Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Fortitude Budget: Singapore Government sets aside $33 billion more to help workers, businesses in fourth COVID-19 support package

$33 billion set aside in Fortitude Budget, Singapore's fourth Budget in less than four months, bringing Singapore's COVID-19 war chest to nearly $100 billion
Unprecedented crisis calls for landmark package to help Singaporeans: DPM Heng Swee Keat
By Lim Yan Liang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 27 May 2020

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday announced a $33 billion supplementary Budget aimed primarily at helping workers and businesses pull through the COVID-19 pandemic and the bleak economic outlook ahead.

Called the Fortitude Budget, Singapore's fourth Budget in less than four months sets aside $2.9 billion to extend job protection and co-pay salaries to help firms retain workers. It also provides for the $3.8 billion that went towards helping Singaporeans tide over the extension of the circuit breaker measures.

Together with the earlier Unity, Resilience and Solidarity Budgets, the Government is dedicating close to $100 billion - or nearly 20 per cent of gross domestic product - to support Singaporeans in this battle against COVID-19, said Mr Heng, who called it "a landmark package, and a necessary response to an unprecedented crisis".

Singapore's economy has been deeply impacted by the global shocks caused by COVID-19, said Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, as he introduced the Budget in Parliament.

He noted that the resident unemployment rate rose to 3.3 per cent in March, the highest in over a decade. The economy is now expected to shrink between 4 per cent and 7 per cent this year, potentially Singapore's worst recession since independence.



Still, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the Republic is in a strong position to overcome this crisis and emerge stronger due to the Pioneer Generation's sacrifices and stewardship, and the fiscal prudence and discipline of successive governments.

"Saving and creating jobs will be our priority," wrote PM Lee on Facebook yesterday, while stressing that no one will be left behind.

"We will help businesses adapt and transform, create new jobs and provide more training opportunities to workers."

Mr Heng also underscored the focus on jobs. Payments under the Jobs Support Scheme will be extended by one month to provide more relief to firms as they reopen after the circuit breaker period.



In total, the Government will disburse $23.5 billion to support firms' wage costs for 10 months, said Mr Heng.

Businesses such as retail outlets, gyms and cinemas that cannot reopen immediately after the circuit breaker period ends on June 1 will continue receiving 75 per cent wage support until August or when they can resume operations, whichever is earlier.


There will also be help for businesses in the construction and offshore and marine sectors which cannot resume operations on-site for now. They will see the foreign worker levy waiver and rebate extended for up to two months.

Business costs will be cut further as the planned increase in Central Provident Fund contribution rates for senior workers will be deferred by one year to January 2022.



As a landlord, the Government will lead by example by providing two more months of rental waivers for commercial tenants and hawkers, and one more month of rental waivers for industrial, office and agricultural tenants.

A Bill will be introduced next week mandating that landlords grant a rental waiver to their tenants who are small and medium-sized enterprises and have suffered a significant revenue drop.



Households with at least one Singapore citizen will also get a one-off $100 Solidarity Utilities Credit to offset their utility bills, on top of the U-Save Special Payment that was previously announced.

Mr Heng also launched an SG United Jobs and Skills Package to create close to 100,000 opportunities in three areas - 40,000 jobs, 25,000 traineeships and 30,000 paid skills training places.

This Budget will require a further $31 billion to be drawn from past reserves, which President Halimah Yacob has given in-principle support for. In all, the Government is looking at drawing up to $52 billion from the reserves this financial year, said Mr Heng.

"While we will try to preserve jobs in the midst of this crisis, we cannot protect every job," he said. "However, you have my assurance that the Government will protect every worker."

"Our promise to workers is this: As long as you are willing to pick up new skills and adapt, to access available opportunities to work or learn, the Government will provide our strongest support to help you."



Parliament will debate the Budget when it next sits on June 4.
























President Halimah backs further draw on reserves: DPM Heng Swee Keat
Second withdrawal of $31 billion from Singapore's reserves to cushion coronavirus impact
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 May 2020

Singapore will draw another $31 billion from its reserves to fund a fourth package of measures to cushion people and the economy from the coronavirus pandemic.

