Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Singapore Budget 2020: Advancing as One Singapore

$6.4 billion set aside to support businesses, families and agencies impacted by COVID-19, coronavirus outbreak;

- $4 billion Stabilisation and Support Package will provide job and cash-flow support to help firms retain and retrain workers

- $1.6 billion Care and Support Package to help families defray some of their household expenses amid the downturn

- $800 million to support front-line agencies fighting the outbreak

GST hike from 7 per cent to 9 per cent will not take place in 2021; $6 billion Assurance Package to cushion impact of hike

Singaporeans aged 21 and above to get one-off cash payout ranging from $100 to $300

$1,000 SkillsFuture Credit top-up for mid-career workers

More financial support for students, particularly from lower-income families

Government to match cash top-ups to seniors' CPF savings by up to $3,000 over 5 years

More elderly Singaporeans to qualify for Silver Support, with payouts raised by 20%

$8.3 billion to be allocated for economic transformation and growth

New $5 billion Coastal and Flood Protection fund to tackle 'significant' risk of rising sea levels

Highest projected deficit of $10.9 billion in decade to cushion coronavirus fallout

Singapore Budget 2020: 10 things to know, from cash payout for Singaporeans to GST not going up in 2021
By Choo Yun Ting and Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 18 Feb 2020

A slew of measures to deal with short-term challenges such as the coronavirus outbreak and long-term economic development were introduced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Tuesday, 18 February.

Immediate measures included a $4 billion package to help firms with cash flow and retain workers, and $1.6 billion for household expenses amid the coronavirus outbreak.

More long-term help included $6 billion set aside to cushion the impact of a future goods and services tax (GST) increase, and $8.3 billion to be spent on growing and transforming the economy over three years.

Here are 10 highlights:


The increase in the GST rate by two percentage points from 7 per cent to 9 per cent will not be implemented in 2021. The hike was previously slated to come sometime between 2021 and 2025.

Still, the broad-based consumption tax, levied on nearly all goods and services in Singapore, will need to be increased by 2025, said Mr Heng, who is also the Finance Minister.

A $6 billion package will be introduced when the GST rate is raised to cushion the increase, with most Singaporean households getting offsets to cover at least five years' worth of extra GST expenses incurred.

Those living in one- to three-room HDB flats will receive offsets amounting to about 10 years' worth of additional GST expenses.

Every adult Singaporean will get a cash payout of between $700 and $1,600 over five years, depending on their household income and dwelling type.

The GST Voucher scheme will also be enhanced when the tax hike takes place.


Singaporean households will receive help to defray household expenses amid the coronavirus outbreak and economic weakness, said Mr Heng.

He announced a $1.6 billion Care and Support Package to benefit all adult Singaporeans aged 21 and older.

They will receive a one-off cash payout of $100, $200 or $300 in 2020, depending on their income in 2019 and home ownership. Parents with one or more Singaporean children aged 20 and younger in 2020 will each also get an extra $100 in cash.

The package also includes a Workfare Special Payment for Singaporean employees and self-employed persons who received Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) payments in 2019, providing additional support for low-wage workers and self-employed persons aged 35 and older in 2019.

Singaporeans aged 50 and older in 2020 will receive a $100 top-up to their PAssion cards.

All Singaporeans aged 21 and older who live in one- or two-room HDB flats and do not own more than one property will receive $100 in grocery vouchers in 2020 and 2021.

All eligible HDB households will also get double their regular GST Voucher - U-Save rebate in the 2020 financial year, which ends in March 2021, through a one-off special payment. Eligible households with five or more members will receive an extra rebate, which means they will receive 2.5 times their usual rebate.

Eligible Singaporean households living in HDB flats will also receive rebates to offset between 1.5 and 3.5 months of service and conservancy charges over the year.


Companies will receive support to defray wage costs during this difficult period.

Two schemes - the new Jobs Support Scheme and the Wage Credit Scheme, which will be enhanced - will help support enterprises and also help workers stay employed as part of a larger $4 billion Stabilisation and Support Package.

The Jobs Support Scheme will see the Government support all active employers, with the exception of government organisations and representative offices, in retaining their local employees.

The Government will offset 8 per cent of Singaporean and permanent resident employees' wages, capped at $3,600 per employee monthly, for three months.

This will cost the Government $1.3 billion for the over 1.9 million local employees in Singapore.

The Wage Credit Scheme, which supports enterprises embarking on transformation efforts and encourages employers to share productivity gains with workers by co-funding wage increases, will be enhanced.

The monthly wage ceiling will be raised from $4,000 to $5,000 for qualifying wage increases in 2019 and 2020.

The co-funding levels will be increased by five percentage points to 20 per cent for 2019 and 15 per cent for 2020.

This will see the Government provide about $1.1 billion in support to around 90,000 enterprises which will benefit more than 700,000 Singaporean employees.


The Stabilisation and Support Package includes economy-wide measures to help businesses with their cash flow during the difficult economic period and ongoing coronavirus situation.

A corporate income tax rebate at the rate of 25 per cent of tax payable, capped at $15,000 per company, will be granted for the tax year of assessment 2020.

The rebate, which will cost the Government about $400 million, will benefit all tax-paying companies.

Several tax treatments under the corporate tax system will also be enhanced for one year to ease cash flow for companies.

The Enterprise Financing Scheme's Working Capital Loan, which helps small and medium-sized enterprises access financing for working capital needs, will be enhanced for one year from March 2020.

The maximum loan quantum will be raised from $300,000 to $600,000, and the Government's risk share will be increased to 80 per cent, up from the current 50 per cent to 70 per cent.

Tenants and lessees of government-managed properties can also approach the agencies to discuss options for more flexible rental payments, such as instalment plans.


Five sectors directly hit by the coronavirus outbreak - tourism, aviation, retail, food services, and point-to-point transport services - will receive additional support under the Adapt and Grow Initiative for their operating costs and cash flow, as well as to retain and re-skill workers.

The funding support duration for re-skilling for these sectors will be extended from the current three months to a maximum of six months, and the Government will support employers in these affected sectors to retain and train more than 330,000 local workers.

A 30 per cent property tax rebate for 2020 will be granted for some components of licensed hotels and serviced apartments, as well as prescribed meetings, incentives, conventions, and exhibitions (Mice) venues.

International cruise and regional ferry terminals will receive a 15 per cent property tax rebate, and the integrated resorts will receive a 10 per cent property tax rebate.

The Government will also work with participating financial institutions to introduce a Temporary Bridging Loan Programme for a year to provide additional cash-flow support for tourism sector enterprises.

