Saturday 26 March 2016

Budget 2016: Partnering for the Future

Singapore Budget 2016


Budget to 'build our future together': Heng Swee Keat
Prudent plan balances focused relief for households and firms with longer-term goal of preparing them for future
By Yasmine Yahya, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

The first Budget of the Government's new term was unveiled yesterday - a prudent plan that balanced targeted relief for companies and households with the longer-term objective of getting them future-ready.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, delivering his maiden Budget, set the tone early on in his relatively compact speech. With SG50 celebrations over, it was time to plan for Singapore's next 50 years, he said.

On the economic front, this means not just helping firms and industries ride out current economic uncertainties but, more importantly, transforming them through deeper innovation and collaborations.

Workers, who will have to adapt to changing job demands, will get further help to learn new skills, and the most vulnerable households will get enhanced support to ensure they do not get left behind. "Core for us to succeed is the spirit of partnership," declared Mr Heng, who circled back often to this theme. "Together, we are weaving a rich tapestry - each thread a different colour and texture, but woven together to give strength and resilience to our economy and our society."

Mr Heng acknowledged that firms are facing tough conditions, from rising costs to slowing export demand. But while the outlook is subdued, he noted that the economy is still expected to grow. "We must not let pessimism take hold, lest it creates self-fulfilling expectations. The Government will continue to monitor the situation, and stands ready to act if conditions warrant."

Nonetheless, he announced a package of measures to provide smaller companies with some short-term relief, such as raising the corporate income tax rebate from 30 to 50 per cent and a new scheme to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) borrow working capital more easily.

But firms hoping for further delays to foreign worker levy hikes would mostly have been disappointed - he deferred levy increases for work permit holders in only the marine and process sectors, for a year.

Mr Heng stressed that even as firms navigate the current uncertainties, they must keep their eye on the future. "The global economic landscape is changing, and our challenges are pressing. We have a narrow window. We must find every opportunity to transform, to emerge stronger in the coming years."

To that end, Mr Heng unveiled an Industry Transformation Programme (ITP), estimated to cost $4.5 billion over five years and mostly aimed at helping SMEs scale up. It envisions technology and innovation at the core of Singapore's SMEs, setting aside over $450 million to encourage SMEs to adopt robotics and other forms of automation.

A new $100 million one-stop trade information management system will enable businesses to share data electronically with one another and the Government, giving them capabilities associated with much larger international firms and potentially over $600 million worth of man-hour savings each year.

While helping businesses prepare for the future economy, the Budget also kept an eye on individuals and households. A new "Adapt and Grow" initiative will see the current system of government wage support for local hires expanded to cover more jobs and workers. Low-wage workers will benefit from enhancements to the Workfare Income Supplement scheme, which will now have higher, more frequent payouts and simplified criteria.

Mr Heng also gave details of how the Silver Support Scheme, which supports the most vulnerable seniors, will work. It will pay out between $300 and $750 every quarter to those eligible, benefiting 140,000 senior Singaporeans.

At the other end of the scale, babies born from yesterday will receive $3,000 in their Child Development Accounts, while a pilot initiative called KidStart will see about 1,000 underprivileged children get learning, developmental and health support in their first six years.

As a result of all these, total government expenditure this year is estimated to be $73.4 billion, the largest ever and a rise of 7.3 per cent from financial year 2015's $68.4 billion. Despite this, the Budget will see a surplus of $3.4 billion, thanks to the inclusion of revenue contributions from Temasek Holdings.

Analysts said the Budget was a prudent one, with Mr Heng balancing short-term concerns and long-term challenges. He "maintains a fine balancing act as he tiptoes along this fiscal tightrope," said ANZ economist Ng Weiwen. "While there are near-term assistance measures to support the economy, an eagle eye is still maintained on pursuing a productivity-driven growth model in the medium term, aiming to raise productivity from current levels of productivity growth which are close to zero per cent."

Economists also welcomed the ITP, which they saw as a big push at driving innovation through a more targeted approach by sector, and integrating restructuring efforts.

Singapore Management University economist Hoon Hian Teck said: "There's always been talk about this, but I must say I walk away from listening (to Mr Heng) feeling that I've heard a game plan for the next 50 years. And it makes me a bit more hopeful - I think we've identified what are the things we have to do to engineer ourselves for the future."

What will you get from the Budget? Find out with our calculator.
Posted by The Straits Times on Saturday, March 26, 2016

Budget 2016: 10 things you need to know
Budget 2016 is a prudent one, aimed at balancing the short-term economic concerns with long-term challenges. But it is also a Budget that seeks to take care of those who may be left behind in the restructuring of the economy while fostering a sense of community spirit.
By Janice Heng, Charissa Yong and Aaron Low, Deputy Business Editor, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016


1. Tackling challenges in the longer term

While short-term concerns were addressed, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat was squarely focused on the longer-term challenges.

He rolled out a $4.5 billion Industry Transformation Programme, with measures aimed at fostering innovation, buffing up smaller firms and helping companies use automation.

The Automation Support Package will help subsidise up to 50 per cent of a project, capped at a maximum of $1 million, that aims to scale up the use of automation in their operations. This will cost $400 million over three years.

A new online business portal that will help businesses find the right government grant for their needs will also be up and running by the end of this year.

There will also be a new $100 million national trade platform that will cut costs and raise productivity for firms in the trade sector. Firms looking to expand overseas were also given a leg up with an extension of a double tax deduction scheme.

"We must come together as partners to transform our economy through enterprise and deeper innovation," said Mr Heng.

2. Short-term relief for companies

Companies looking for help to cope with the short-term woes of a slowing economy got a boost in the Budget.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said the Government will ramp up spending in healthcare, security, education and urban development sectors. These should generate demand for companies in these sectors.

He also rolled out an enhanced corporate income tax rebate which will rise to 50 per cent of tax payable, up to a cap of $20,000. This will cost the Government an additional $180 million.

Mr Heng also cautioned against becoming too pessimistic, noting that this is not 2009, when there was a deep recession. He gave the assurance that the Government will monitor the situation.

3. Investing heavily in skills upgrading

People will be at the heart of the economic transformation and the Government pledged to continue investing heavily in boosting workers' skills.

It will continue to push ahead with the SkillsFuture programme, which aims to equip workers with skills for the future.
For those affected by retrenchments, support will come in the form of expanded wage credit schemes through the Adapt and Grow initiative. Firms hiring older workers and disabled workers will also get an extension of the Special Employment Credit wage subsidies.

Avenues will be opened up to help people pick up skills quickly so they can get good jobs in the fast-growing information and communications technology sector in a new TechSkills Accelerator.

4. No change to property cooling measures

If there was one big announcement that was eagerly anticipated, it was on whether the property cooling measures will be lifted.

But there was no change.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat reiterated the Government's stance on the property market since measures were rolled out to prevent frothy speculation in real estate.

"These are intended to keep the market stable and sustainable," said Mr Heng, referring to the measures rolled out progressively from 2010.

"Based on the price level and current market conditions, our assessment is that it is premature to relax these measures.

"We will continue to monitor developments in the property market closely."

5. $3.4 billion surplus expected this year

Thanks to higher operating revenue and a bumper $14.7 billion Net Investment Returns Contribution (NIRC), a solid surplus of $3.4 billion is expected this year.

The amount represents 0.8 per cent of gross domestic product.

Operating revenue rose 6.7 per cent to hit $68.4 billion, due to one-off factors such as vehicle-related revenues.

More significantly, Temasek Holdings has been added to the NIR framework starting this year.

This will be a source of revenue for the long term, noted Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.

The NIR framework allows the Government to tap up to half the long-term expected real returns on investments by the GIC, Monetary Authority of Singapore, and now Temasek.

This took the NIRC to $14.7 billion this year, up 48.6 per cent from last year's $9.9 billion.

All this more than makes up for an expected $5 billion or 7.3 per cent rise in total spending.

But the longer-term picture will grow more challenging, with spending needs expected to grow faster than revenues, he warned.

6. Silver Support payouts for seniors

This July, three in 10 elderly citizens will get the first payouts under the Silver Support Scheme.

Some 140,000 Singaporeans aged 65 and above will get $300 to $750 every three months.

Those living in smaller flats get more. The first payout will be a double payment for six months from April to September. First announced in August 2014, the scheme supplements the retirement income of needy seniors.

There is no need to apply for the scheme as eligible seniors will be automatically included.

Three factors determine whether an elderly Singaporean is eligible. To qualify, a person must not have contributed more than $70,000 to his Central Provident Fund savings by age 55.

Silver Support is for seniors living in one- to five-room HDB flats. But if a person or his spouse owns a five-room or larger HDB flat, or any private property, he will not qualify.

Eligible seniors must be from households where the average monthly income per household member is no more than $1,100. The scheme will cost close to $320 million in this first year.

Mr Heng also announced plans for a community network to provide seniors with greater support for their health and social needs. A pilot scheme will be launched in a few areas, which could be scaled up later, he said.

7. Help for families with children

A new $3,000 grant will be automatically credited to the Child Development Account (CDA) of any Singaporean child born from yesterday onwards.

This CDA First Step grant can be used for healthcare and childcare needs.

Children from vulnerable families will also be given a leg up.

About 1,000 children aged six and below can benefit from a new programme called KidStart, which will give them learning, developmental and health support.

Second-timer families with young children who live in rental flats can also get a grant of up to $35,000 to buy a two-room home.

Parents must demonstrate they are putting in effort by staying employed and making sure that their children attend school.

8. ‘Industrial park of the future’ in Jurong

An industrial park that extends beyond manufacturing and a body to help start-ups are among the Government's new initiatives to promote innovation.

The new Jurong Innovation District will bring together facilities for learning, research, innovation and production to form an "industrial park of the future", said Mr Heng.

Comprising Nanyang Technological University, CleanTech Park and the surrounding region, the district could host over 100,000 people across student and private residences, learning spaces, and start-up and research facilities. The first phase is expected to be completed in 2022.

A new SG-Innovate body will also be set up to help start-ups. It will match them with mentors, introduce them to venture capital firms and help them go abroad.

9. New $250m OBS campus on Coney Island

A new campus of the Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) adventure school will be built on the rustic Coney Island in Singapore's north-east.