The second draw in the span of two months reflects the impact COVID-19 has had on Singapore's open economy as businesses grind to a halt all over the world. It brings to $52 billion the amount of past savings tapped this financial year.



Explaining the decision to dip into the reserves again, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat told Parliament yesterday it is "necessitated by the very exceptional nature of the COVID-19 crisis".

To fund the three Budgets earlier this year, the Government had used up almost all of its accumulated surpluses from its current term, he said. "But what we need to deal effectively with COVID-19 has grown so much that we have no choice but to draw on our past reserves." The Government's current five-year term will end by April 14 next year.

Mr Heng said he had thought long and hard about the move and had gone through rounds of deliberations and discussions with Finance Ministry staff and his Cabinet colleagues before seeking President Halimah Yacob's approval.

She has given her in-principle support in consultation with the Council of Presidential Advisers.



Already, an unprecedented move was made earlier this year to dip into the past accumulated savings to the tune of $21 billion.

Mr Heng said the sum has gone towards saving jobs, keeping the economy going and giving direct aid to Singaporeans during this period.

Since then, the impact of the pandemic has deepened, with the number of coronavirus cases worldwide exceeding five million, and the death toll rising over 340,000.

The number of cases in Singapore has crossed 30,000, with 23 dead, as the country prepares to lift restrictions on movements and business activities that kicked in 51 days ago.

"Lives and livelihoods are at stake, and we are moving to secure our future," said Mr Heng.

"After a challenging circuit breaker period, we are now preparing to reopen our economy. To do so in a safe and calibrated manner, and to continue to support our people, we are proposing a further draw on our past reserves."


He added: "We have a responsibility to make the best use of these resources, to keep our people safe, to save jobs and transform businesses, and to emerge stronger.

"Every dollar that we have saved has been saved by careful counting over the years. In spending this national savings now, we must make every dollar spent count."






























Budget deficit expected to hit $74.3 billion, largest since Singapore's independence in 1965
Largest Budget deficit; $13 billion set aside for contingency
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 May 2020

Amid increased spending and a record four Budgets totalling some $92.9 billion announced this year, Singapore expects to record its biggest deficit since the country's independence in 1965.

Announcing the Fortitude Budget in Parliament yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said the deficit of $74.3 billion will amount to 15.4 per cent of gross domestic product.

It is a combination of two factors: Increased spending and expected drop in government revenue as safe distancing measures reduce production and consumer spending that, in turn, will further drive down fiscal takings.

The revised operating revenue of $68.8 billion is lower than the estimated $76 billion. It marks a big departure from the balanced or surplus budgets that the Government has maintained over the years.

Mr Heng, who is also Minister for Finance, said yesterday that the exceptional circumstances sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic have made it necessary for the Government to dig deep into its pockets and also into past reserves to bolster Singapore's economic and social resilience.

Another thing it has had to do is to set aside $13 billion in the Contingencies Fund and the Development Contingencies Fund. These are for urgent, unforeseen expenditures.



Under the Constitution, Parliament can create the funds to pay for unexpected requirements which are not provided for in the Supply Act. The President must consent to the advance.

Each year in the Budget, the Government puts aside a buffer of $3 billion altogether into the two funds, but the larger sum this time around will allow the Government to react to any needs swiftly amid the fast-changing coronavirus situation, said Mr Heng.

Noting how four Budgets have had to be deployed within less than four months to help Singaporeans through the crisis, he added: "While we have the resources and the will to do what is needed in fighting COVID-19, we must continue to stay nimble and adaptive in this rapidly evolving situation."

"With COVID-19, we are facing unprecedented levels of uncertainty - it is uncertain how the pandemic will evolve, if there will be a second or even third wave, and if, and when, vaccines will be available," said Mr Heng.

"The uncertainty on the medical front is fuelling the uncertainty in the global economy."

He said the money will allow the Government to respond quickly to any unforeseeable developments, such as if the medical or economic situation deteriorates and more public health or fiscal measures must be put in place.

"We will do our best to avoid this, but we must be prepared for any eventuality," said Mr Heng.

