As many Singaporeans expected, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced a Bicentennial bonus, rebates and vouchers as he delivered his Budget 2019 speech today.
The bonuses, rebates and vouchers were on the back of speculation that the General Election may be held as early as this year.
Highlighting the importance of the Bicentennial anniversary of Sir Stamford Raffles’ arrival in Singapore, Heng announced that the Government is giving out a Bicentennial Bonus.
Heng said the Bicentennial Bonus will cost S$1.1 billion and that S$200 million will be set aside in a new Bicentennial Community Fund to provide dollar-for-dollar matching donations made to Institutions of a Public Character (IPCs) in FY2019.
He said that the Government hopes to “further encourage more Singaporeans, including younger Singaporeans, to embrace the spirit of giving back,” by offering the Bicentennial Bonus. The elements of the Bicentennial Bonus are as follows:
Up to S$300 in GST vouchers in cash for 1.4 million Singaporeans;
Workfare Bicentennial Bonus 10 per cent of WIS payouts in cash, with a minimum payout of S$100;
50 per cent rebate for tax payers, capped at S$200 for the 2019 Year of Assessment;
S$150 Edusave top-ups for primary and secondary school students;
S$500 top-up for Singaporeans aged 17 to 20 in their Post-Secondary Education Accounts;
CPF top-ups for Singaporeans aged 50 to 64; and
Between S$300 – S$1,000 in CPF top-ups for Singaporeans aged 50 to 64 with lower CPF balances. Those aged 50 to 54 with up to S$30,000 in their accounts will get S$500. If they have more than S$30,000 but less than S$60,000 they will get S$300. Those between the ages of 55 – 64 will receive double the amount they are eligible for.
Along with the Bicentennial Bonus, Singaporeans will be eligible for more Service and Conservancy Charges (S&CC), this year. 930,000 eligible households will receive between 1.5 to 3.5 months of S&CC rebates.
Further, Heng promised to help commuters who need help with transport expenses by committing an additional $10 million to the Public Transport Fund.
The Government is also set to extend greater help for lower-income families and pensioners. The cash assistance rates for ComCare Long-Term Assistance was raised while the Singapore Allowance and monthly pension ceiling also rose by S$20 per month each.
The bonuses, rebates, and vouchers announced in this year’s budget – combined with the $100-$300 all Singaporeans received as a one-off bonus last year due to the exceptional Budget surplus of FY2017 – could signal that the next election will be held soon, given past election trends.
The nation was celebrating its 50th year of independence in 2015 when the last General Election was called. Citizens received a “SG50” cash bonus in the run-up to the election, which the PAP won with an overwhelming majority.
In Budget 2015, middle-income earners who paid personal income tax received a 50 per cent rebate of up to $1,000. Besides this, eligible Singaporeans aged 55 and above received a one-off Seniors’ Bonus of $150 to $600 in cash, as well.
2015 was also the same year that the nation’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew passed on.
Political observers speculated at the time that the Government called a General Election earlier than expected during the last cycle, to capitalise on the wave of goodwill that poured forth after the political leader’s passing.
The General Election before that, was preceded by Budget 2011, in which the Government distributed $1.5 billion worth of “growth dividends” to Singaporeans. 80 per cent of citizens received $500 to $700 each that year.
With the trend of one-off cash bonuses preceding General Elections in recent years, it may come as no surprise to some if the next election within the next few months.
This article is part of The Independent’s Budget 2019 coverage. Please send your feedback and enquiries to email@example.com.