This would give many more young people the chance to go for an OBS expedition.

"To thrive, our young people need a sense of adventure, resilience, and be ready to challenge themselves to be their best," said Mr Heng.

A new Outward Bound School campus will be built in Coney Island. It is expected to be ready in 2020 and will cost about $250 million.
Posted by The Straits Times on Thursday, March 24, 2016

The $250 million campus is expected to be ready around 2020.

A fund of up to $25 million will also be set up to support ground-up projects by passionate citizens who want to build the Singaporean spirit.

Called Our Singapore Fund, it will be ready by the second half of this year.

10. More cash assistance for needy households

Singaporeans permanently unable to work or support themselves will get a higher monthly cash allowance under the Public Assistance scheme.

For instance, a two-person household with both on public assistance can get an extra $80 a month, bringing their total amount of cash assistance a month to $870.

More details will be announced next month when Parliament debates the budgets of various ministries.

Eligible households will also receive from $250 to $500 in goods and services tax (GST) cash vouchers to help offset the cost of living. This comprises up to $300 in a regular cash voucher to be paid in August, and up to $200 from a one-off cash voucher to be paid in November.

"If our recipients spend some of these in our neighbourhood shops, it will support our local businesses as well," said Mr Heng.

About 840,000 households in Housing Board flats will also get between one and three months of service and conservancy charge rebates. This will cost $86 million.

Budget 2016: Heng Swee Keat seeks partners and he’ll gladly split the bill
Budget statement reflects his preference for collaboration as best way to transform economy
By Lydia Lim, Associate Opinion Editor, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

Budget statement reflects his preference for collaboration as best way to transform economy

Mr Heng Swee Keat chose as the title of his first Budget statement "Partnering for the Future" - reflecting his preference for collaboration as the best way to grow and transform the economy, and nurture a caring society.

"Core for us to succeed is the spirit of partnership, where Singaporeans work together in new ways to transform our economy and strengthen our society," he said.

Just six months into his role as Finance Minister, he and his team have crafted a Budget that conveys quiet confidence in the city state's ability to remake itself for the future. That is no small feat in a world weighed down by worries of slow growth, debt and deficits, terrorism and turbulence.

Amid these external challenges, Singapore is going for growth, with a Budget focused squarely on economic development and anchored by a $4.5 billion Industry Transformation Programme. It is a package of measures to help companies and industries gear up to compete not just locally but also globally, and spur innovation.

The global economic landscape is changing fast, Mr Heng warned, and major economies like China and India are restructuring. Singapore has but a narrow window of opportunity to transform itself.

His message to businesses: "We must come together as partners to transform our economy through enterprise and innovation... Change is accelerating with rapid advances in knowledge and technology. Yet the potential for collaboration has never been greater. We must work together to muster our resources, to innovate, scale up and internationalise."

He cited the work of Lincoln Electric as an example of how one firm can help kick-start change in an industry through partnering other firms. How? Lincoln redesigned robotics systems to make them more affordable to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that have use for them in the metal fabrication process. As many as 1,000 SMEs stand to benefit.

"Industry-level transformation works best if firms partner one another, or if industry associations lead the effort, because they know their needs best. Government agencies can help by initialising lead demand or through regulatory changes. We need to form close partnerships among firms, industry associations and Government to drive industry-level transformation," he said.

The Government will play the role of enabler.

Mr Heng put on the table a $450 million robotics programme to boost development and adoption of the technology. He is footing the bill for a $100 million national trade platform to facilitate information sharing between firms in logistics and trade finance, and the Government.

As for workers, they too are hit by restructuring and many worry that their jobs are no longer secure.

"As economic cycles shorten and changes occur faster, the pressure on our people to adapt will rise," he acknowledged, adding that he understood Singaporeans' anxieties and the Government will give every support to those affected.

Yet there is no getting around the fact that workers will have to "Adapt and Grow". That is the name Mr Heng has given to wage support schemes to encourage firms to hire retrenched workers, and professional conversion programmes to help displaced professionals, managers, executives and technicians learn new skills and switch to jobs in growth sectors.

This then is a partnership premised on responsibility, with the onus on workers to help themselves find replacement jobs.

The Budget makes no mention of other support schemes that some have hoped for, such as unemployment insurance.

On the social side, Mr Heng is banking on partnerships in the community to help address needs, including those due to the rapid ageing of society.

He announced the pilot Community Networks for Seniors in which volunteers, schools, businesses and voluntary welfare organisations work with a team of full-time government officers on the ground to help seniors stay healthy, active and engaged.

He has also set aside funds for a $25 million Our Singapore Fund to support projects that promote unity and deepen people's sense of being Singaporean.

He spoke with delight of Mr Dennis Quek and Mr Wilson Ang, who had organised a trip for 100 wheelchair users to visit Pulau Ubin. They enlisted the help of 600 others, including the Singapore navy, which helped to ferry the participants there in naval vessels.

The strong emphasis on partnerships in Budget 2016 is consistent with the spirit of Mr Heng's other major undertakings, such as the Our Singapore Conversation of 2011-12 and last year's SG50 celebrations.

The first engaged Singaporeans in conversation about their hopes and dreams for the country. The second put the focus on ground-up initiatives to mark 50 years of independence.

Those taking soundings of Mr Heng's leadership style, since he is touted as a possible future prime minister, will have found in the framing of yesterday's Budget statement confirmation that he values participation and engagement. As Finance Minister, he chooses not to lead forcefully from the front, preferring instead to facilitate and support change from behind.

It is an approach that is appropriate for the new economy, in which the Government's role is increasingly to create conditions for private enterprise and creativity to flourish.

But the focus on partnerships also has its drawbacks at a time of rapid economic change, for partnerships take time to get off the ground. After all, all sides involved need to be willing and ready to make a go of it together.

The thing is, Singapore is not used to slow change.

Given the urgency of economic transformation, will the generous incentives and new platforms to encourage collaboration set out in this year's Budget suffice?

Or will Mr Heng discover that other forms of pressure are needed to spur and speed change along?

Budget 2016: No big bang but a startling vision
By Lee Su Shyan, Business Editor, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

No one was expecting a Budget with a "big bang" like 2014's $8 billion Pioneer Generation Package, but Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday managed to have a little something for those most in need of it - and still have enough left in the kitty.

This was cleverly achieved by taking a very targeted and prudent approach to spending, especially on the business front and in contrast to the more broad-based measures to support the economic restructuring of the past decade.

Take small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which have been hard-hit by the economic slowdown. Mr Heng, who has been assiduous at walking the ground with such companies, rolled out measures to help them.

These include corporate income tax rebates capped at levels to benefit small businesses rather than the big boys. And there is a support package helping firms to automate, that takes into account feedback that there has been help at the initial stages but less when a company is expanding. This encourages medium-sized SMEs to expand and grow.

Easy access to financing was also addressed by the higher risk-sharing proportion that the Government will undertake in a bid to encourage banks to lend to these SMEs.

Cooperation and partnerships were clear themes of this Budget, to suggest that collaboration was the way to survive in challenging times.

DBS economist Irvin Seah was in tune with much of the general sentiment when he wrote: "This is in line with our long-held view that a more targeted and collaborative approach to restructuring will yield a more positive outcome in the longer term."

On the issue of productivity, there was a tacit admission that the Productivity and Innovation Credit had, as a broad-based measure, made all companies aware of the need for productivity, but had not delivered any significant productivity gains.

With a targeted approach of rolling out help where it would matter most, despite a hefty increase in overall expenditure of around $5 billion, Mr Heng still managed to balance the books such that there was a very respectable Budget surplus of $3.45 billion.

This is, of course, in no small way thanks to Singapore investment firm Temasek Holdings. With foresight, the Government, knowing that spending would rise, amended the framework last year to allow for substantially bigger contributions by Temasek.

But even as the Budget, in its own cautious and prudent way, builds on the foundation of what has been put in place in previous Budgets, there are risks to this approach.

In his speech, Mr Heng acknowledged the structural challenges that the economy is facing, including how technology is disrupting business models. While he urges Singaporeans not to be overly pessimistic and the economy is clearly not in a recession nor a crisis, Singapore's projected growth of 1 per cent to 3 per cent is nothing to crow about. Private sector economists, too, have also pitched Singapore's growth at the lower end of the range.

And while there are undoubtedly growing opportunities in Asean, China and India - as mentioned by Mr Heng - the benefits of the new Asean Economic Community have yet to emerge in a significant way. Mr Heng also rightly points out that the Trans-Pacific Partnership and China's One Belt, One Road initiatives offer tremendous potential. However, it will be years before the impact will be felt.

There are many medium-term and long-term issues that Singapore faces, such as the competitiveness of SMEs and the upgrading of the workforce, as well as the hollowing out of manufacturing. Already, recent labour market reports have highlighted a rise in PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) who lost their jobs last year.

To be sure, these will be tackled by the Committee on the Future Economy, which Mr Heng also chairs. Meetings have been held and the committee aims to get its work done by the year-end.

It would not be feasible to expect the Budget to address all these issues. But nevertheless, there is perhaps too much of an "akan datang" - Malay for "coming soon", used in movie trailers - aspect to the Budget.

Overall, Mr Heng may not have delivered a "big bang", but he did conclude with a startling vision. He threw down the gauntlet to Singaporeans, quoting founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on keeping Singapore here a thousand years from now. Mr Heng added: "How do we make these years count? Together we can make our time count. We can dream, plan, and build for a thousand years. We must try."

No doubt, thought should be given to a fundamental reconsideration of economic strategies but, given the speed of technological change and how volatile the economic cycle is, there is the risk that if Singapore does not move faster, it runs the risk of being left behind.

BUDGET 2016 - Shaping our future together / Transforming the economy

Short-term help for companies
Measures include a new scheme to help small and medium-sized enterprises get loans
By Chia Yan Min, Economics Correspondent, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

Companies battling the economic slowdown will find temporary relief in a suite of Budget measures.

These include enhanced tax rebates, wage subsidies and a scheme to boost lending to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

However, a hoped-for freeze in foreign worker levy hikes did not materialise, with only firms in the beleaguered marine and process sector receiving a one-year deferment of work permit levies.

