Budget 2020: A lot of praise and a few suggestions
Updated: Mar 1
Update: We've updated the story to include responses made by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat's in his Budget round-up speech on Friday (Feb 28) to questions posed by MPs.
By Ethan Tay, Loraine Lee, Liang Lei, Lauren Ong and Thaqif Ismail
ILLUSTRATION: LORAINE LEE
Two days and 54 speeches later, what have the MPs said about the Budget Statement? There was plenty of praise for what some called the “Unity’’ Budget and the $5.8 billion-dollar packages to help companies and households fend off the economic impact of the Covid-19 outbreak. MPs also urged companies to use the downtime during this crisis to transform and grow their operations so they are prepared for take-off once the impact of the virus has tailed off.
The MPs focused less on the philosophical underpinnings of the Budget, the Government’s fiscal policy or the $12.3 billion deficit that will be incurred, choosing instead to talk about specific measures announced. Those who did, like Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan SMC), asked if the State could afford to keep increasing its help packages over generations or whether different strategies should be applied. Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) was concerned over the increased reliance on government investments to fund expenditure while NCMP Leon Perera suggested trimming the rate of increase of reserves so that more money will be available to fund spending.
On the $4 billion Stabilisation and Support package to help companies and workers, several highlighted the short-term nature of the measures and asked if more would be done should the outbreak be prolonged. Many MPs asked if there would be a supplementary budget. Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) also asked if some measures, such as rental rebates for hawkers, could be extended till the current Dorscon Orange alert moved back to Green.
Concerns over the rise of the GST, a hot topic in the previous two budgets, had also been blunted by the government’s decision not to implement the rise next year. Nominated MP Mohamed Irshad pressed for a more specific date and asked whether the rise from 7 to 9 per cent would be in two stages.
The MPs’ greatest concern, especially on the part of the labour MPs, was the predicament of the professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) in their 40s and 50s, who are most at risk of being retrenched and who would find it harder to land the next job, or one that paid equally well. Their oft-used word: anxiety.
One concrete response came from the labour movement. NTUC Chief Ng Chee meng said a Jobs Security Council to match companies which intend to shed workers with those which need more will be set up.
This year’s Budget statement was also notable for announcements to green Singapore further, and mitigate the effects of climate change. Measures to encourage the use of electric cars were of particular interest to some MPs.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will respond to their queries today.
Here’s a look at what MPs said: