Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said that he hopes Singapore does not need another budget to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, a day after he announced an additional S$33 billion COVID-19 support package in Parliament.
Dubbed the Fortitude Budget, this is the fourth such package Singapore has unveiled since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. Singapore has already committed nearly S$100 billion — or 20 per cent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — to fight the pandemic. The latest budget will dip into Singapore’s past reserves and will set its GDP growth forecast back by -7% to -4%.
Sharing that the immediate priority is to keep Singaporeans safe, Mr Heng told CNA on Wednesday (27 May): “Our financial position will be a lot weaker in the coming years. And I’m thinking hard about this, about what we need to do, and how we need to continue to find ways that we can manage this difficult financial situation.
“For now, the most important thing 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, we can begin to rebuild our resources over time.”
He added: “I hope that we do not need to have a fifth Budget in order to respond, because if the situation deteriorates, it is going to be very, very fast.”
Singapore is anticipating its worst economic recession in its history as an independent nation. Earlier, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung cautioned that the current economic downturn will be worse than the recession in 2008.
The Government appears to be preparing for the economic downturn by focusing on jobs. Mr Ong said that the Government will mobilise the tripartite working relationship between unions, employers and the Government to come out on top of the financial crisis.
He wrote on Facebook: “This recession will be more severe than the 2008 GFC. We knew we had to be prepared for another difficult episode. That is why over the years, we have continued to nurture the tripartite working relationship.
“We expanded our training capacity for workers through SkillsFuture. We brought on board our polytechnics and universities to train adult workers. We expanded our network of employer partners. We developed a system to spot where the job vacancies are. Our immediate task is to mobilise this entire system to support workers in this time of need. This will be a top priority.”
Mr Heng’s Fortitude Budget also placed an emphasis on jobs and on helping workers tide through the difficult times ahead. He promised workers, “As long as you are willing to pick up new skills and adapt, to access available opportunities to work or learn, the Government will provide our strongest support to help you.”
The Minister also launched the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package, to create close to 100,000 opportunities in three areas – 40,000 jobs, 25,000 traineeships and 30,000 skills training – for Singapore residents.
When asked whether the Government expects 100,000 jobs to be lost in the coming months, Mr Heng told CNA that the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package is sized to serve expected job losses and new labour market entrants. He said:
“There is a range of projections on the expected job losses. We have taken that into account together with the number of new entrants that enter the labour market every year. So, this is how we’ve sized it, and I believe that for now, that will be sufficient. But if there is a need for us to do even more, we have the resources to do that.”