The slate of measures is targeted mainly at SMEs and aimed at addressing firms' short-term concerns while enabling restructuring.

"Some have asked for a repeat of support measures we saw in 2009. But that was when the economy was already in deep recession, and facing huge uncertainty," said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.

While the economic outlook is soft, growth is still expected to be positive this year, he noted.

"We must not let pessimism take hold, lest it creates self-fulfilling expectations," said the minister, adding that the Government will monitor the situation and stands ready to act if conditions warrant action.

The first source of support comes from higher public spending, which is expected to translate into about 1 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product.

Existing measures such as the Wage Credit Scheme, which co- funds 40 per cent of the pay increases given to Singaporean employees earning a gross monthly wage of $4,000 and below, will help.

The corporate income tax rebate will also be raised, a move targeted at SMEs.

The Special Employment Credit (SEC) scheme, which provides wage offsets to employers hiring older workers and people with disabilities, will be extended and modified.

The next measure, called the SME Working Capital Loan scheme, aims to improve access to finance for viable firms that have cash-flow concerns or want to expand their business.

Another $15 million a year will go towards revitalising and upgrading shops in the heartland.

Finally, in view of tough business conditions and a reduction in the number of work permit holders in the marine and process sectors, foreign worker levy increases for work permit holders in these sectors will be deferred for one year.

Manufacturing work permit levies will also remain unchanged for another year, as announced in last year's Budget.

However, levy increases for services and construction work permit holders, as well as S Pass holders in every sector, will proceed in view of the growing foreign workforce in these sectors, said the minister.

OCBC economist Selena Ling said the measures are appropriate, given that Singapore is in a patch of slower growth and not "in full- blown recession or panic mode".

"It's fairly generous and also signals a steady hand on the steering wheel...The measures are obviously very targeted at SMEs," she added.

Mr Tan Wee Jin, who owns and manages Hotel Kai in Purvis Street, welcomed the extension of the SEC and the introduction of the SME Working Capital Loan.

"We are always on the lookout for suitable older workers to hire, and these incentives make it even more attractive for us. Also, the loan is helpful as it can be tough for small companies to access capital," he said.

Mr Tan also wants some policy tweaks. "Even as they tighten the inflow of foreign workers and increase levies, I hope that companies can be allowed to have work permit holders who are legally allowed to perform multiple duties within the same firm," he said. "Small companies like ours need all the flexibility we can get."

The measures

1. Higher public spending and help

from existing measures Total spending is $5 billion higher than in the previous year - up 7.3 per cent. Companies will get $1.9 billion this month under the Wage Credit Scheme, the programme's largest payout to date.

2. Corporate income tax rebate will be raised

For the 2016 and 2017 years of assessment, the rebate will go up from 30 per cent of tax payable to 50 per cent, with a rebate cap of $20,000 each year. The increased support is expected to cost an additional $180 million over two years, bringing the total to almost $1 billion over two years.

3. Extension and modification of Special Employment Credit (SEC) scheme

The SEC, which was due to expire this year, has been extended for three years until 2019. The programme will provide wage offsets for workers aged 55 and above earning up to $4,000 a month. The SEC will cover about 340,000 workers, or about three in four older Singaporean workers. The SEC fund will be topped up by $1.1 billion.

4. SME Working Capital Loan scheme

The scheme will cover loans of up to $300,000 a company. The Government will co-share 50 per cent of loan default risk with participating financial institutions, to boost lending to SMEs. This programme will be available for three years and could give rise to more than $2 billion of loans.

5. Foreign worker levy increases for work permit holders in the marine and process sectors deferred for one year

Manufacturing work permit levies will also remain unchanged for another year, as announced in last year's Budget.

Some bright spots amid difficult business conditions
By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

Singapore faces strong economic headwinds this year as firms grapple with both the weak global economy and the increasingly urgent need to restructure, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

He said he is aware that business conditions are "difficult and uncertain", with many firms facing depressed revenue growth, rising manpower costs and tighter financing.

Still, a few bright spots are evident amid overall subdued prospects. Some sectors have remained resilient despite the slowdown, and Singapore is at the centre of a rapidly growing region which offers rich opportunities.

Mr Heng painted a muted picture of the economic outlook in his maiden Budget speech yesterday.

He noted that the pace of global recovery has been uneven - the United States economy has picked up pace, but Europe and Japan are likely to record only modest growth.

Closer to home, any setbacks that China faces in its transition towards a more stable growth path might create financial market volatility.

This means that Singapore's export-dependent sectors such as manufacturing will continue to be hit by lacklustre global demand, said Mr Heng.

The sharp slide in oil and other commodity prices is affecting the marine and offshore industry, while weak global demand in electronics will spill over into related clusters like precision engineering.

"Workers are anxious as retrenchment has increased, including among professionals," he added.

Even as Singapore grapples with this cyclical slowdown, the country has to deal with structural challenges such as shifting demographics, the need to raise productivity, technological disruptions in various sectors and changing regional trade patterns.

"All these changes pose intense challenges for our businesses, which will have to succeed in a more competitive environment while contending with tighter labour constraints.

"The need to restructure is both urgent and critical."

While the overall conditions are difficult, however, Mr Heng urged companies and workers not to be "overly pessimistic".

The economy is forecast to grow by between 1 per cent and 3 per cent this year, comparable with last year's 2 per cent expansion.

Singapore's business landscape is varied and there are "pockets of growth and resilience", he noted.

For instance, the medical technology and chemicals sectors are growing, while exports of services such as tourism, financial services and consultancy are benefiting from regional demand.

There are also growing opportunities in the region, as Singapore is "in the centre of the Asian growth story" - China, India and Asean are expected to grow at 6.3 per cent per year over the next five years, accounting for about one-third of global growth.

Singapore is well placed to benefit from technological changes, given its investments in education and research.

"We also started restructuring early and our firms, including SMEs, are embarking on change... Singapore is regarded as a highly connected, trusted node," he said.

$4.5 billion helping hand for industry
Companies, especially SMEs, will get more help to automate, scale up and go overseas
By Chong Koh Ping, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

Singapore companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), will be given a $4.5 billion boost to automate, scale up and go overseas to emerge stronger after the current slowdown.

The helping hand comes via a new Industry Transformation Programme and is on top of existing amounts allocated for research and development as well as the National Productivity Fund.

The programme aims to help firms create new value and lift growth by pulling together the various efforts to raise productivity, develop the workforce and drive innovation.

The Government will also take a more targeted approach in rolling out help schemes, and place stronger emphasis on technology adoption and innovation.

Partnerships between the Government and the industry - and among industry players - will be deepened.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced several new measures aimed at helping companies transform successfully.


A business grants portal will be launched in the fourth quarter of the year to house all the help schemes within one platform.

With this, "firms will not need to go from agency to agency to find out what schemes apply to them", said Mr Heng.

For a start, the portal will include grants from trade agency IE Singapore, enterprise agency Spring, Singapore Tourism Board and Design Singapore.

They will be organised along the core business needs of capability building, training and international expansion.

However, Mr Simon Tay, director of bun and pastry maker BHF, felt the new portal would not be too useful to very small companies.

"It will be more helpful if the staff from the SME centres can proactively approach the SMEs to understand their needs and guide them through the application," he said. "It will be 50 per cent faster."


A new $400 million Automation Support Package will be introduced for an initial period of three years to help companies start or scale up their automation projects.

The Government will provide grants of up to half of the project costs, capped at $1 million per project. There will be a new 100 per cent investment allowance for automation equipment, in addition to the existing capital allowance.

SMEs will also find it easier to borrow money to upgrade and buy new equipment. The Government will raise its risk-share with banks from 50 per cent to 70 per cent.

The founder of food and pharmaceutical ingredient firm Natural Colloids Industries, Mr Lim Chai, noted that the grant quantum for automation is much larger compared to other grants previously rolled out.

"A good project or system that can help cut manpower and increase capacity substantially will naturally cost a lot more money," he said. "This (new grant) will help spur SMEs to be more daring, to think big and think long term when they consider buying new machines."


SME Mezzanine Growth Fund will be expanded from its current $100 million to $150 million. This will allow more capital to help SMEs scale up and internationalise.

To encourage firms to expand through mergers and acquisitions, the M&A allowance will be granted on up to $40 million of the consideration paid for qualifying M&A deals, up from $20 million now.

Together with the enhancement of the M&A scheme last year, to raise the tax allowance to 25 per cent of the value of a deal, companies will be able to enjoy up to $10 million of M&A tax allowances each year.

Mr Heng also extended a scheme granting non-taxation of companies' gains on disposal of their equity investments to May 31, 2022.

This will provide companies upfront certainty for their corporate restructuring efforts.


Mr Heng noted that Singapore firms, especially SMEs, are eager to seek new markets and grow overseas.

Last year, IE Singapore supported 34,000 companies in going overseas, a 21 per cent increase from 2014. This year, the agency expects to help around 35,000 to 40,000 companies of all sizes to internationalise.

The Double Tax Deduction for Internationalisation scheme - which covers expenses for activities such as overseas business development and investment study trips -will be extended to March 31, 2020.

Cash rebates to be cut for Productivity and Innovation Credit Scheme
By Marissa Lee, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

Cash rebates under the popular Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) Scheme will be decreased this year, as the Government seeks to replace broad-based measures with more targeted support for firms.

The PIC scheme encourages small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to invest in increasing productivity by offering them cash and tax deductions for costs like worker training, automation and research.

Currently, SMEs enjoy a cash payout rate of 60 per cent on up to $100,000 of qualifying expenses across six activities. The payout rate will be cut to 40 per cent of expenses incurred on or after Aug 1 this year.

The scheme also allows SMEs to claim 400 per cent tax deductions on their upgrading activities, with an expenditure cap of $400,000 per activity. That rate remains unchanged.

DBS economist Irvin Seah said: "It's good that they've pared down the cash. This stems from the fact that the scheme is known to be badly abused."

Fraudsters have been known to file fake claims under the scheme.

Making it attractive for SMEs to file for tax rebates instead of cash rebates will also encourage applicants to stay profitable in order to reap the benefit, so less funds will be spent on zombie companies, Mr Seah said.

