Business & Economy Experts ask Indranee Rajah if 'blockbuster' Budget provides enough help for SMEs...

Experts ask Indranee Rajah if ‘blockbuster’ Budget provides enough help for SMEs to survive Covid-19 crisis

Many firms especially in the hospitality, food and beverage sectors, even taxi drivers, have said that their income has reduced from between 40 to as much as 70 percent

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Singapore—In a post-Budget analysis on MONEY FM 89.3 on Thursday, experts in finance praised the Budget for being ‘comprehensive’ and ‘forward-looking,’ and yet, given the economic impact of the global slowdown in 2019 as well as this year’s Covid-19 outbreak, they asked the nagging question, “Is it enough?”

Hosts Elliott Danker and Ryan Huang sat down with Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister  for Finance and Education, along with a panel composed of Barnabas Gan, an economist from UOB; Ajay Kumar Sanganeria, Tax Partner at KPMG Singapore; Kurt Wee, the President at Association of Small and Medium Enterprises; and Eugene Tan, Associate Professor of Law at Singapore Management University.

While the panelists hailed the Budget, especially due to the initiatives it contains in safeguarding Singapore’s future, the nagging question remains as to whether it gives enough help to everyday Singaporeans to weather out the current economic hardships.

Economic recovery was expected after the last quarter of 2019 when business had plateaued, however, the Covid-19 outbreak threw a sizable wrench into the machinery.

The problem, they say, for many small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) is pressing now. Many firms especially in hospitality, food and beverage, even taxi drivers, have said that their income has reduced from between 40 to as much as 70 percent.

Footfall in retail stores has gone down by 50 percent. Mr Gan cited that his favourite restaurant, which used to regularly host a number of tour groups from China, has become empty and quiet.

The experts also pointed out that 70 percent of Singapore’s workforce is employed in small and medium enterprises (SME) which means that a large number of everyday Singaporeans are feeling the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak.

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The cost and the burden of the outbreak has really fallen on the shoulders of small and medium-sized business owners, which is something the experts asked the Government to monitor.

And while Professor Tan called SG Budget 2020 a “blockbuster” budget, he said that the reality in Singapore today is quite alarming. Citing the empty airport and business establishments, he said, “Singapore does not look and feel like Singapore. It’s a very unusual time.”

Read also: Ex-PAP MP describes this year’s Budget as a “Blockbuster” one

He pointed out the importance of protecting jobs, as well as reassuring the public that there will be jobs in the future.

The question is, the analysts said, whether or not the Budget puts Singapore in a position to tackle recovery.

Another part of the problem is that no one knows how long the Covid-19 outbreak will last. “When will Singapore be declared Covid-19 free?,” one analyst asked, which is a question that cannot be answered.

Given this, Mr Wee suggested that it may be better to provide a bigger package that would tide business owners over for six months, and not just three. He said that this has become an emotive issue for SME owners.

They asked Ms Indranee if the support packages in the Budget will be sufficient to meet Singaporeans’ needs, given that provisions to address the Covid-19 outbreak have only been put together in the last six weeks.

In response, the Minister said, “This budget is a statement that Singaporeans are, first and foremost, our priority. If you think about it, every single part of the budget is about putting Singaporeans first, and seeing how we can move forward as a country.”

She added that the suggestions and comments from the experts would be taken on board. —/TISG

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