“24 August is the official opening of Parliament. With the election of Speaker, swearing in of MPs and delivery of the President’s Address on the agenda, there is no opportunity for any ministerial statement at this sitting,” she said.
She also noted that the first business sitting of Parliament, which will happen on 31 August, will see the debate of the President’s Address on the agenda. As such, if the Ministerial Statement were to be delivered on 31 August, then it will not give MPs enough time to reflect on the measures before the debate, Ms Indranee asserted.
“Also, with the President’s Address being delivered on 24 August there will be a lot of substantive things for MPs and the public to consider between 24 and 31 August.”
As such, Ms Indranee reiterated that the “best option was to deliver the Ministerial Statement via broadcast before Parliament opened” as it “gives both MPs and the public enough time to absorb the contents before Parliament sits”.
“MPs can (and should) still raise questions and express their views on the Ministerial Statement in Parliament,” she said.
She continued, “In addition, the Government will in the coming months seek Parliament’s approval for its revised spending plans to give effect to the measures in the Ministerial Statement. This will be done through a Supplementary Supply Bill which must go through the usual 1st, 2nd and 3rd readings and be passed by Parliament and assented to by the President.”
Separately, Ms Indranee also noted that the Government “remains accountable and all is still fully in accordance with good governance”.
However, she said that the Government decided to deliver the Ministerial Statement earlier that later as “it affects people’s welfare and well-being, and we wanted to give enough time for proper scrutiny and deliberation”.
If that’s not all, Ms Indranee concluded her post by explaining that the recent 5th set of measures will be funded by reallocating monies out of the previously approved budgets.
“Because of Covid-19, some of the things we had wanted to do in the earlier budgets have had to be deferred or re-prioritised. We are therefore reallocating some of the money to more urgent needs,” she said.