The PIC scheme will expire in Year of Assessment 2018, as scheduled.

New platform to boost business-govt data sharing
One-stop trade-info management system to provide vital support to firms, help cut costs and streamline processes
By Jacqueline Woo, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

A National Trade Platform (NTP), costing more than $100 million, is to be set up to enable more sharing of integrated electronic trade data between businesses and the Government.

The platform will provide vital support to firms, particularly those in the logistics and trade finance sectors, as well as help cut costs and streamline various processes.

This was among the good news Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat delivered to companies yesterday, in a slew of initiatives aimed at spurring industry-level transformation.

He stressed that this type of transformation works best if firms partner one another or if trade associations lead the effort, because they know their needs best. "By doing it together, firms achieve scale, drive down cost, incentivise service providers to step forward, and expand mindshare."

The one-stop trade-information management system will be "especially helpful" for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in cutting costs and streamlining processes, Mr Heng said.

Firms will only have to provide trade information once and authorise its use by logistics providers and business partners, he noted.

The information can also be used for Customs and other trade regulatory approvals.

Plans for the new platform had been announced in May last year, when the Government said it would combine the TradeNet, TradeXchange and Customs back-end systems into one system in the hope of boosting national productivity and advancing the country's competitiveness through a digitalised and integrated supply chain.

The system will eventually replace TradeNet, the platform for making Customs declarations, and TradeXchange, which facilitates data exchange within the trade and logistics community.

The NTP is "not just an IT system", said Mr Heng.

It will be developed as an open innovation platform, which means other service providers can develop value-added services and apps in areas such as operations, visibility and trade finance.

All in all, the platform has "the potential to bring over $600 million worth of man-hour savings each year for our firms", said Mr Heng.

Equally key to driving change at the industry level are trade associations and chambers (TACs), he said - which is why the Government is setting aside up to $30 million over the next five years to help such organisations beef up their outreach efforts.

"TACs have intimate knowledge of the needs and potential of their specific sectors," he noted. "They are well placed to reach out to many firms, especially SMEs."

The existing Local Enterprise and Association Development (Lead) initiative will be extended through a new Lead-Plus programme, which is aimed at providing TACs with "wider funding support" to attract talent, develop capabilities and strengthen their processes and services, said Mr Heng.

Under the programme, up to 20 public officers will be seconded to interested TACs to forge closer partnerships and enable the public officers to better understand the needs of local enterprises.

Additionally, to encourage TACs to take the lead in developing industrywide solutions for common challenges, enterprise development agency Spring Singapore will partner TACs to drive 30 such projects over the next three years to reach out to more than 3,000 SMEs, said Mr Heng.

Industry expert Shubhendu Misra, a partner at Ernst & Young Solutions, believes the NTP is "a good step to providing an integrated platform in terms of facilitating trade", and that it will benefit any SME that undertakes import or export activity.

"It will help stakeholders save time and effort, which also translates to enhanced productivity."

SMEs get help in adopting robotics to raise productivity
By Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

Singapore will set aside more than $450 million to help companies adopt robotics technology.

This boost to the National Robotics Programme in the next three years will make it easier for companies to introduce the technology and, in turn, be more productive, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

This is particularly important in the current tight labour market. Also, it can create more value-added jobs and help transform an entire industry, said Mr Heng.

"Robotics and automation technology can be applied widely to transform sectors such as construction, manufacturing and logistics," he added.

But such technology is often too expensive or complicated for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to set up, Mr Heng noted.

"We will now scale up our efforts and, in particular, work with solution providers to offer packaged solutions to SMEs at a reasonable cost," he said.

Citing the healthcare industry, he said robotics technology is being used in hospital pharmacies to pick medication accurately and quickly, a move that frees up time for staff to give advice on the medication.

Mr Esmond Lim, chief executive of precision engineering company PLC Industries, welcomed the boost to the robotics programme, which was introduced last July.

His company took the step two years ago when it installed two UR10 robotic arms to load and unload materials and finished parts on four production line machines.

One arm serves two machines, automating a process that otherwise would have required four people to operate.

Each robot arm cost about $60,000 to install, but Mr Lim said both paid for themselves within a year. "It helps improve productivity and frees up my operators to do other things," he added.

Economists hopeful, bosses less thrilled
By Marissa Lee, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

Bosses of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have not been able to strike much off their Budget wish lists.

"Overall, the benefit to us is reduced. There's nothing to cheer about," said Mr Dilip Babu, director of Info-Tech Systems Integrators, a biometric systems provider.

He noted that the Government is paring down cash rebates under the popular Productivity and Innovation Credit scheme in August, cutting the payout rate from 60 per cent to 40 per cent of expenses incurred for investments to raise productivity.

"Cash flow is most important for SMEs, especially with all the uncertainty in the economy. We also get corporate income tax rebates, but those are capped at $20,000 and will help only micro-SMEs. And tax rebates take a longer time (to reach us)," he said.

Firms in the construction and service sectors also did not get the deferral in foreign worker levy hikes that some had called for.

But economists said the Budget struck a careful balance overall, rolling out adequate short-term counter-cyclical measures, while keeping enough fiscal bullets - a $3.4 billion Budget surplus to be exact - to act quickly should economic conditions turn.

"It's a bit of a let-down on (the foreign labour policy) part, but it looks like they tried to compensate that with the enhanced tax rebates and a loan assistance scheme for SMEs," said DBS economist Irvin Seah.

Economists also welcomed the $4.5 billion Industry Transformation Programme, aimed at driving innovation through a more targeted approach by sector and integrating Singapore's different restructuring efforts.

Singapore Management University economist Hoon Hian Teck said: "There's always been talk about this, but I must say I walk away feeling that I've heard a game plan for the next 50 years. And it makes me a bit more hopeful. I think we've identified what are the things we have to do to engineer ourselves for the future."

A recurring theme in the Budget was to work together, said Professor Hoon, and the push seems to be for individuals to drive innovation, with the Government playing a coordinating role.

To this end, the enhanced social support schemes are significant, he said. "Improving Workfare is an acknowledgement that in any society, some will try and they will fail. But there is also an effort to provide a safety net without taking away the energy for enterprise."

Jurong to be 'industrial park of the future'
Jurong Innovation District will be Singapore's largest living lab for new technologies
By Rennie Whang, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

After one-north, another next-generation industrial area is coming up in the west.

The Jurong West area is set to be home to Singapore's largest living lab for the testing and development of new technologies, including self-driving vehicles, robots and other smart solutions.

The Jurong Innovation District (JID) - comprising Nanyang Technological University, CleanTech Park and the surrounding region - was one of three government measures announced yesterday to boost innovation.

"Our earlier industrial estates were developed for specific industries, focused mostly on production," Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said. "Today, however, learning, research, innovation and production are closely intertwined." All these different activities will be housed together at JID, forming an "industrial park of the future", he added.

When fully developed, it could host over 100,000 people across living spaces, including student and soho residences, learning spaces and start-up and research facilities.

Observers such as Mr Nguyen Do Dzung, senior planner at CPG Consultants, noted that JID is in line with the Government's long-term strategy of moving towards higher value-added economic activities.

"The global economic environment is not the best at the moment and new, exciting ideas (such as JID) are critical to ensure Singapore is competitive, an attractive place to do business and innovate as well," he said.

Its creation is also in line with global trends, noted Ms Angelene Chan, chief executive of DP Architects, who cited the Guangzhou Knowledge City Core Area master plan in China which the firm worked on as an example. There, the vision was for a city attractive to knowledge-based industries.

The idea of a holistic, sustainable environment catering to the modern demands of users will be attractive to firms. JID will also be close to the lifestyle elements of the Jurong Lake District in Jurong East, she added.

JTC Corporation is constructing LaunchPad @ JID, a space where entrepreneurs, researchers and students can design, make prototypes and test their new creations.

It has also invited private sector technology owners to test and develop sustainable infrastructure solutions in the district.

The first phase of JID is targeted for completion around 2022.

For Mr Frank Phuan, chief executive of local solar energy developer Sunseap Group, the choice of Jurong is not surprising, given multiple technologies piloted in the area.

For example, Yuhua last year was the first estate to get smart-living features, including metering systems that give real-time information on electricity usage.

Sunseap and other private companies have been collaborating with the National University of Singapore's Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore in CleanTech Park as well.

"What's exciting now is the potential scale, compared with smaller pilots so far," he said.

"The technologies that prove successful can then be implemented in other districts."

JID comes as a further transformation of Jurong, a swampland-turned-manufacturing hub.

Jurong Island, for example, has attracted over $47 billion worth of investments to date from over 100 global companies, said the Economic Development Board.

In the past five years, a slew of Government Land Sales in Jurong have allowed the region to take on the form of a self-sufficient urban system, said Mr Alan Cheong, Savills Singapore's research head.

"To ensure new age companies find Jurong attractive, the entire ambience of the district has to be transformed further," he said.

Budget 2016 - Shaping our future together: Supporting our workers

Helping workers get back in the game
Initiatives like Adapt and Grow rolled out to help people learn and relearn
By Rachael Boon, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

Singaporeans are more anxious about their job security than ever amid softening economic conditions and the ongoing restructuring of the economy.

And more workers are likely to find themselves laid off.

To tackle these concerns head on, the latest Budget includes a set of initiatives to help such workers get back in the game by growing their skills and helping them to find new jobs.

"Like firms, our people too are facing cyclical and structural changes," Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat noted.

"I appreciate that it is not easy for those who are retrenched to learn new skills and find new jobs. But if we remain adaptable, learn, unlearn and relearn quickly, we can stay relevant and seek new careers."

One measure he announced was a new Adapt and Grow initiative. Though details are scant so far, Mr Heng said one prong will involve the expansion of government wage support schemes to encourage firms to hire locals who may face greater difficulty in finding jobs.

This will benefit more workers who may be affected by retrenchments or business restructuring, he said.

For mid-career job seekers, including retrenched professionals, the Government will step up its existing professional conversion programmes.

New programmes will be launched in sectors such as design, and information and communications technology .

Labour economist Randolph Tan is all in favour of such programmes, calling them "forward- looking" as they build capacity up from the individual level.

However, he has some qualms about wage support.

The newly minted Nominated MP, an SIM University associate professor, said: "I have become increasingly concerned about what I see as the widening coverage, duration and cost of wage support.

"The longer they are in force, the greater the tendency for their incremental impact to weaken, due to factors such as the smaller numbers of workers that are in the target group."

However, he noted that the framers of the Budget are aware of the shortcomings of excessive wage support, hence the clear steps towards tapering it.

Assoc Prof Tan added that the professional conversion programmes will take time.

"On the bright side, groundwork on this has already commenced, with the focus on skills and productivity, so the new Bud- get essentially crystallises the vision further, where each individual has a valuable place as long as he or she is willing to get plugged into this regime of upgrading," he said.

The Government will also enhance efforts to help match such job seekers with jobs at small and medium-sized enterprises, Mr Heng said.

"We expect to more than double the current outreach for PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) from 2,000 to over 4,000," he added.

The Ministry of Manpower will commit an additional $35 million a year from the Lifelong Learning Endowment Fund and Skills Development Fund to support these initiatives.

NTUC assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay said: "Based on the retrenchment figures for 2015, with a majority of 71 per cent being PMETs, and seeing that in the first half of 2016 more layoffs affected them, it is a positive move to support and assist PMEs to stay employed and employable."

Adapt and Grow complements the SkillsFuture programme, launched in November 2014, to encourage people to deepen their skills or pick up new ones throughout their lives.

SkillsFuture is "our long-term game plan", Mr Heng said, adding that the Government "must continue to expand and deepen" the programme.

Analysts said these initiatives will help Singaporeans get ready for the major structural shifts that will change the economy in time to come. They added that government help provides a good foundation for workers.

However, Mr Sebastien Hampartzoumian, PageGroup's senior managing director, Singapore and India, said they must "stay open-minded and flexible" about change.

Standard Chartered Bank economist Jeff Ng added: "On cyclical issues, Finance Minister Heng said the Budget aims to match retrenched workers with new jobs and careers.

"Given that growth will remain modest near-term, with a tight labour force, if implemented properly the initiatives can help address some of the cyclical challenges."

Mr Heng stressed that firms have to restructure so that workers have better prospects.

He explained that across selected industries such as precision engineering, and food and beverage, "firms with higher productivity tend to pay higher wages".

"It is important for our firms to raise productivity, or else our workers would remain in low value-added jobs with weak prospects. We must aim for a virtuous cycle of higher skills, higher productivity and higher wages."

Big push for ICT sector with new hub
By Rachael Boon, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

The Government is going on the offensive in the information and communications technology (ICT) sector, with a new hub for skills development and job placement - the TechSkills Accelerator.

The accelerator aims to help people acquire new skills and expertise, then find jobs in the growing ICT sector.

The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) will team up with key IT employers and associations, such as the Singapore Computer Society (SCS), for this initiative.

"To drive our Smart Nation effort, we will need many more of our own experts, in a wide variety of skills - programmers and coders, cyber-security specialists, user experience designers," said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

The IDA estimates that there will be about 30,000 new positions by 2020, he noted, and the current shortage is driving up pay.

The accelerator will identify specific skills in demand and help meet such "complex demands" in start-ups and sectors like finance and healthcare.

It will also develop skills standards and certification recognised by the industry.

A push will be mounted for hiring and paying based on certified skills proficiency, rather than just academic qualifications, said Mr Heng, who added that several employers, including the new Government Technology Agency, have already agreed to come on board.

He said such efforts would be expanded to more sectors in future.

SCS president Howie Lau is excited about the new initiative because "ICT is embedded across all industries".

He said: "The multifaceted part of this accelerator makes sense because it's not just about the training, but also capability.

"The critical part is making sure we have a strong alignment. If all we do is focus on creating the skills but we don't have a strong link to ensure they are relevant to what the industry is ready and willing to hire, then you're going to have a bit of a mismatch."

Low-wage workers to get bigger payouts, more often
Workfare income ceiling raised so more will qualify; older staff could receive up to $3,600 a year
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

Low-wage workers who qualify for Workfare will get larger and more frequent payouts starting from next year. A funding scheme for training is also being expanded to allow younger workers with disabilities to benefit from it.

Announcing these changes yesterday, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said that the income ceiling for the Workfare Income Supplement scheme is also being raised from $1,900 per month to $2,000.

This has become necessary because more people have moved up the pay ladder since 2013 and could have fallen out of the programme, which aims to help the lowest-earning 30 per cent of the citizen workforce.

When the ceiling was last raised from $1,700 to $1,900 in 2013, about 480,000 Singaporeans were expected to be covered by Workfare. Now, setting the ceiling at $2,000 means that about 460,000 people will qualify. This kicks in for work done from Jan 1 next year.

Mr Heng said eligible workers will also receive higher payouts.

Depending on age and income, Singaporeans on the scheme may receive up to $3,600 a year in Workfare income supplements, up from $3,500 now. For example, those earning $1,000 to $1,600 a month will see their payouts increase by between $100 and $500, with older workers continuing to receive more than younger workers.

The money will still be channelled to workers in cash and to their CPF accounts in a ratio of 40 to 60. So someone aged 55 earning $1,200 a month will get a total of $2,900 for a year's work from the scheme, with around $1,200 given in cash and $1,700 deposited in his CPF account. And after 10 years, this will translate to $3,500 more in CPF savings.

Payouts will also be given out more frequently - every month, instead of once a quarter, said Mr Heng. For example, a worker could receive payments at end-March for work done in January, rather than having to wait until June.

This is because the qualifying criteria for the scheme will be simplified to tie payouts to every month worked. Currently, workers are only eligible if they work two out of three consecutive months, or three out of six consecutive months, or six out of 12 months in a year.

Tying payouts to each month of work will be more timely and effective for workers, said labour MP Patrick Tay, who is also the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower.

"It will encourage them to take up short-term work, such as contract work," he noted, adding that this is is something that the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) has been lobbying for.

Reiterating the rationale for Workfare, Mr Heng said in his Budget speech yesterday that the changes are part of the Government's measures to build a caring and resilient society. "For adults, we focus on opportunities through work, through which we learn and contribute, and derive personal pride and dignity," he said.

The total budget for Workfare income supplements will be around $770 million a year, he said.

Meanwhile, younger people with disabilities will also have more funding to upgrade their skills under the Workfare Training Support Scheme, which previously included only people aged 35 and above.

Besides lowering the age limit to 13, the Government will also raise the income ceiling to $2,000 a month, up from $1,900.

These changes also broaden the reach of the Training Commitment Award under the scheme, which provides cash awards of up to $400 a year to encourage people to complete their courses.

Fellow labour MP Zainal Sapari, who heads the NTUC unit that oversees low-wage workers, said that this is "part and parcel of us trying to move towards being a more inclusive society".

But providing the necessary training for people with disabilities can only go so far, he said. "We need a change in the mindset among employers to want to employ them."

Additional reporting by Toh Yong Chuan

Relief cabby motivated 'to keep working'
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

Relief taxi driver M. R. Nathan, 63, cannot work long hours because of his heart condition and joint pains, but needs the income to pay for his and his wife's medical bills.

He has been driving a taxi for a living since 2007.

Before that, he had worked in his father's trading business and was a PSA clerical worker.

He earns around $1,000 a month working six to eight hours a day. His wife makes about $500 a month from her job as a part-time nanny.

"We try to plan prudently so that we don't have to rely so much on our children because they have their own family commitments," said Mr Nathan. Now some extra help may be at hand.

The grandfather of three said his two older children are married, while the youngest is single and lives with him and his wife.

Being self-employed, Mr Nathan does not have an income when he cannot work. This happened last November, when he was in hospital for a ballooning procedure.

But the expenses do not take a break. Every three months, he spends around $1,000 on his medication. His wife, who is 56, has diabetes and a knee problem.

The bulk of the household income goes towards paying off the mortgage on their five-room Housing Board flat in Sengkang.

He has some help with the medical expenses from his children, and from payouts from the Workfare Income Supplement scheme, which he gets because he declares his income and contributes to his Medisave account.

The higher payouts under the scheme, announced in the Budget yesterday, will be a "morale booster", said Mr Nathan.

"It's an incentive for me to keep working," he said.

"I'm glad the Government recognises that we older workers contribute and that we do our part to try and keep healthy so we can work."

Correspondent's take: Earning more, relying less on Workfare
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

The Workfare scheme will be given a boost from next year.

The monthly income ceiling to be eligible under the scheme will be raised from $1,900 to $2,000 next January. Workers will get between $100 and $500 more a year, and payments will be made monthly, not quarterly.

Workfare was introduced in 2007 to boost monthly incomes of low-wage workers through a wage supplement for those who earned below a certain salary.

On the surface, the $100 rise in income ceiling is low. Previous hikes were of $200 each time: from $1,500 to $1,700 in 2010, and to $1,900 in 2013.

Also, fewer workers will benefit from the supplements despite the higher ceiling. About 460,000 Singaporeans will be under the $2,000 ceiling from next year.

In absolute numbers, this is lower than in 2013, when the ceiling moved to $1,900 and about 480,000 Singaporeans came under Workfare.

Still, there is no need to worry about fewer citizens being on Workfare. The Workfare ceiling is pegged to the 30th percentile of the citizen workforce, with the bottom fifth getting the most help.

The Manpower Ministry does not publish the income data of the 30th percentile. But for citizen workers at the 20th percentile, one notch lower, their monthly income from work - excluding employers' Central Provident Fund contributions - has risen from $1,500 in 2012 to $1,733 last year.

The higher salaries are due to policies that kept the labour market tight, put a lid on cheap foreign workers, and introduced compulsory wage ladders in the cleaning, security and landscape sectors that employ large numbers of low-wage workers.

In short, low-wage workers are earning more and relying less on Workfare. This is an encouraging sign.

While having Workfare is good, what is more important is for the scheme to complement other government policies that raise the salaries of low-wage workers permanently.

BUDGET 2016 - Shaping our future together: Helping families

First Silver Support payout in July
140,000 S'poreans aged 65 and up to receive between $300 and $750 every three months
By Toh Yong Chuan, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

The much-awaited Silver Support Scheme will make its first payout in July, with some 140,000 Singaporeans aged 65 and above receiving between $300 and $750 every three months.

About three in 10 Singaporeans aged 65 and above will qualify for the payouts, with those living in smaller Housing Board flats receiving more.

The Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board, which is implementing the scheme, will consider three factors in deciding whether a person qualifies: lifetime wages, housing type and level of financial support in the household.

"Some of our older Singaporeans have fewer resources in their retirement years than others, because they earned low wages even after working consistently throughout their lives, or because they stayed home to raise their families," said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.

The scheme will provide these seniors "a modest but meaningful supplement to their retirement incomes", he said. "(But) it is not intended to substitute for other sources of support."

The proportion of Singaporeans aged 65 and above will double from one in eight now to one in four by 2030, he noted.

There is no need to apply to join the scheme. Instead, the CPF Board will use information that it already has, such as CPF contribution history and housing type.

The Silver Support Scheme supplements the incomes of elderly who had lower incomes over their lifetimes and have less...
Posted by CPF Board on Thursday, March 24, 2016

To qualify for the scheme, the person must not have contributed more than $70,000 to the CPF by the age of 55. They must live in a one- to five-room HDB flat, but those who own or whose spouse owns a five-room or larger HDB flat or private properties will not qualify. Average income per household member also cannot exceed $1,100 each month. The eligibility will be reviewed yearly.

These criteria will "make sure Silver Support goes to those who have lower incomes over their lifetimes and less retirement support", Mr Heng said. He added that a retired couple living in a three-room flat can receive $4,800 each year.

Recipients will receive the money in their bank accounts or cheques if they do not have bank accounts.

The scheme was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally in August 2014. During campaigning in the general election last September, PM Lee described the scheme as one that helps seniors to "have a pension in old age".

A new law was passed in Parliament in August last year and the scheme was to have kicked in by this month, but Mr Heng said that more time was needed because it was a "new and extensive" scheme.

The first payout in July will be a double payment covering six months from April to September. Thereafter, the payouts will be made every three months: in March, June, September and December.

The scheme costs close to $320 million in the first year. "The cost will likely increase over time as our population ages," noted Mr Heng.

Those who do not qualify for Silver Support will benefit from other help schemes such as the GST Voucher, MediShield Life and the Pioneer Generation Package, Mr Heng said.

Besides the Silver Support Scheme, Mr Heng also announced yesterday increases in the monthly cash allowance for those under the Public Assistance Scheme. A two-member household will receive $870, or $80 more, in cash each month.

To provide more community support for seniors, pilot networks will be set up. Run by a small team of full-time staff, the networks will involve volunteers, voluntary welfare organisations, businesses and schools.

The measures targeted at seniors will make Singapore a model for successful ageing, Mr Heng said.

Mr Patrick Tay, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower, said that with the scheme kicking off in July, this gives seniors time to make an assessment of whether they qualify.

Ms Peh Kim Choo, chief of programmes at the Tsao Foundation, said that the difficulties of defining and calculating lifetime wages and household support could have held back the implementation.

But the payouts can make a difference to the seniors, she said. Some will use it for essentials like medical care. "For those whose basic needs were met already, this additional payout will enable them to save, buy better food and enjoy a little of life's luxuries," she said.

Elderly couple with no savings will benefit
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

Money is tight for retiree Foo Sze Keng, 81, and his wife, but the Silver Support Scheme, aimed at helping elderly folks like them, is poised to ease their situation.

Under the scheme, the needy elderly such as Mr Foo and Madam Lai Mooi, 76, who live in a one-room rental flat in North Bridge Road, will receive $750 every three months, according to Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat's Budget speech yesterday.

The payout differs according to lifetime wages, housing type and the level of financial support in the household. Currently, the elderly couple get by with $500 that is given to them by their only son every month. The money is spent mostly on groceries, utility bills and medical fees.

They do not have money in their Central Provident Fund accounts nor savings; Mr Foo used to work as an assistant at a camera shop for $700 a month as the family's sole breadwinner, until his workplace shut down in 2001.

"We are grateful for the Government's help," said Mr Foo, who is scheduled to go for cataract surgery by the end of this year. "With the extra money, we can save more in case we fall ill in the future."

Madam Lai said: "The money will really help because Singapore is getting more expensive to live in."

She added that the couple eat only at home and meals, comprising rice or noodles with vegetables, are simple.

Days are spent at the activity centre, operated by Peace-Connect, near their block where they have lived for more than 40 years.

"We like to play Bingo at the centre sometimes," said Madam Lai, who has been married for 58 years.

Mr Foo and Madam Lai are expected to get their first payout in July, which will be doubled to cover six months from April to September. Subsequently, the payouts will be given every three months - in March, June, September and December. "We are looking forward to the payouts... But we will save the extra money because we are already used to our simple lifestyle," said Mr Foo.

New $80,000 cap on personal income tax relief
By Lorna Tan, Invest Editor/Senior Correspondent, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

The tax system will be more progressive under a new measure that caps the amount of personal income tax relief an individual can claim.

The limit will be set at $80,000 from Year of Assessment 2018, and is expected to raise an additional tax revenue of $100 million a year.

It is estimated that 99 per cent of tax-resident individuals will not be affected, which means many can still continue to claim reliefs.

Around 90 per cent of women claiming the Working Mother's Child Relief (WMCR) are expected to continue to claim it fully, without being affected by the cap, the Ministry of Finance said.

Tax experts said the cap will mainly affect working mothers who are higher wage earners with two children.

Mr Girish Naik, director of global mobility at PwC International Assignment Services, is concerned that the tax change, which will affect higher earners, will also penalise working mothers and some lower-income taxpayers.

Ms Wu Soo Mee, partner at Ernst & Young Solutions, worked out that working mothers earning more than $152,000 a year with two children and with total reliefs capped at $80,000 will pay more income tax.

Mr B.J. Ooi, partner and head of global mobility services at KPMG Singapore, said: "Coupled with the higher top marginal rate of 22 per cent, it appears that certain groups of individual taxpayers would be paying more taxes."

Deloitte Singapore said the cap appears to contradict the Government's effort to encourage procreation. "Typically it is the female individual taxpayers with Singapore citizen children who are able to enjoy personal tax reliefs that may be in excess of $80,000, as they get to enjoy WMCR with a cap of $50,000 on each qualifying child," said Ms Jill Lim, global employer services leader at Deloitte Singapore.

"However, with this cap, this seems to send a message that such high-income earning females are not encouraged to have more children, or should not return to the workforce after they have children."

Taxpayers who care for parents, grandparents and disabled family members could also be affected.

PwC's senior manager Mark Amatya said: "As some of the most generous tax reliefs are currently aimed at those with children, those who care for parents/grandparents/disabled family members, or those who plan for their own retirement, capping the value of tax reliefs may run counter to the objective of creating a more caring Singapore, and preparing for our older age."

There are 15 personal income tax reliefs. The amount of WMCR that a working mother can claim for each child is based on the child order: The WMCR for the first child is 15 per cent of the mother's income, 20 per cent for the second child and 25 per cent for each subsequent child. The cumulative WMCR for all children is capped at 100 per cent of the mother's earned income.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said this cap "will make our personal income tax system more progressive". "Nevertheless, our personal income tax burden remains low. Our personal income tax structure must allow us to continue to stay competitive."

Mr Naik suggested that perhaps the WMCR could have been exempted from the cap so qualifying taxpayers may continue to enjoy the full incentive to return to work.

Scheme for needy kids and housing grant for parents
Kid Start to benefit children aged up to six; rental home families can get aid to buy two-room flats
By Kok Xing Hui, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

To give disadvantaged children a leg-up, the Government will spend more than $20 million on learning, developmental and health programmes for those aged up to six.

Young children who live in rental flats can also soon move into a two- room home of their own when their parents get a housing grant of up to $35,000 for their flat.

These announcements were made by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday during his Budget speech in Parliament.

The pilot scheme for development programmes, called KidStart, will benefit about 1,000 children in the first six years of their lives.

Mr Heng said: "There is extensive research which shows that the experiences in the early years of a child's life significantly influence his physical, cognitive and social development... There is a small group of parents who may need more support to give their children a good start in life."

Hence, KidStart will draw on government and community resources to develop programmes for these children to get learning, developmental and health support.

"We will develop approaches that work best in the Singaporean context," said the minister.

For families with young children who live in rental flats, the Government will give a grant of up to $35,000 under the Fresh Start Housing Scheme.

The scheme was announced last year by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech. It is meant to help families who owned a flat but sold it and moved into a public rental flat. As they would have received a housing subsidy before, they are no longer eligible for first-timer housing grants.

The Fresh Start Housing Scheme changes that, allowing these families to get a grant to buy a two-room flat with a shorter lease, which makes it more affordable.

But there are caveats. "Families will need to demonstrate effort, for example, by staying employed and making sure their children attend school," said Mr Heng.

Both announcements were lauded by social workers, who felt that children should not lose out because of their birth circumstances.

While details on KidStart are scant right now, Fei Yue Family Service Centre principal social worker Petrine Lim hopes it will target low-income families, "especially when they have limited means to make sure their children receive an equal chance to develop mentally, socially and physically".

She suggested that the programme teach parenting skills. "If you just target the children, when they return to their families after the programmes, their parents might not follow up. Also, what would happen after they turn six?"

AWWA Family Service Centre director Edwin Yim suggested that KidStart look at helping parents form attachment to their children.

"When you have that attachment as an adult caregiver or parent, you will tend to seek help to provide for your child, to follow through with vaccinations and ensure your child goes to nursery and childcare.

"The belief is that the education system works, but there are children who are not accessing it."

She won't have to skip a meal now
By Kok Xing Hui and Wong Shiying, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

Twice-divorced and estranged from her one living sibling and two children, Ms Goh Quee Eng, 58, also has depression and cannot work.

She has been surviving on long- term financial assistance from the Government of $450 a month since 2011 after her second marriage dissolved.

To make ends meet, she eats only two meals a day and keeps some bread for when she gets hungry.

Ms Goh told The Straits Times in Mandarin: "I am barely scraping by. I don't have any extra money to save for emergencies."

But a Budget announcement yesterday means Ms Goh can soon have three meals a day.

Singaporeans such as Ms Goh will get a raise in the monthly cash allowance for Public Assistance beneficiaries.

Public Assistance is for Singaporeans who are permanently unable to work, and lack income and family support. It has a cash component and also covers hygiene essentials and medical treatment.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said: "For example, a two-person household, where both are on public assistance, will now receive an additional $80 a month, bringing the amount of cash assistance per month to $870."

More details will be announced by the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

Currently, one-person households receive $450 a month, two-persons get $790, three-persons get $990 and four-persons get $1,180.

In 2014, some 4,134 people benefited from Public Assistance, also known as ComCare Long Term Assistance.

Ms Goh, who lives in a rental flat in Woodlands with two friends, is heartened by the announcement.

"The extra allowance will help me ease my financial burdens. I will be able to buy food without worrying about whether I have enough money for the coming weeks," she said.

She used to work as a cleaner before she was diagnosed with depression, and her second husband's income of $1,000 as a driver also helped. But now that she only has the $450 to depend on, Ms Goh worries about not having savings for emergencies.

"With the extra allowance, I can have three meals a day instead of merging breakfast and lunch into one meal," she said. "Maybe I can even save some money."

Correspondent's take: Timely action to help kids in dire situations
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

Enhancements to the Marriage and Parenthood package, and two other initiatives announced in the Budget, go beyond the usual family-friendly perks by aiming to help disadvantaged children - at an early stage.

The new Child Development Account (CDA) First Step grant of $3,000 - which goes into the account without parents having to first put money in it - will be especially helpful for parents who either place no deposits in the CDA, or who do not deposit enough in it to get the maximum co-matching funds from the Government.

And under the new KidStart initiative, more than $20 million will go towards helping about 1,000 disadvantaged children get learning and health support in their first six years.

Then there is the grant of up to $35,000 for families with kids in rental flats so they can move to their own two-room flats.

These early intervention measures are timely. Research shows that experiences in a child's early years, even before he goes to primary school, can affect his development.

This is why the Government has pushed for affordable and quality pre-school education, especially in the heartland, so children from low-income families benefit too. Even then, for a child from a disadvantaged family, attending pre-school may not be a priority when parents have money troubles.

A scheme, Circle of Care, piloted at two pre-schools has shown that such children can be brought back into the fold, with their parents getting more involved in their development.

Of the 76 at-risk children, 95 per cent came from families with household incomes of below $3,000 a month. The scheme saw average attendance go up from 30 to 70 per cent.

So the importance of helping children from disadvantaged families from all fronts. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a slew of measures - monetary and non-monetary support in health, housing and pre-school - to help get a child out of his dire family circumstances.

Good news for parents: Babies born from 24 March 2016 can now receive the $3,000 Children Development Account (CDA)...
Posted by MSF Singapore on Thursday, March 24, 2016

More money in the kitty for baby
$3,000 grant for those born from March 24; Medisave withdrawal limit to double to $900
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

Parents of Singaporean newborn babies will get more help to cope with their children's health and childcare expenses.

They will receive a new grant of $3,000 in their child's Child Development Account (CDA), without having to first deposit money in it.

Also, the Medisave withdrawal limit for pre-delivery expenses - such as money spent on ultrasound scans and prenatal consultations - will be doubled from $450 to $900.

These changes apply with immediate effect to Singaporean babies born from yesterday.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said to laughter from MPs in the House yesterday: "I am told that, on average last year, we had 93 babies born every day. So congratulations to our 93 babies (born today)."

The changes are part of new family-friendly perks in the Marriage and Parenthood Package, which was introduced in 2001 and has been enhanced four times - in 2004, 2008, 2013 and last year.

The CDA scheme involves the Government matching parents' contributions dollar for dollar, up to a cap of $6,000 to $18,000, depending on the birth order of the child.

Parents can open a CDA and use it to pay for expenses such as their child's medical costs and childcare fees, from the time the child is born until he turns 12.

Eligible children will receive the new First Step Grant - which is part of the existing overall government contribution - automatically.

So, while the maximum government contribution remains the same, parents need to deposit only $3,000 to $15,000 for each child - instead of $6,000 to $18,000 - to get the maximum co-matching funds.

Minister Tan Chuan-Jin giving a media doorstop at KKH on the CDA First Step grant 
Posted by MSF Singapore on Thursday, March 24, 2016

With the new grant, an estimated 74 per cent of CDA holders will be able to receive the maximum government contribution, up from the current 60 per cent, said Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo in a Facebook post yesterday.

Mrs Teo, who oversees population issues, added: "Separately, about 5 per cent of CDA holders today do not save into their accounts at all, perhaps because they are unable to do so. They do not enjoy any of the co-matching funds.

"The $3,000 grant will be particularly helpful for this group of parents and their children."

Singapore had 33,793 citizen babies last year, the highest figure in 13 years.

The grant will be deposited into CDAs from July 1, after necessary updates to systems are made. The Ministry of Finance said parents of children born between March 24 and June 30 should wait until July 1 before saving in the CDA in order to benefit from the grant.

Staff from the Ministry of Social and Family Development will visit all hospitals over the long weekend to explain the grant.

Business development manager Ivan Ong, 32, who is expecting to welcome a second child in May, intends to use the CDA to offset pre-school costs, which have been rising steadily in recent years.

He said he will wait until July to save in the CDA, so that he needs to contribute only $3,000 to get the maximum $6,000 from the Government. "My wife will take maternity leave and there are a few months to go before we enrol the child in infant care, so I think we can wait."

• For more information on the First Step grant, go to

MORE SUPPORT FOR YOUNG FAMILIES!I’m heartened that parents will be getting even more support in the year before and...
Posted by Josephine Teo on Thursday, March 24, 2016

One-off GST cash voucher to help 1.4 million Singaporeans
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

Eligible Singaporeans will get up to $200 in a one-off goods and services tax (GST) cash voucher this year, to help them offset the cost of living amid bleak economic conditions.

The special payments will cost an extra $280 million, and help 1.4 million Singaporeans, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

They come on top of existing GST cash vouchers of either $150 or $300 given to eligible Singaporeans aged 21 or older, depending on the annual value of their homes.

"If our recipients spend some of these vouchers in our neighbourhood shops, it will support our local businesses as well," said Mr Heng.

The payouts will be made directly into recipients' bank accounts.

Introduced in 2012 to help lower- and middle-income households with their expenses, the GST voucher is given in three parts - cash, Medisave and Utilities-Save, which provides HDB households with a rebate to offset utilities bills.

One-off payments, like this year's, are given out occasionally to boost the voucher.

Families in Housing Board flats will also get a one-off rebate on service and conservancy charges (S&CC), ranging from one to three months, depending on the flat type.

The measures will cost $86 million and help 840,000 households.

Those living in an executive flat or a multi-generation flat will get a one-month rebate, while those in one- or two-room flats will get the maximum rebate of three months.

Beneficiaries welcomed the measures.

Madam Meera Taj Mohamed, 53, a former masseuse who left her job because of health issues, said the GST cash voucher would be a great help with daily expenses.

She said the $200 would help with groceries, as the food ration programme she is currently on does not provide cooking oil or perishables such as vegetables.

She will also get back about $84 from S&CC rebates this year, as she lives in a two-room flat in Sengkang.

"The feeling of having a bit extra is really good for those of us in need of cash," she said.

For retired technician Tan Poh Huat, 68, the additional help will be less life-changing, but should cover about 20 days of food expenses.

"I spend about $10 a day on three meals, so the $200 won't last for very long. But I don't smoke, I don't drink, and everybody needs money. If the Government wants to give me something, I am satisfied," he said.

MP Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) said she was pleased her wish for cash vouchers had come true, adding that Mr Heng had taken "a very caring approach" in the Budget.

"We are heading into a challenging time from an economic standpoint. So I am not disappointed with the amount. It's never enough if you ask some people. But for me, it shows we care for the people and that's important."

BUDGET 2016 - Shaping our future together: Fostering community

Businesses get incentive to help workers to do good
Firms that support their staff to volunteer, offer services to registered charities will get tax deduction on related costs
By Joyce Lim, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

Bosses who want to support their workers in giving back to society will get an extra nudge to do so.

Businesses that organise their employees to volunteer and provide services to registered charities will soon get a 250 per cent tax deduction on associated costs incurred. This is subject to the receiving Institution of Public Character's (IPC) agreement.

This deduction will be subject to a yearly cap of $250,000 per business and $50,000 per IPC.

The pilot Business and IPC Partnership Scheme will run from July 1 this year until the end of 2018.

"Businesses are well placed to run impactful programmes," Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said, in announcing measures to help build a more caring society.

"We should give a boost to corporate social responsibility (CSR) and make it easier for employees to contribute through their workplaces."

Companies now get a 250 per cent tax deduction for donations of cash, and qualifying in-kind donations, such as land and computers, to certain IPCs. This has seen cash donations rise each year.

The head of group corporate communications at OCBC Bank, Ms Koh Ching Ching, welcomed news of the corporate tax rebate, which "effectively means that companies will be able to use the savings to offer even more support to society".

"This is especially important during the current economic climate when donations to charity are less forthcoming," she said. "The needs of the underprivileged do not dip as a result of an economic downturn."

Last year, more than 2,100 OCBC employees spent close to 12,000 hours volunteering at more than 100 activities organised to support different segments of the community, including needy children, the elderly, and youth at risk.

"In the course of volunteering, we help pay for transport, meals, cleaning supplies, food, teaching materials and household supplies for our beneficiaries.

"We can definitely use the savings we derive from our volunteer-associated tax rebates to offer more support," Ms Koh said.

To further boost donations to the Community Chest, which raises funds for some 80 voluntary welfare organisations, Mr Heng said the Government will match, dollar for dollar, additional donations through the monthly donation SHARE programme.

This will be done for three years starting from next month.

Royal Plaza on Scotts general manager Patrick Fiat, who signed up for SHARE in 2002, was glad to hear of the Government's dollar-for-dollar matching.

The hotel already matches its staff's donations dollar for dollar, which totals about $2,300 a month.

Mr Fiat believes the Government's matching will encourage further participation and more donations.

Businesses that encourage staff to donate regularly will be allowed to use part of the matching funds to organise CSR activities.

Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin will elaborate on this during the debate on his ministry's budget next month.

ComChest managing director Ng Ling Ling said the Government's matching grant for its SHARE programme will help more businesses encourage their staff to donate in a sustained manner.

"It will also boost more volunteering opportunities as part of their corporate social responsibility efforts," she added.

$25m fund for projects that show Singapore has a heart
By Chia Yan Min, Economics Correspondent and Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

First, there was the SG50 Celebration Fund. That party may be over, but the passion remains. Now, $25 million is up for grabs for Singaporeans with a special, heartfelt project.

The Government has set aside that sum for a new SG50-inspired Our Singapore Fund. To be coordinated by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY), it will be set up by the second half of this year, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

The fund will provide support for meaningful projects led by Singaporeans that build national identity or meet the needs of the community. The MCCY will give more details at its Committee of Supply parliamentary sitting.

"This fund will support projects that build the spirit of caring and resilience, nurture our can-do spirit, and promote unity and our sense of being Singaporean," said Mr Heng.

The minister acknowledged the good response to the SG50 Celebration Fund, which supported projects to celebrate last year's jubilee.

That fund aided around 400 initiatives. Among them was Wheels@Ubin, started by two sports enthusiasts.

Realising that Pulau Ubin is fairly inaccessible to wheelchair users - regular transport is by bumboat - able-bodied friends Dennis Quek, 54, and Wilson Ang, 45, decided to do something about it.

Last June, they took a group of 100 wheelchair users - identified from organisations such as the Asian Women's Welfare Association and the Singapore Disability Sports Council - on a jaunt to the island using Republic of Singapore Navy vessels. The project involved 600 volunteers, including members of the public.

Mr Quek, a director at Republic Polytechnic's Centre of Innovation for Supply Chain Management, said: "We felt that no part of Singapore should be inaccessible to any Singaporean, and decided to use Pulau Ubin as a destination to rally for a more inclusive society."

He and Mr Ang plan to carry out the project again this year, and are also looking at taking wheelchair users up Bukit Timah. "To many avid trekkers, it is a hill, but for people with disabilities, it may well be their Mount Everest," Mr Quek said.

In his Budget address, Mr Heng also cited civil servant Seema Dadlani-Ramchand, 33, and her sister, Ms Harsha Dadlani-Dhalani, 36, who, with support from the SG50 Celebration Fund, wrote and published six children's books on Singapore last year.

They hope to tap the new Our Singapore Fund to work on more such books. Mrs Dadlani-Ramchand said: "We were born and raised in Singapore and love being Singaporeans. We were inspired by the unique experiences growing up, and wanted to share these with our children."

$250m Outward Bound campus for Coney Island
The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

A new Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) campus will be built on Coney Island, as part of efforts to expand outdoor adventure education for all students.

The facility, to cost about $250 million, is expected to be ready around 2020.

It will be the third OBS campus in Singapore. The first two are on nearby Pulau Ubin.

The move is part of a new National Outdoor Adventure Education Masterplan to help students develop attributes such as resilience and a sense of adventure, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said in his Budget speech yesterday.

"Many more youth will have the chance to go for an expedition with OBS. These activities will help them build confidence, and develop camaraderie with students across different schools."

Like the OBS campuses on Pulau Ubin, the new facilities "will be rustic and blend in with the rest of the island", he said.

The rest of Coney Island, which is located off Singapore's north-eastern coast, will remain open.

Starting right means starting young. When I was in Secondary 4, aged 15, I attended the Outward Bound Singapore ( OBS )...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Friday, March 25, 2016

OBS adopts an experiential learning approach, using the outdoors as its classroom. Designed to help participants gain skills in areas such as teamwork, the activities include a mix of land, water and height elements, such as trekking, kayaking and expeditions.

More details will be released soon by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth and the Ministry of Education.

Educators and parents hailed the move to expand adventure education to include more students.

Loyang Secondary School principal Lee Hak Boon said: "Students tend to have fun when they are outdoors, and they learn best when they have fun.

"They can also pick up life skills - such as how to make decisions or get along with others - naturally through such activities."

Parenting coach Cheren Kwong, 48, who has two teenage sons, said: "Children these days spend a lot of time on their handphones and computers. They don't socialise with others.

"Such outdoor activities will be good for them, allowing them to connect with people and with nature."

Students, too, are supportive.

Second-year Serangoon Junior College student Bryna Foo, 18, said some skills are difficult for teachers to cover in classrooms.

"Students can learn teamwork skills through outdoor activities," she added. "Such activities can also help them de-stress and unwind."

There is both substance and spirit in the first Budget of Singapore’s post-SG50 era, and Heng Swee Keat’s first. It...
Posted by Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Sunday, March 27, 2016

BUDGET 2016 - Shaping our future together: Fiscal position

Fiscal surplus of $3.45b, thanks to Temasek's inclusion in NIR
Surplus expected this year even as spending goes up with marked increase in support for healthcare and businesses
By Wong Wei Han, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

From a $4.88 billion deficit last year to back in the black this year. An overall surplus of $3.45 billion is projected for 2016, buoyed by bigger contributions from Singapore investment company Temasek Holdings.

What is more, the surplus is forecast even as spending rises, including a marked increase in healthcare and business support.

Helping offset the rising expenditure is Temasek's inclusion in the net investment returns (NIR) framework this year. This will push the NIR contribution to the nation's coffers to $14.7 billion, up 48.6 per cent from $9.9 billion last year. The inclusion incorporates total expected returns from Temasek, which paid only investment dividends to the Government previously.

The NIR framework allows the Government to spend up to half of the long-term expected real returns from the GIC, Monetary Authority of Singapore and now Temasek.

OCBC economist Selena Ling said: "The increase in NIR contribution is surprisingly large - I expected only around $12 billion with Temasek included. I think from here on you can expect the NIR contribution to be $12 billion to $15 billion."

At the same time, operating revenue - mostly generated from tax income - is expected to grow 6.7 per cent to $68.44 billion on the back of a $1.1 billion jump in motor vehicle taxes to $2.93 billion, while statutory board contributions will jump threefold to $1.88 billion.

Personal income tax revenue will rise 10.9 per cent to $10.13 billion, but corporate income tax will drop 3.1 per cent to $13.41 billion.

However, the one-off revenue boosts from sources such as motor vehicle taxes this year may not be sustainable, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat noted yesterday.

"The longer-term picture will grow more challenging as we expect expenditure needs to grow faster than revenues. Even as we plan for rising expenditures, we must spend only when it's needed and where it best achieves our social and economic objectives," Mr Heng told Parliament.

Total expenditure will rise 7.3 per cent from $68.41 billion to $73.43 billion (excluding special transfers), another new high for the nation.

The Government will set aside an additional $1.8 billion for healthcare to cater for MediShield Life subsidies and the construction of facilities such as Sengkang General Hospital and Outram Community Hospital. The total healthcare bill will run to $11 billion.

National development spending will hit $3.8 billion, up $1.1 billion. Education will grow by $700 million to $12.8 billion. Defence will command the largest spending at $14 billion, up $800 million.

Meanwhile, the push to transform Singapore's economy and help businesses survive restructuring is still a key factor in fiscal planning.

A total of $2.2 billion will be allocated this year for special transfers to businesses, such as the Wage Credit Scheme and the Productivity and Innovation Credit scheme. The National Research Fund - set up to build an economy driven by knowledge and innovation - will receive a $1.5 billion top-up.

Other fund top-ups will include a $1 billion injection into the Changi Airport Development Fund and a $1.1 billion increase in the Special Employment Credit Fund, established in 2011 to encourage the hiring of older Singaporean workers.

All in all, the fiscal position in 2016 is one of balance "between being prudent... and being accommodating to support enterprises... even as we continue our restructuring", Mr Heng said.

Or as Ms Ling put it: "With higher NIR contributions, the Government can easily spend more, but looks like it is keeping the powder dry for more urgent moments."

Govt cuts 2015 deficit despite lower-than-expected revenue
By Wong Wei Han, The Straits Times, 25 Mar 2016

Higher contributions from the Net Investment Returns (NIR) framework will allow the Government to cut last year's overall deficit.

Lower special transfer payouts for government schemes also helped to strengthen last year's fiscal position, even as operating revenue came in less than expected.

The overall deficit for 2015 was $4.88 billion, which was $1.79 billion, or 26.8 per cent, lower than the $6.67 billion deficit estimated in last year's Budget, according to revised figures. This came as the Government received $9.9 billion in NIR contributions, up $960 million, or 10.7 per cent, from the $8.94 billion estimated last year.

The NIR framework allows the Government to spend up to half of the long-term expected real returns from GIC and the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Temasek Holdings will be included in the framework from this year.

The boost from NIR contributions more than offset a 0.2 per cent cut in the revised operating revenue, which dropped $110 million from the estimated level to $64.16 billion.

"The increase last year could mean that the NIR contributors had better investment returns than expected, although it's really hard to say exactly why the Government raised the amount it drew," UOB economist Francis Tan said.

"But no matter the approach, the NIR contributions - even with the inclusion of Temasek - will only buy us some time before we inevitably revisit the issues of rising spending needs in the years to come. I hope by then we have figured out how to boost our revenues."

The revised data still showed a total expenditure of $68.41 billion, up $11.76 billion, or 20.8 per cent, from 2014's $56.65 billion.

The Government has unveiled several big initiatives in recent years in a bid to transform the economy while boosting the social safety net for an ageing population.

Last year, there were major investments in transport infrastructure, such as rail expansion projects and Changi Airport's development. Total development expenditure last year was $19.7 billion, $0.2 billion higher than originally estimated. Social development expenditure was $31.9 billion while $15.8 billion was spent on economic development.

However, the Government spent only $10.5 billion in total on special transfers, a drop of $1.1 billion, or 9.7 per cent, from the estimated amount. This was due to lower-than-expected payouts from subsidies such as the Productivity and Innovation Credit scheme and the Wage Credit Scheme last year, among others.

2016 Budget Statement debate in Parliament

Budget 2016 Debate Round-Up Speech by Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat on 6 April 2016

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