Budget 2021, which will be out in February next year, will most likely not see any surplus amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
In an interview with Bloomberg News, which was aired on Tuesday (17 November) for the international news outlet’s New Economy Forum, Mr Lee said even striking a balanced Budget will be hard to achieve in the midst of the pandemic.
It may take a while before Singapore returns to “prudence and balanced budgets”, he added.
“You have to spend money on COVID and the economy is down. Just from a counter-cynical point of view, you do not want to have a negative fiscal impulse,” said Mr Lee.
It is crucial at this point to maintain an “even keel” and help people “as far as possible in jobs, or if not in jobs, some help in rendered so that they are able to get past this difficult period”, he stressed.
Mr Lee was responding to a question asked by Bloomberg News editor-in-chief John Micklethwait, who wanted to know if Singapore will have a Budget deficit for some time, as the country has drawn S$52 billion from its reserves to help its citizens through the crisis.
The mindset that Singaporeans have to earn their keep, and that reserves are not bottomless, has to be deeply ingrained in the population, he added.
“It is not easy because the Opposition will say, ‘Well how much do you have? Let me have a look. Why not take a little bit more? We are not broke yet.'”
In the interview, PM Lee also noted that Singapore is still in the middle of a crisis, and reiterated that he will leave office after he could “hand it over in good shape”.
The 68-year-old Prime Minister added that he hoped that it would not be “too long”.
Prior to the pandemic, Mr Lee said that he planned to step down by the time he turned 70.
Separately, PM Lee also said that sectors such as aviation, tourism and entertainment are “in suspended animation”.
For them to be in such a state presently, he said, is better than to “risk reviving them before we are ready to deal with the consequences, and then we have another major COVID outbreak”.
Singapore, Mr Lee added, has to manage the immediate and medium-term public health and economic requirements.
“But one day this too will pass, and when it does, we must make sure that we can get back to the habit of balancing our budgets,” he said.