A $112 million Aviation Sector Assistance Package, co-funded by the Government, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and the Changi Airport Group, will also provide relief to companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

This includes airlines, companies in the cargo industry, and other airport stakeholders such as retail and food and beverage tenants at Changi Airport, which will also receive a 15 per cent property tax rebate.

Food services and retail establishments will receive support as well, with rental waivers for hawkers operating in National Environment Agency-managed hawker centres and markets and commercial tenants of government agencies. The rental waivers will cost about $45 million.

A 15 per cent property tax rebate will also be granted to those who operate in qualifying commercial properties, and landlords are urged to pass the rebate on to their tenants.


A total of $8.3 billion will be allocated over the next three years to bolster the Singapore economy's transformation and growth.

Support to enterprises at each stage of their growth will be enhanced to deepen their capabilities.

This includes an enhancement of Startup SG Equity which will dedicate an additional $300 million to catalyse private investment in Singapore-based deep-tech start-ups in key emerging sectors such as advanced manufacturing and agri-food technology.

The SMEs Go Digital scheme which aims to help SMEs build digital capabilities will also be expanded, covering the needs of 23 Industry Transformation Map sectors, up from 10. New sectors that will benefit include healthcare and food manufacturing.

The Market Readiness Assistance scheme which helps companies in their internalisation efforts will also be enhanced, including an extension of the 70 per cent support level for another three years until end-March 2023.

The Productivity Solutions Grant will also have broader support which includes consultancy services, and the number of sector-specific solutions will also be increased.

An Enterprise Transform Package will also be launched, including the Enterprise Leadership for Transformation programme to support business leaders of promising SMEs in achieving growth.

The Government aims to support business leaders from 900 enterprises over the next three years, and will work with institutes of higher learning, banks and other industry experts to do so.


Pre-university students from lower-income families will get an extra $100 under the Education Ministry's Financial Assistance Scheme, with the quantum raised from $900 to $1,000.

This will cost the Government $9 million more per year, or a total of $52 million per year.

All students will also get higher transport subsidies, and for secondary school students, more school meal subsidies.

Full-time Institute of Technical Education (ITE) students from the lowest-income families will now receive a 100 per cent fee subsidy from Academic Year 2020.

This is on top of the cash bursary for students from low- and middle-income households, which will also see a quantum increase of up to $200 a year.

The cost of funding bursaries for higher education will climb from $148 million to $198 million per year.

The share of government-supported pre-schools will climb to 80 per cent by around 2025, from just over half today.

Overall, the Government will double spending on the early childhood sector from about $1 billion in 2018 to over $2 billion per year in the next few years.


Every Singaporean aged 25 and older in 2020 will get a one-off $500 SkillsFuture credit top-up, which can be used from Oct 1. The top-up will expire by December 2025.

This is to encourage Singaporeans to use the credits early, and make use of the current economic slowdown to learn new skills, said Mr Heng.

On top of that, those aged 40 to 60 will get another top-up of $500, with the same expiration date.

A new SkillsFuture Mid-Career Support Package will also be introduced to double the annual job placement of locals in that age range to around 5,500 by 2025.

Apart from more capacity for re-skilling programmes, employers who hire those aged 40 and above through such programmes will get 20 per cent salary support for six months, capped at $6,000.

Employers will also get $10,000 under the new SkillsFuture Enterprise Credit to defray out-of-pocket costs of business transformation, job redesign, and skills training by 90 per cent. This will help about 39,000 firms.

The Productivity Solutions Grant, which helps firms to adopt pre-approved digital solutions and equipment, will be expanded to include job redesign consultancy services.


The Central Provident Fund (CPF) will have a Matched Retirement Savings Scheme from 2021 to 2025, for lower- to middle-income Singaporeans aged 55 to 70 who have not been able to set aside the prevailing Basic Retirement Sum.

Under this scheme, the Government will match every dollar of cash top-up made to their CPF Retirement Account, up to an annual cap of $600. Some 435,000 Singaporeans will be eligible.

Around 250,000 Singaporeans aged 65 and older will also get more help with enhancements to the Silver Support Scheme from Jan 1, 2021.

Quarterly payouts under the scheme will be raised by 20 per cent. The criteria for lifetime wages and household monthly income per person will also be raised.

There will also be a new payout tier for seniors whose monthly household income per person is between $1,300 and $1,800; they now do not receive Silver Support.

Eligible seniors will be notified by CPF Board and start getting payouts from December this year.

The cost of Silver Support will nearly double from $330 million today to $620 million in 2021.

Also from 2021, the Special Employment Credit (SEC) and the Additional SEC will be merged and called the Senior Employment Credit.

Like its predecessors, the new programme gives wage support to employers who hire Singaporeans aged 55 and older, with support tapering as the retirement and re-employment ages are gradually raised.

A new Senior Worker Early Adopter Grant will support companies that raise these ages ahead of legislated changes.

Another grant will be introduced to support companies to formalise provisions for part-time re-employment.

Half the CPF contribution increase from employers, which kicks in next year, will be offset by the Government.


A Coastal and Flood Protection Fund will be set up with an initial injection of $5 billion, to be topped up when possible.

Housing Board (HDB) flats will also have a new Green Towns Programme, to reduce energy consumption, recycle rainwater, and cool the towns.

The Government also aims to phase out all vehicles with internal combustion engines by 2040.

An additional incentive for early adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) will be introduced, with a rebate of up to 45 per cent on the additional registration fee for those buying fully electric cars and taxis. This will start from January next year, for three years.

EVs and some hybrid vehicles will also be taxed less, with a revision in tax methodology for cars from next January.

By 2030, the Government aims to deploy up to 28,000 public charging points for EVs, up from 1,600 currently.

There will also be a lump-sum tax built into the road tax schedule for EVs, while technology to tax by distance is being developed.

Singapore aims to ride storm with eye on future, says Heng Swee Keat
Budget will give a large boost to economy despite negative impact of outbreak, he says
By Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 20 Feb 2020

This year's Budget will provide a large fiscal boost to the Singapore economy at a time when it is in need of stabilisation, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

He also made it clear that this was not just to weather the immediate fallout of the coronavirus outbreak, but also so that the Republic stayed on track with its long-term goal of transforming its economy.

"This virus outbreak will have a fairly negative impact on the global economy and also on the Singapore economy," said Mr Heng in an interview with Bloomberg Television yesterday. Despite that, he said, Singapore still expected to see some positive growth this year "and this Budget will provide a fairly large fiscal boost to the economy", though much depended on how the virus hits the global economy in the coming months.

Meanwhile, Singapore has decided to use its financial firepower to incur a projected $10.9 billion deficit, with $6.4 billion set aside to support businesses, workers, families and front-line agencies. Mr Heng hoped this downtime would be used for restructuring.

He said: "We're dealing with a Budget not just in the short term but using the stabilisation measures... to also work on our transformation."

Mr Heng likened the current situation to being on a boat and seeing a huge wave coming. While one needs to survive the wave, one cannot focus on it to the point of losing direction. "What we're hoping to do is to both navigate this huge wave coming as well as to make sure that we maintain our course."

That is why Singapore needs to stabilise its economy and address long-term structural issues, he said, citing technology, innovation and entrepreneurship as particular areas of growth. "This is going to power growth in the next phase... not just for Singapore but for the global economy and we want to make sure that we are in that."

In a discussion with several Singaporean business owners and association representatives on Mediacorp's Channel 5 yesterday, Mr Heng said a big emphasis in this year's Budget was on skills upgrading and encouraging lifelong learning. This was to make sure that Singapore's workers and companies have the right skills to capture future growth opportunities.

Elaborating on the SkillsFuture credit schemes for individuals and enterprises, Mr Heng said: "As our enterprises transform, it is important that they also take efforts to reskill and retain their workers, and redesign jobs.

"In that way, the more capable workers can help the firms succeed and when the firms succeed, they can then pay the workers better. So we must aim for this virtuous cycle."

Asked about help for freelancers and those in the gig economy who do not qualify for the support packages given to businesses and employees, Mr Heng acknowledged "there would be some difficulty reaching out to everybody because some are (working) part-time and some are (working) full-time". But this group of people still receive help through schemes aimed at supporting households and individuals, he added.

Meanwhile, businesses and workers said that though the measures introduced in the Budget will provide some short-term relief, repairing Singapore's reputation as a safe travel destination is necessary to speed up the recovery.

At a roundtable discussion on the Budget measures, organised by The Straits Times and UOB yesterday, labour MP Patrick Tay encouraged companies to "cut costs to save jobs, not cut jobs to save costs".

Mr Tay, a National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general, said the support package "is also a catalyst to companies and encouragement for them to send their workers for training and upgrading in the interim, if business is poor".

$6.4 billion to deal with virus crisis, economic uncertainties
Longer-term measures include $5 billion to fight climate change, $8.3 billion to transform economy
By Royston Sim, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2020

Some $6.4 billion has been set aside in the Budget to support businesses, workers, families and front-line agencies, as Singapore grapples with the economic fallout from the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday announced various measures to stabilise the country's economy and cushion the impact of the outbreak, which has hit tourism arrivals and disrupted global supply chains.

A $4 billion package will be rolled out to keep workers in jobs, help companies with their cash flow and provide additional support for sectors directly affected by the coronavirus disease, known as Covid-19.

Households will get additional help with the cost of living from a special $1.6 billion package, with those less well-off receiving more.

This includes a one-off cash payout ranging from $100 to $300 for every Singaporean aged 21 and above.

Apart from this, $800 million in extra funding will be given to front-line agencies fighting the outbreak, taking the support kitty to $6.4 billion.

"We will put in every effort to slow down the spread of the virus," pledged Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister.

The measures are part of a $106 billion Budget that aims to position Singapore for the future, while helping its people navigate the near-term challenges posed by the outbreak.

To that end, Mr Heng said the Budget will be "more expansionary", with an expected deficit of $10.9 billion, or 2.1 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

In comparison, during the global financial crisis, Singapore had a Budget in 2009 which was projected to come in with a deficit of $8.7 billion, although this was later revised down to $0.82 billion, or 0.3 per cent of GDP.

But Mr Heng noted that the Government has accumulated sufficient surplus to fund the projected deficit without drawing on past reserves.

Ministries' total spending is forecast to rise 7 per cent from the 2019 financial year to $83.6 billion.

Mr Heng made plain that the coronavirus outbreak will certainly impact Singapore's economy, which has seen declining visitor arrivals and air traffic through Changi Airport, along with falling hotel occupancy rates. The country had 81 confirmed coronavirus cases as of yesterday.

While it is not clear how badly the outbreak will hit the global economy, he added that "we must be prepared that the economic impact may be worse than we projected".

The measures to deal with immediate economic uncertainties include a Jobs Support Scheme that will offset 8 per cent of every employed local worker's wages for three months, capped at $3,600 a month, per worker. This will benefit all firms, and cost $1.3 billion.

There will be additional support for sectors directly affected by the outbreak, such as tourism, aviation and retail. These include property tax and rental rebates.

"We will continue to monitor the situation closely. If needed, we can and are prepared to do more," Mr Heng said.

In his 21/4-hour speech, he went beyond the measures to tackle the current downturn to outline longer-term measures to grow the economy, transform enterprises and develop the workforce. He said $8.3 billion has been allocated over the next three years to do so.

To encourage workers to upgrade their skills, the Government will make a one-off $500 top-up to the SkillsFuture account of every Singaporean aged 25 and above. Mid-career workers aged 40 to 60 will receive an additional $500 on top of this, to help them reskill.

The credit from both top-ups will expire in about five years, to nudge Singaporeans to make use of them.

The Deputy Prime Minister also flagged three major challenges ahead - climate change, security and fiscal sustainability.

In line with tackling climate change, he said Singapore's vision is to phase out internal combustion engine vehicles and have all vehicles run on cleaner energy by 2040.

A scheme to promote cleaner light goods vehicles will be rolled out and electric vehicle charging points ramped up islandwide.

Some $5 billion will be injected into a new Coastal and Flood Protection Fund as well.

Concluding, he said: "Our nation has built up the capital - financial, human and social - to go the distance. The Singapore spirit is strong and growing. Together, we will advance, as one Singapore."

Jobs Support Scheme to subsidise wages of local workers
It will offset part of employees' pay to help bosses retain staff during this slowdown
By Olivia Ho, Arts Correspondent, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2020

A new scheme will subsidise the wages of local workers to help employers retain them during the slowdown from the coronavirus outbreak, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

The Jobs Support Scheme will offset 8 per cent of the wages of every employee who is a Singaporean or permanent resident for three months, up to a monthly cap of $3,600.

The $1.3 billion payout will go to all enterprises by July 31, benefiting more than 1.9 million employees.

"Our foremost concern is jobs," said Mr Heng. "We want to help our workers retain their jobs, and use any lull period to upgrade their skills, to be ready when the tide turns."

Under the temporary scheme, employers will receive the 8 per cent cash grant on the gross monthly wages of each local employee on their Central Provident Fund (CPF) payroll for October to December last year.

Employers need not apply for the scheme, as the grant will be computed based on CPF contribution data.

Mr Heng also announced enhancements to the Wage Credit Scheme, which co-funds wage increases for Singaporean employees earning a gross monthly wage of up to $4,000.

This wage ceiling will be raised to $5,000, for increases given last year and this year.

The proportion given by the Government will also go up. It currently co-funds 15 per cent of qualifying wage increases from last year and 10 per cent of such increases this year.

This will be increased to 20 per cent for last year and 15 per cent for this year.

The $1.1 billion enhancements will go to about 90,000 enterprises, benefiting more than 700,000 Singaporeans.

Under the scheme, employers typically receive payouts automatically in the month of March after the qualifying year.

Employers getting additional wage credit from the new enhancements will receive a separate supplementary payout in the second half of this year.

Federation of Merchants' Associations, Singapore president Yeo Hiang Meng welcomed the enhancements. He had hoped for a higher wage cost offset, but said he understood this was a short-term measure and more might be done in the long term.

"Members should take this opportunity to look into their business practices and find areas for improvement, so that they emerge from the crisis better," he added. "Don't take the benefit and do nothing with it."

Labour MP Patrick Tay said: "This set of measures must be seen in its entirety to help reduce costs for employers and businesses, especially the deeply affected sectors. DPM Heng also mentioned that he is prepared to do more if the need arises."

Rent, tax reliefs among aid for sectors hit by coronavirus outbreak
Firms in tourism, aviation, retail, food and transport services also get help to reskill staff
By Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2020

Five sectors directly affected by the coronavirus outbreak will receive additional support as part of a $4 billion package to help workers and businesses tide over a looming slowdown.

Rent and tax reliefs are among the measures targeted at certain affected sectors such as retail and food services. The two sectors, along with tourism, aviation and point-to-point transport services, will also get help to retain and reskill workers.

The Stabilisation and Support Package in the Budget includes schemes to help businesses retain local workers by offsetting part of their wages, as well as co-funding increases for those who earn a gross monthly wage of up to $5,000 a month.

Measures will also be rolled out to help firms with cash flow, cited by many as a top concern as the outbreak drags on for a second month.

These include corporate income tax rebates, higher maximum working capital loans and flexible rental payments for tenants and lessees of government-managed properties.

Travel restrictions and the spread of the virus in Singapore and the region have hit the tourism and transport sectors hard, with businesses reporting a drop in sales of up to 50 per cent.

Retailers and restaurants are also suffering as more locals avoid crowded places.

More than 330,000 local workers in the five sectors are expected to be retained and retrained through job support and redeployment schemes, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

Tax rebates will form a large part of the targeted support for the tourism and aviation sectors.

A property tax rebate of 30 per cent will be granted for this year for the accommodation and function room components of licensed hotels and serviced apartments, as well as prescribed Mice (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) venues.

International cruise and regional ferry terminals will receive a 15 per cent property tax rebate, while the two integrated resorts will get a 10 per cent rebate.

A bridging loan programme with a limit of $1 million per company will be introduced for a year to help businesses in the tourism sector with cash flow. Rental rebates for shops and cargo agents at Changi Airport are among the measures to be rolled out for the aviation industry, while a $77 million support package to aid the point-to-point transport services sector was announced last week.

A 15 per cent property tax rebate will be granted for qualifying commercial properties in the retail and food services sectors.

"I strongly urge landlords to pass this on to their tenants by reducing rentals," said Mr Heng.

Stallholders in hawker centres and markets managed by the National Environment Agency will also have their rent waived for a month, while other government agencies will offer a half-month rental waiver to commercial tenants.

The Restaurant Association of Singapore welcomed the support in the areas of wages and working capital loan financing, but said it is "terribly disappointed" in the rental waivers and "insignificant property tax rebates to developers".

"Our members are concerned about whether these savings given to developers will be passed down to tenants to help them ride out this difficult period," a spokesman said.

The Singapore Retailers Association echoed the call for commercial landlords to provide rent relief, and at least one has heeded it.

CapitaLand said yesterday that the full savings from its property tax rebate will be passed on to retailers operating across its malls.

Additional rental relief will be rolled out to tenants based on their individual circumstances while stores already have the flexibility to operate shorter hours, it said.

Rental waivers for hawkers, market stallholders
By Melissa Heng, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2020

Mr Tan Shi Liang, 32, who runs a roast meat stall at Hawker Centre @ Our Tampines Hub, has seen sales drop by about 30 per cent in the last month. The coronavirus outbreak is keeping customers away, he said.

For him and others in his trade, rental waivers are on the way.

As part of the support package in this year's Budget to help businesses weather the impact of the coronavirus, rental waivers will be given to eligible stallholders at hawker centres and markets, as well as commercial tenants.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said stallholders at hawker centres and markets managed by the National Environment Agency will be given one month's worth of rental waivers, with a minimum waiver of $200.

Commercial tenants in other government-owned or managed facilities will be provided with half a month's worth of rental waivers. These include facilities owned or managed by agencies such as the Housing Board, People's Association, NParks, JTC Corporation, Urban Redevelopment Authority, Singapore Tourism Board and Sentosa Development Corporation.

Eligible tenants are those on leases not exceeding three years and who do not pay property tax. These tenants may include those providing commercial accommodation, retail, food and beverage, recreation, entertainment, healthcare and other services.

In total, these rental waivers will cost the Government $45 million.

Mr Tan said: "It has been visibly quieter since January when the first cases of the coronavirus were announced. Many people are staying home...We don't know how long this situation will last, so hopefully if it is prolonged, then the Government will consider extending more support for us."

GST hike from 7 per cent to 9 per cent to still take place by 2025, amid the need to invest in healthcare
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2020

The coronavirus outbreak has reinforced the importance of continued investment in Singapore's healthcare system, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

This is why the planned goods and services tax (GST) hike will still take place by 2025, even though the Government has decided not to raise GST next year.

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, added that the outbreak is a "stark reminder of the continued importance of maintaining a sound fiscal footing to deal with surprises and unexpected scenarios".

"In particular, we are able to mount a decisive response to support Singaporeans and workers through uncertain times only because of good long-term planning."

Mr Heng said the decision to keep GST unchanged at 7 per cent was made after reviewing revenue and expenditure projections, and considering the current state of the economy.

"However, we will not be able to put off the increase indefinitely," he told Parliament.

"In fact, this outbreak has reinforced the importance of continued investment in our healthcare system, including the capability to deal with outbreaks."

He added: "And we will still require recurrent sources of revenue to fund our recurrent spending needs in the medium term."

The planned GST hike from 7 per cent to 9 per cent was first announced in 2018.

The Government said then that it was necessary, given the needs in healthcare and other areas, and would take place some time between 2021 and 2025.

A $6 billion Assurance Package has been set aside to help cushion the impact on Singaporeans when the increase does take effect, Mr Heng said yesterday.

It means all adult Singaporeans will get cash payouts of between $700 and $1,600 over five years, so most households will get enough to offset at least five years' worth of additional GST expenses.

Those living in one-to three-room flats will get enough to offset about 10 years' worth.

This works out to about $7,000 in GST offsets over five years for a family of four in a four-room flat with a combined income of $6,000.

It includes cash of about $4,000.

Experts said it is unsurprising that the GST increase will not take place next year, given the state of the economy.

"Already before the coronavirus outbreak, the economic environment was already uncertain," said Mr Kor Bing Keong, GST leader at PwC Singapore.

And now with the virus outbreak and a general election on the horizon, raising GST at this time would not be "politically and economically prudent and astute", added Mr Lam Kok Shang, head of indirect tax at KPMG in Singapore.

When asked when he expected the GST hike to kick in, Mr Danny Koh, tax partner at Deloitte Singapore, noted that Japan saw slower growth after it increased its consumption tax from 8 to 10 per cent in October last year.

"Therefore, we would expect that the Government is unlikely to increase the GST rate until there are clear signs of a strong recovery in the economy," he said.

$500 extra SkillsFuture Credit for mid-career workers aged 40 to 60 in addition to a top-up of $500 that will be given to all Singaporeans aged 25 and older
By Joanna Seow, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2020

Some one million mid-career workers aged 40 to 60 this year will receive an extra $500 in SkillsFuture Credit to help them stay employable and move to new jobs or roles.

This is in addition to a top-up of $500 that will be given to all Singaporeans aged 25 and older, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said in his Budget speech yesterday.

Mr Heng said this is part of a new SkillsFuture Mid-Career Support Package through which the Government aims to double the annual job placement of locals in their 40s and 50s to around 5,500 by 2025.

The SkillsFuture Credit top-ups can be used from Oct 1, and will expire on Dec 31, 2025, to encourage people to take early action.

The funds for older workers can be used for about 200 career transition programmes offered by continuing education and training centres, such as certificates in nursing care and infocomm technology infrastructure.

The original $500 in SkillsFuture Credit that was provided in 2016 will continue to have no expiry.

Workers who are now in their 40s and 50s grew up in a time when the economy was just starting to take off, noted Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister.

"When they started work, it was normal, even celebrated, to stay with one job, in one company, for life. As enterprises restructure, the nature of jobs has changed," he said.

Many people have adapted to these changes, picked up new skills and even switched careers. But some have not seen any job or career changes since leaving school, nor have they had the chance to upskill earlier, and are now facing greater competition from younger workers and workers overseas.

I understand their anxieties," said Mr Heng.

"At the same time, with broader global shifts, exciting jobs will emerge. Our mid-career workers can seize these opportunities and do better for themselves and their families. The Government will do more to support them."

He said that there will be more places in reskilling schemes such as the professional conversion programmes under the Adapt and Grow initiative, which helps workers move into growth industries, and career transition programmes delivered by CET centres.

The Government will also provide 20 per cent in wage subsidies to employers who hire local job seekers aged 40 and above through professional conversion programmes, place-and-train programmes for rank-and-file workers, and career transition programmes by CET centres. The hiring incentive will be given for six months and is capped at $6,000 in total.

Finally, a group of volunteer career advisers from professional communities will be assembled to provide peer support and career guidance to local workers.

IT security consultant Ang Seoh Choon, 49, who used up her SkillsFuture Credit and paid more than $5,000 to take cybersecurity courses and exams in 2017 before landing her current job, said she will be interested to see what courses she can take with the top-up.

Singaporeans aged 21 and above to get one-off cash payout of up to $300
Parents who have at least one Singaporean child aged 20 and below this year will each get extra $100
By Theresa Tan, Senior Social Affairs Correspondent, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2020

All Singaporeans aged 21 and older this year will receive a one-off cash payout of between $100 and $300 to help with their household expenses amid the economic slowdown and the coronavirus outbreak. Parents with at least one Singaporean child aged 20 and younger this year will each receive an additional $100 in cash.

The cash payout scheme is part of a $1.6 billion Care and Support Package announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in Parliament yesterday.

He said: "This year, with the economic slowdown and the uncertainties of the Covid-19 outbreak, we are mindful that many families are facing greater pressures.

During my fellow MPs' and my own walkabouts, people often tell us that they are worried about job security and rising expenditures."

Those with an assessable in-come of up to $28,000 for the 2019 year of assessment will get $300. Those who earn between $28,001 and $100,000 will get $200, and those earning over $100,000 or who own more than one property will get $100.

Besides the one-time cash payout, the Government will also extend the service and conservancy charges (S&CC) rebate, of between 1.5 and 3.5 months, for another year.

For example, those living in three-and four-room Housing Board flats get 2.5 months in S&CC rebate, while those living in five-room HDB flats get two months.

The Government will also double the amount of rebate for utilities expenses that eligible HDB dwellers get, via a one-off goods and services tax voucher (GSTV) - U-Save Special Payment.

For example, a family living in a five-room flat gets $280 a year with the regular GSTV-U-Save rebate. With the new one-off voucher, the family will get another $280, making it a total of $560 a year.

Larger households, defined as those with five or more members, will get more help. They will get 2.5 times their regular GSTV-U-Save rebates this year.

"This will help to free up cash for other household expenses," said Mr Heng.

He also announced that the Government will make a $100 top-up to the PAssion cards of all Singaporeans aged 50 and older this year.

This money can be used to pay for groceries, activities and facilities at community clubs, among other things.

Those who do not have a PAssion card can get one for free to receive their top-up.

Besides the cash payouts and rebates to families, the Government will also give a $10 million grant to self-help groups over two years so they can help more families.

Community development councils, which run schemes to meet the needs of families in their areas, will get $20 million to do more and better meet the needs of their residents.

Mr Heng said helping families is part of the Government's drive to build a "caring and inclusive home". The other ways of doing so are: Supporting seniors and encouraging Singaporeans to give more to those in need.

He said that the Government has significantly increased social spending over the past decade.

For instance, between 2010 and last year, healthcare expenditure tripled to about $12 billion a year.

Last year, about $1.1 billion in cash was given to Singaporeans who needed more help, through schemes such as ComCare for the vulnerable, the Workfare Income Supplement for lower-wage workers and Silver Support for vulnerable seniors.

"This social spending reflects our commitment to invest in our people, to give every citizen a stake in society, to care for our seniors, and to provide more help to those with less," Mr Heng said.

Wage subsidies, CPF contribution offsets to help employers of older workers
By Joanna Seow, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2020

Employers of older workers will receive government funding from next year to offset the cost of their wages and the rising Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution rates.

Announcing this as part of a new Senior Worker Support Package to help Singaporeans work longer if they want to, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said: "Even as we support workers' aspirations to work longer, we hear employers' concerns. As part of our unique tripartite system, the Government has stepped up to support both our workers and our enterprises."

The first measure is a Senior Employment Credit, which will provide wage offsets of up to 8 per cent - depending on the age of the employee - for employers of Singaporean workers aged 55 and above and earning up to $4,000 a month.

The highest amount is for workers who are at least of the re-employment age, which is 67 and will go up to 68 on July 1, 2022.

Employers of workers aged 55 to 59 can receive up to 2 per cent in subsidies next year, and then 1 per cent in 2022.

The new scheme runs for two years, from Jan 1 next year until the end of 2022, and replaces two older schemes which expire at the end of this year. The older schemes together provided employers with wage offsets of up to 11 per cent of the monthly pay for Singaporean workers aged 55 and above and earning up to $4,000.

Bosses will also receive a CPF transition offset to cover half of the increase in their contribution rates for older workers next year, up to the CPF monthly salary ceiling of $6,000. They will be contributing 0.5 percentage point or 1 percentage point more for workers aged 55 to 70 next year, based on the worker's age.

CPF contribution rates for those aged 55 to 70 are to be raised gradually over this decade until those aged 60 and below enjoy the full CPF rates. The rates currently begin to taper down from 37 per cent after workers turn 55.

Details on the other two measures under the Senior Worker Support Package will be provided in the coming weeks.

They comprise an early adopter grant to support companies which formally raise their internal retirement age and re-employment age ahead of the national timeline, and a grant for companies which commit to offering part-time work for eligible older workers who request for it.

Mr Heng said that the Government will provide more support to help Singaporeans remain active and contribute to society and the economy as they live longer.

$100 grocery vouchers to help low-wage Singaporeans cope with daily expenses
By Theresa Tan, Senior Social Affairs Correspondent, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2020

Low-income Singaporeans will get extra help to cope with their daily living expenses.

In addition to the annual goods and services tax vouchers, public transport vouchers and service and conservancy charges rebates, these Singaporeans will receive a grocery voucher worth $100 a year for this year and next year.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said this yesterday as he announced a comprehensive Care and Support Package for households, amounting to about $1.6 billion. The voucher can be used at major supermarkets such as FairPrice, Giant and Sheng Siong.

The grocery voucher is for Singaporeans aged 21 and older who live in one-or two-room Housing Board flats and do not own more than one property.

To further help lower-wage workers, Singaporeans who received the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) last year will also qualify for a new Workfare Special Payment this year. This special payment - an additional 20 per cent of the total annual WIS payout the worker received last year - will be given in cash.

Workers with disabilities who were aged below 35 last year, and who meet the WIS criteria, will receive a Workfare Special Payment of between $100 and $300.

The WIS encourages eligible workers to work and build up their Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings by supplementing their income and retirement savings through cash payments and CPF contributions. To qualify for the WIS, Singaporeans must be 35 and older and earn a gross monthly income of not more than $2,300, among other criteria.

Govt to match cash top-ups to seniors' CPF savings
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2020

A new Matched Retirement Savings Scheme will be introduced to help those with less Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings.

About 435,000 lower-to middle-income Singaporeans aged 55 to 70, who have not been able to set aside the prevailing Basic Retirement Sum (BRS), will be eligible for the scheme, which will take effect from next year to 2025.

It involves the Government matching every dollar of cash top-up made to a person's CPF Retirement Account, up to an annual cap of $600.

CPF members can receive lifelong monthly payouts that can cover basic living expenses from the time they turn 65 after setting aside a BRS at 55.

"This is a way of encouraging and augmenting family support for our seniors with fewer means in retirement," said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.

Having financial assurance in retirement can help Singaporeans age with confidence, he added, given that Singapore's life expectancy at birth is close to 85 years, the longest in the world.

"We need to keep on updating and improving our CPF policies over time, so that they remain appropriate for each cohort," he said, noting that other pillars of Singapore's social security system, including home ownership and healthcare assurance, have been strengthened over time.

The BRS has been adjusted regularly in line with rising income levels. It is now $90,500 for the cohort turning 55 this year.

The Government will continue to adjust the BRS by 3 per cent a year for the next two cohorts. It will be $93,000 for those turning 55 next year, and $96,000 for people hitting 55 in 2022.

"These modest continuing adjustments are necessary for the payouts to keep up with basic retirement expenses," said Mr Heng.

The Government expects 70 per cent of actively employed people from these two cohorts to be able to set aside their BRS, significantly more than the 40 per cent about a decade ago.

More seniors qualify for Silver Support, with payouts raised by 20%
About 100,000 more seniors will benefit from enhanced scheme to boost retirement incomes
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2020

More seniors will have their retirement incomes enhanced with changes to the Silver Support scheme, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

The scheme, launched in 2016 to top up the retirement incomes of the bottom 20 per cent of Singaporeans aged 65 and above, will be extended to cover households with a monthly income per person of not more than $1,800. The previous threshold was $1,100.

Those with a monthly household per capita income of $1,300 or less will each receive a quarterly payout of $360 to $900.

Those with a monthly household income per person of above $1,300, but not exceeding $1,800, will each receive a payout of between $180 and $450 every quarter.

The scheme is for those living in one-to five-room Housing Board flats, among other criteria.

In total, about 100,000 more seniors will benefit from the enhanced Silver Support scheme next year.

Mr Heng said that the Silver Support scheme was created to complement the Central Provident Fund (CPF) scheme, as a small segment of the elderly population had low incomes during their working years, and currently have little or no family support.

"The scheme is now almost five years old and a review is timely," he said.

The threshold for lifetime wages will also be expanded to cover more seniors under the scheme, Mr Heng announced.

Those with total CPF contributions of not more than $140,000 by age 55, and self-employed people with an average annual net trade income of not more than $27,600 when they were aged 45 to 54, will be eligible for Silver Support.

These criteria are currently $70,000 and $22,800, respectively.

Payouts will also be raised by 20 per cent for those who are currently eligible for the scheme.

There is no need to apply for the scheme. Eligible seniors will be notified by the CPF Board and start receiving payouts under the enhanced scheme from December.

The cost of the scheme will nearly double from $330 million now, to around $620 million next year.

Madam Lee Lai Kum, 71, who lives in a two-room rental flat in Toa Payoh with her 71-year-old husband and 91-year-old mother, cheered the move.

They are now each receiving $750 of Silver Support every quarter, and this will rise to $900. Madam Lee used to earn about $400 a month as a part-time cleaner, but had to stop work a few years ago to take care of her mother, who is frail and unable to perform chores on her own.

Madam Lee's husband is a retired odd-job worker.

"This will be a great help. The cost of food items like fish and vegetables have gone up, and we try to scrimp and save to make sure that we have enough for household necessities. We also rely on regular donations from charities," she said.

More help to ensure every Singaporean student can reach potential, regardless of family income
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2020

Quality pre-school education will soon be more accessible, allowing children in Singapore to have a good start in life.

Annual spending by the Government on the early childhood sector is set to double to more than $2 billion per year within the next few years, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced yesterday. This is up from the $1 billion spent in 2018.

"Good education provides a strong foundation for children to grow, realise their aspirations, and continue a journey of lifelong learning," he said. "We are determined to give every child, regardless of circumstances, a good start in life."

It is among a raft of measures announced to make quality education - across all levels - more accessible. Many of the measures are focused on helping students from lower-income families, putting them on a more equal footing with others.

Mr Heng said: "This substantial investment is how we maximise every child's potential, regardless of family circumstances. This is a promise that I, as a former education minister and now Finance Minister, am committed to keep."

For the young, among other things, government-supported pre-school places will be increased to 80 per cent by 2025, up from just over 50 per cent now.

In the primary to pre-university school years, education is already heavily subsidised for Singaporeans. Primary school is free for all citizens, while the secondary school fee is $5 a month. Students pay only a few dollars in miscellaneous fees.

Mr Heng said those from lower-income families will receive even more help. For instance, the Ministry of Education's Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS) will be enhanced, with the annual bursary quantum for pre-university students raised from $900 to $1,000.

Transport subsidies for all students, and school meal subsidies for secondary school students will also be increased.

The enhanced FAS will cost an additional $9 million per year - or a total of $52 million per year.

At the higher education level, the cost of bursaries will rise from $148 million to $198 million per year.

Starting from the 2020 academic year, students from lower-and middle-income families in polytechnics and autonomous universities can benefit from higher bursaries.

Bursaries for full-time Institute of Technical Education (ITE) students will also be improved.

On top of the bursary, those from the lowest-income tier will receive a full fee subsidy. ITE students from lower-and middle-income households will also benefit from an increase in the cash bursary quantum by up to $200 a year.

Mr Heng said that by the time a Singaporean turns 16, he would have received over $180,000 of education subsidies.

Experts welcomed the move to help the young to reach their potential. Education economist Kelvin Seah from the National University of Singapore commended the Government's focus on lower-income students, noting that studies have suggested that there is an achievement gap between students from higher-income families and those from lower-income backgrounds.

"So addressing this achievement gap through policies designed to help the lower-income students would serve to reduce inequality and increase socioeconomic mobility," he added.

New wage offset scheme for firms hiring people with disabilities
By Goh Yan Han, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2020

To encourage a more inclusive workforce and society, a new wage offset scheme will be implemented from next year.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced yesterday a new Enabling Employment Credit scheme which will provide wage offsets to companies that employ those with disabilities.

Mr Heng said that everyone can play a part to build an inclusive society "from their hearts, in ways big and small".

The new scheme will replace the existing Special Employment Credit and Additional Special Employment Credit schemes, which will expire on Dec 31.

These schemes currently provide wage offsets for employers hiring Singaporeans with disabilities who earn below $4,000 a month.

In 2018, more than 5,700 employers, hiring over 8,600 Singaporeans with disabilities, benefited from the Special Employment Credit.

The new Enabling Employment Credit scheme will be available for five years, from 2021 to 2025, at a cost of about $31 million each year. It will be reviewed after two years to ensure that the scheme continues to remain helpful.

More details will be announced by the Ministry of Manpower in the coming weeks when MPs debate the budget of each ministry.

Govt to set aside $250 million to boost partnership efforts with citizens on community projects
By Toh Wen Li, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2020

The Government will set aside $250 million to boost efforts to partner with the community in projects, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

This includes $20 million that will be used to top up the Our Singapore Fund, which supports projects in the social and community domains initiated by citizens. The fund will also be extended for five more years, from this year.

Since the fund was announced in Budget 2016, it has committed nearly $4.3 million to more than 240 ground-up projects in areas ranging from heritage to sports.

Such initiatives range from Progress Nest, which runs after-school team activities for secondary school students from low-income families; to Stories From The Heart, which runs experiential workshops that help people better empathise with the visually impaired.

A budget of $150 million - part of the $250 million - will also be set aside to expand successful ground-up projects, such as those already supported by the Our Singapore Fund.

Money will also go towards the SG Eco Fund, which is for sustainability efforts and will be launched by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.

Mr Heng said: "Channelling the energies of our people to key causes requires us to identify the challenges of our time.

"These challenges are multi-faceted and multi-dimensional, but they are ultimately about how Singapore remains exceptional in an increasingly complex world.

"The solutions will come in all shapes and forms, from all levels of society - from government policies to individual efforts on the ground. We must overcome these challenges and find solutions together."

Additionally, the Ministry of Social and Family Development and National Council of Social Service will set up the Community Capability Trust to raise funds and help social-service sector partners better serve the community.

The Government, together with the Tote Board, will provide the trust with a combined $200 million in financial year 2020, and match up to $150 million in funds raised over the next decade.

More details will be announced next week during the debate on the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth's spending plans.

Govt pushes for electric vehicles to phase out petrol, diesel vehicles
Boost for electric vehicles in move to reduce pollution
Measures include tax rebate extension, early adopter perks and more charging points
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2020

In declaring its ambition to phase out internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles within the next 20 years, Singapore will make electric vehicles (EVs) more attractive from next year.

"Our vision is to phase out ICE and have vehicles run on cleaner energy by 2040," Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said, adding that this goal is for "both public health and climate change reasons".

Singapore has said that it sees climate change as an existential threat, and Mr Heng, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, yesterday announced several measures to make EVs a viable option.

First, the Vehicular Emissions Scheme (VES), which metes out tax rebates and surcharges based on a vehicle's emission levels, will be extended to light commercial vehicles.

Second, an early adoption incentive scheme will be rolled out for EV buyers from 2021 to 2023. It will offer a 45 per cent rebate on the car's Additional Registration Fee (ARF, the main car tax), capped at $20,000 per vehicle.

Third, the road tax for EVs and some hybrids will be revised to be less punitive.

Fourth, Singapore will expand the EV charging infrastructure significantly from 1,600 points now to 28,000 by 2030.

But as excise duty from fuel sales contributes around $1 billion a year to tax coffers, Mr Heng said the Government will introduce a six-monthly lump sum tax for EVs from 2021, starting at $100, then $200 in 2022, and $350 from 2023 onwards.

"Total road tax, after the revision in methodology and the new lump sum tax, will be higher for some EV models," Mr Heng said.

"However, EV buyers can expect to enjoy substantial savings because of the significant EV Early Adoption Incentive."

Mr Heng said the excise duty on fuel is a form of mileage tax to discourage indiscriminate usage, which will have an impact on pollution and congestion.

Industry players said this lump sum tax will negate much of the savings derived from the revised road tax.

For instance, the Hyundai Kona Electric, which is part of ride-hailing firm Grab's fleet, will see its annual road tax fall by around 36 per cent to $1,447. But the lump sum tax will pare this saving down to 4 per cent from 2023.

The buyer, however, will qualify for a $20,000 rebate on the car's ARF, which translates to a saving of around $10,000, assuming he keeps the vehicle for 10 years.

On the whole, the move was well received, even if the VES - which currently grants EV buyers a tax break of $20,000 - may change next year.

Mr Glenn Tan, deputy chairman and managing director of Tan Chong International, said: "This is good, as globally, manufacturers have been moving towards less pollutive vehicles, but the cost of adoption has been prohibitive. The increased rebate will encourage more people to adopt cleaner vehicles quicker, with the lower cost of ownership."

Nissan agent Tan Chong Motor's head of sales and marketing Ron Lim said the revised road tax means the Nissan Serena e-Power's road tax falls from $1,306 to $860 a year.

Mr Victor Kwan, managing director of multi-franchise Wearnes Prestige Division, said the tax changes are encouraging, but the move to build 28,000 charging points "will truly make a difference", even if it takes 10 years.

On the move to extend the VES to light commercial vehicles, Mr Neo Nam Heng, chairman of diversified motor group Prime, said: "I have been pushing for this for seven, eight years. This is a breakthrough.

"The market will evolve - just like the taxi market evolved from diesel to hybrid models. This will be positive for the environment."

Highest projected deficit of $10.9 billion in decade to cushion coronavirus fallout
Coming in at 2.1% of GDP, projected deficit exceeds that of 2009 during financial crisis
By Grace Ho and Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 19 Feb 2020

Armed with a $6.4 billion arsenal to fight the coronavirus and its fallout on the economy, this year's expansionary Budget could run a historic deficit of $10.9 billion - the highest in recent times.

Coming in at 2.1 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), it exceeds the projected deficit of $8.7 billion in 2009 during the global financial crisis, when the Government rolled out a $20.5 billion Resilience Package to help Singaporeans and businesses.

The deficit in 2009 was eventually pared down to $0.82 billion, or just 0.3 per cent of GDP. Before that, the largest recorded deficit was in 2001, at 1.7 per cent of GDP.

But unlike 2009, when the Government dipped into the past reserves, some powder has been kept dry this time around - thanks to a surplus of $18.7 billion accumulated over the current term of government.

Unveiling the 2020 Budget statement yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said that Singapore is expected to have a $10.9 billion Budget deficit this year.

This is a sharp climb from the $1.7 billion deficit chalked up last year, revised from the initial $3.5 billion deficit forecast a year ago.


This year, revenue is expected to come in at $76 billion, a $1.3 billion increase over revised 2019 estimates.

This is mainly due to higher collections from statutory boards' contributions, corporate and personal income tax and other taxes. But the increase will be partly offset by decreases in vehicle quota premiums and motor vehicle taxes.

Statutory board contributions - led by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) - are expected to go up by 44 per cent to $2.6 billion.

With the expected decrease in new certificate of entitlement quotas and weaker economic sentiment, revenues from vehicle quota premiums are estimated to dip by $0.3 billion to $2.6 billion - a 9.2 per cent fall.

Ministries' total expenditures are projected to be $83.6 billion, 7 per cent up on 2019.

Higher spending in healthcare, national development and transport will be offset by lower development spending needs under trade and industry expenditure.

Healthcare spending is expected to spike by $1.9 billion, or 16.2 per cent - thanks to higher subsidies to public hospitals and other healthcare institutions, as well as contingency funding to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

Major development projects, such as the Woodlands Health Campus, Singapore General Hospital Emergency Medical Building and information technology infrastructure, will also add to the healthcare bill.

A $0.7 billion, or 7.1 per cent, increase in transport spending will go to MRT development.


At $17 billion, the Net Investment Returns Contribution (NIRC) last year continued to be the top contributor to government coffers, overtaking corporate and personal income tax, and goods and services tax (GST), the three largest sources of tax revenue.

Since 2016, the returns from Singapore's invested reserves have been the single largest source of government revenue. The NIRC comprises 50 per cent of the Net Investment Returns on net assets invested by GIC, MAS and Temasek, and 50 per cent of the Net Investment Income derived from past reserves from the remaining assets.

The NIRC more than doubled from $7.01 billion in 2009 to $17.05 billion last year.

For this year's Budget, the trend is set to continue with NIRC estimated at $18.63 billion.

In the last two years, reliance on the NIRC has increased, with the component growing slightly as a percentage of GDP. The NIR framework was introduced in 2008.


The Government must maintain a balanced Budget over each term under Singapore's Constitution.

Any Budget surplus or deficit cannot be carried over to the next term of government.

However, it can accumulate surpluses over its term, which is typically five years.

Under each term of Government, any surplus at the end of a fiscal year is kept as current reserves. These can be tapped, if needed, in subsequent years during its term.

Since the current term of Government took office after the 2015 General Election, it has managed to accumulate surpluses, which last year were shared with Singaporeans through the Bicentennial Bonus. Low-income Singaporeans received up to $300 in GST vouchers, among other announcements.

At the end of each term of government, accumulated current reserves are transferred to the past reserves, which are protected by the Constitution. The Government may draw on past reserves to supplement its Budget in times of unusual expenditure needs, but only with the approval of Parliament and the President. This was done in 2009 during the global financial crisis.

A Budget deficit in any given year is not an issue, so long as it can be offset by surpluses accumulated since the start of the current term of Government.

This would be the case for this year's estimated Budget deficit.

Singapore Budget 2020: Advancing as One Singapore

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