The Cabinet, President Halimah Yacob, and the Council of Presidential Advisers were all briefed before the funds were set aside, he said, stressing that the use of the funds is subject to proper governance and accountability.

While the Minister for Finance may use money from the contingencies funds if he is satisfied that there is an urgent and unforeseen need, the money can be advanced only if the President concurs as well.

After that, the amount advanced has to be included in a Supplementary Supply Bill or Final Supply Bill, which will be presented to Parliament to be voted on.

"This approach is appropriate and prudent, given the fluid situation which may require the Government to act swiftly in the coming months," said Mr Heng.






























Higher wage subsidies for Singaporean workers extended to more sectors hit by COVID-19, support to last 10 months: DPM Heng
Jobs Support Scheme extended by a month, so employers get 10 months' wage support
By Joanna Seow, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 27 May 2020

More firms in sectors such as construction, retail and aerospace will be eligible for higher tiers of wage subsidies under the latest $2.9 billion enhancement to the Jobs Support Scheme, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

The scheme, first announced in February, will be extended by one month to cover wages paid in August, he said in a speech on the fourth COVID-19 support package.



This means employers will receive wage subsidies for all local employees for 10 months instead of nine. This will cost the Government $23.5 billion in all.

Firms will receive the additional month of subsidies in the October payout - the last of four payouts.



The Jobs Support Scheme covers between 25 per cent and 75 per cent of the first $4,600 of gross monthly wages for all 1.9 million Singaporean and permanent resident employees.

These workers are employed by more than 140,000 enterprises, many of which have been hit hard by both demand and supply shocks due to COVID-19, said Mr Heng. "Businesses are trying hard to get back on their feet and reopen safely as they emerge from the circuit breaker. We are fully behind them, and will further strengthen our support for businesses on the 3Cs - cash flow, costs and credit," he said.

Those that cannot resume operations immediately after the circuit breaker ends on June 1 will receive higher subsidies of 75 per cent of wages until August or when they are allowed to reopen, whichever comes earlier. These include retail outlets, gyms and fitness studios, and cinemas, he added.

The higher subsidy level of 75 per cent was originally provided to all employers of local workers for April and May, to tide businesses through the circuit breaker period.

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, said the types of firms eligible for the different tiers of support under the Jobs Support Scheme will be reclassified to help those more severely impacted.

Originally, only firms in tourism and the aviation sector would get support/subsidies of 75 per cent of wages after the circuit breaker. Firms in the food services industry would receive 50 per cent of wages while other firms receive the base level of 25 per cent.

Now, firms in the aerospace sector - including those in maintenance, repair and operations - as well as money changers and regional ferry operators, among others, will also receive 75 per cent wage support. Cinema operators, certain retailers and marine and offshore firms are among those that will get 50 per cent support. Eligible firms will receive retrospective payouts by July to top up what they have received so far.

Firms in the built environment sector, which includes construction, will receive higher subsidies of 75 per cent for wages paid between June and August, as they are affected by the phased and gradual resumption of activities, he said.

Mr Heng thanked firms that have returned or donated their Jobs Support Scheme payouts as they have not been as badly affected, and urged others to use the subsidies to retain their staff, speed up adaptation and move towards a viable business model.

"Please make full use of the schemes available to train workers and upgrade your corporate capabilities. Time is running out, please act fast!" he said.

Most businesses are expected to reopen by July, and the support in this year's Budgets would enable most sectors to recover in the coming months, said Mr Heng.

The Government will consider more help for some sectors, such as aviation and tourism, which will remain affected by restrictions on global travel for the foreseeable future. The help will depend on the situation and longer-term shape of these industries, and plans for the economy, he added.

Mr Heng said the pandemic comes at a time when enterprises are facing not only immediate challenges, but also structural changes that threaten their survival. Some workers will lose their jobs, and some of these jobs will not come back, while others will look different going into the future.

He stressed that the tripartite structure of cooperation between the Government, employers and unions that has served Singapore well will need to be reinforced.

"Each of us must do our part - businesses need to adapt and transform, and workers need to adapt and reskill. You have my assurance that the Government will provide strong support, to bring all parties together to navigate through these turbulent waters," he said.









Cash grant to help SME tenants with rent costs
SMEs to get more rent relief; new Bill in the works to make landlords give rental waiver
By Grace Leong, Business Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 May 2020

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will get a cash grant to offset their rental costs as part of efforts to help them get back on their feet after the circuit breaker period.

Meanwhile, if SMEs have seen their revenues fall significantly in recent months, then their landlords may be obliged to grant them rental waivers, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said in Parliament yesterday.

The plan is to ensure this through a new Bill that will be introduced in Parliament next week. It aims to grant eligible SME tenants in commercial properties a total of four months of rental relief. This is to be shared equally between the Government and landlords and should help more affected SMEs stay afloat, analysts say.

The new cash grant, which will be disbursed through property owners, will cost about $2 billion in total, said Mr Heng as he unveiled the fourth round of support measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.



It will be disbursed by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore to property owners from end-July. Landlords are required to pass on the benefit to their SME tenants.

Taken together with the property tax rebate, the Government will offset about two months of rent for eligible SME tenants of commercial properties. The landlords, on their part, will have to chip in with two months' rental waiver if the SME tenants have seen revenues fall significantly.

The Government will, through the grant, offset about one month's rent for eligible tenants of industrial and office properties.

SME tenants are those with not more than $100 million in annual turnover, based on corporate tax and individual tax returns for the 2019 assessment year.

"We will also expect landlords to do something, and that will be legislated," said Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister.

The new Bill, to be introduced by the Law Minister next week, will also cover provisions on temporary relief from onerous contractual terms such as excessive late payment interest or charges. It will also allow tenants to repay their arrears through instalments, he added.

"The Government does not ordinarily intervene in contracts after they have been entered into. However, in exceptional situations, the Government needs to intervene, through legislation, to safeguard the economic structure for the common good," Mr Heng said.

Government tenants will also receive more rent relief, he added. Commercial tenants and hawkers will have two more months of rent waived, bringing the total rental waiver to four months for commercial tenants. Stallholders in hawker centres and markets managed by government agencies will get a total of five months of rental waiver.

Industrial, office and agricultural tenants of government agencies will receive one more month of rental waiver, bringing the total to two months of rental waiver.

Mr Heng added that the Government will also ensure that these measures help sub-tenants, many of whom are SMEs.

But Ms Christine Li, Cushman & Wakefield's head of research for Singapore and South-east Asia, argued that smaller landlords with a larger proportion of SME tenants in their properties may find it hard to support SME tenants.

"The new Bill should not make things too onerous for landlords, as some could have been hit hard themselves due to their tenants not being able to operate and pay rent during the extended circuit breaker period," said Ms Li.

"It might be wise to stay targeted, rather than making it mandatory to save every business."










CPF contribution rate increases for senior workers deferred by a year to 2022: DPM Heng
By Joanna Seow, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 27 May 2020

The planned increase in Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution rates for senior workers will be deferred by one year to Jan 1, 2022.

This is to help employers manage costs amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

The increase, initially to take place on Jan 1 next year, will see employers and workers contribute either 0.5 percentage point or 1 percentage point more for workers aged 55 to 70, based on the worker's age.

CPF contribution rates of those aged 55 to 70 will be gradually raised during this decade until those aged 60 and younger enjoy the full CPF rates. Currently, the rates begin to taper down from 37 per cent after workers turn 55.



The CPF Transition Offset scheme, announced in this year's first Budget speech in February, will similarly be deferred until the higher contribution rates take effect, Mr Heng told the House. The offset scheme covers half of the increase in employer CPF contribution rates for one year.

Yesterday, Mr Heng thanked the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation for supporting the one-year deferment.

NTUC deputy secretary-general Heng Chee How said in a Facebook post after the announcement that the move will help save jobs for more older workers.

"The clear timeline also makes clear to older workers that their longer term interests remain the joint commitment of the tripartite partners," he said.

Pointing to how the Ministry of Trade and Industry had downgraded Singapore's 2020 growth forecast to minus 7 to minus 4 per cent yesterday morning, Mr Heng Chee How said many will find it very difficult to keep their livelihoods in the months ahead.

Workers will also find it harder to maintain their take-home pay because of the poor business environment, he added.

"In this situation, we must strenuously avoid adding cost from a particular segment of workers who are already vulnerable to businesses as it would only increase their risk of retrenchment.

"We must also avoid reducing their take-home pay in this hard time through the increase in employee contribution rates.

"Saving jobs for older workers is the imperative," he said.




















All households with at least one Singaporean will receive $100 subsidy on utility bills: DPM Heng
Sum to be credited in utility bills in July or August, and covers all property types
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 27 May 2020

All households with at least one Singaporean member will receive a one-off $100 subsidy to cover their utility bills.

This sum, known as the Solidarity Utilities Credit, will be credited in their utility bills in July or August, and cover all property types.

Announcing this yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said it is a way of thanking Singaporeans for doing their part in the fight against COVID-19 by staying home.



"Singaporeans have given us feedback that while they are saving on transport fares and other charges, they are expecting to spend more on their utility bills, as they stay home during the circuit breaker period," he noted.

The sum comes on top of Utilities-Save (U-Save) rebates given to all eligible Housing Board households as part of the Goods and Services Tax Voucher, which helps households offset their utility bills.


Larger households with five or more members can receive up to $1,000 in U-Save rebates for the financial year 2020.


The Government will continue to provide help for immediate needs, stressed Mr Heng.


Another $800 million will be set aside for the COVID-19 Support Grant, which supports those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, employees placed on no-pay leave and those who will see their salaries reduced significantly in the coming months due to the pandemic, among other criteria.


It provides up to $800 per month for three months.


The Government has received about 48,000 applications in the three weeks after the support grant started this month.


An initial sum of $145 million was set aside for the COVID-19 Support Grant, the Temporary Relief Fund (TRF) and to give social service offices more flexibility in dispensing ComCare aid.


The TRF, which gives a one-off payout of $500, helped 450,000 people who needed immediate financial help last month.


Mr Heng said: "We are committed to providing help to those who have been badly affected."




Singaporean households will also be receiving more payouts in the coming months, he said.

Besides the Solidarity Payment of $600 in cash, which adult Singaporeans received last month, other components from the Care and Support Package will reach Singaporeans in the coming months.


For instance, lower-and middle-income Singaporeans will receive their remaining Care and Support payouts of $300 or $600 next month.


Citizens with at least one Singaporean child aged 20 and below this year will also receive a $300 cash payout next month.


These come on top of permanent support like the cash component of the GST Voucher, which will be paid out in August.


The self-employed will also receive direct cash assistance through the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme, which offers a $9,000 payout over nine months. More than 100,000 self-employed people will be getting their first payout of $3,000 this week, said Mr Heng.


Those who do not automatically qualify or have marginally missed the criteria can approach the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), which has received more than 60,000 applications so far.


Applicants can expect to hear from NTUC within a month of submitting their application, he added.




















$2 billion package to create 100,000 job and training opportunities for workers hit by COVID-19 slowdown
This will include 40,000 jobs, 30,000 skills training chances and 25,000 traineeships
By Olivia Ho, Arts Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 May 2020

A new $2 billion jobs and training package will create close to 100,000 opportunities for workers affected by the COVID-19 economic slowdown, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

He told Parliament in his speech on the fourth Budget this year that the support, dubbed the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package, would include 40,000 jobs, 25,000 traineeships and 30,000 skills training opportunities.



Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, said: "In the tough months ahead, we must be prepared for some job losses.

"While we will try to preserve jobs in the midst of this crisis, we cannot protect every job. However, you have my assurance that the Government will protect every worker.

"Our promise to workers is this: As long as you are willing to pick up new skills and adapt, to access available opportunities to work or learn, the Government will provide our strongest support to help you."

JOBS

The 40,000 and more new jobs that the package will create, said Mr Heng, include 15,000 in the public sector. These will encompass both long-term ones in areas such as early childhood education and healthcare, as well as short-term ones related to COVID-19 operations, such as healthcare declaration assistants and swabbers.



The public sector will also give local job seekers two-year positions and train them with an eye to eventually placing them in relevant private sector jobs.

Meanwhile, government agencies will also work with businesses to create 25,000 jobs, he said.

"Many businesses have stepped forward with openings in a wide range of job roles, such as computer engineers and machine operators.

"I encourage more businesses to do even more in the coming months."


He said the Government will expand capacity in career conversion programmes such as Place-and-Train under the Adapt and Grow initiative, which will be scaled up to more than 14,000 places this year, and company-led training programmes under the TechSkills Accelerator.

Launched in the 2016 Budget, TechSkills Accelerator has trained more than 1,000 people in partnership with firms such as Accenture, DBS Bank and Google as of last December.

More than 90 per cent of them have been placed in roles related to information, communications and technology.



TRAINEESHIPS

The Government aims to create about 25,000 traineeship positions this year, said Mr Heng.

Of these, 21,000 will come from the SGUnited Traineeships programme, which was announced in March for local first-time job seekers and will now have its places more than doubled from 8,000 previously.

Workforce Singapore will fund 80 per cent of qualifying training allowances for up to 12 months with host companies.

Mr Heng said more than 1,000 host companies have shown strong interest, as has the public sector.

Some of the traineeships on offer are in technology-related areas that are in high demand or emerging rapidly, as well as in research and development.

The Defence Science and Technology Agency will offer diploma holders the opportunity to build skills in areas like IT and engineering.

The universities, Agency for Science, Technology and Research institutes, AI Singapore and SGInnovate will work with local deep-tech companies and start-ups for trainees to work with industry partners on real-world science and technology projects in areas such as software learning and artificial intelligence, he noted.

These will be offered progressively from June 1.

Another 4,000 traineeships will come from a new scheme, SGUnited Mid-Career Traineeships, for unemployed mid-career job seekers.



SKILLS

A new initiative, the SGUnited Skills programme, will expand training capacity for about 30,000 job seekers looking to upgrade their skills while job-hunting.

Participants will get an allowance of $1,200 per month in the course of their training, to cover basic subsistence expenses.

They will take industry-relevant, certifiable training courses full-time at subsidised rates, with the course fees substantially, if not fully, offset by their SkillsFuture Credit.

They will get opportunities to apply their training through attachments or participation in company projects, and will also receive career guidance and job placement support.

This programme will be rolled out progressively from July.



HIRING INCENTIVES

Mr Heng said employers will get a hiring incentive to take on local workers who have gone through eligible training or reskilling schemes.

He had earlier announced such an incentive in February under the SkillsFuture Mid-Career Support Package, for eligible workers aged 40 and above.

He will now double the incentive to cover 40 per cent of their salary over six months, capped at $12,000 in total.

The incentive will also be expanded to eligible workers under 40, covering 20 per cent of their monthly salary over six months, capped at $6,000 in total.

Mr Heng added that he was heartened by tripartite partners' support for these various initiatives.

He noted that the Singapore Business Federation, which is the programme manager for SGUnited Traineeships, is working hard to bring companies on board and as quickly as possible.

The National Trades Union Congress is also reaching out to fresh graduates to consider the traineeships programme as an option.

"Some employers have stepped forward to offer jobs and traineeships," said Mr Heng.

"This not only contributes to the national effort, but is also a farsighted move to build longer-term capabilities for their companies.

"I encourage employers to also make good use of the strong support we provide to upskill their existing workers during this downtime, so that they can emerge stronger when business picks up."

Job seekers can find out more at www.mycareersfuture.sg.




















Tharman to chair new National Jobs Council
By Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 27 May 2020

Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam will chair a new council to oversee efforts to help Singaporeans master skills needed to stay employable in a challenging economy.

Announcing his appointment in his supplementary budget speech, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said Mr Tharman, who is Coordinating Minister for Social Policies and was formerly finance minister and education minister, has "both detailed knowledge and deep expertise in this issue".

"I have requested him to chair a National Jobs Council to oversee this very important work, and I thank him for agreeing," he told Parliament yesterday.



Mr Tharman led SkillsFuture when it was started in 2014 to develop a system of education, training and career progression, and foster a culture of lifelong learning.

He also chaired the tripartite Council for Skills, Innovation and Productivity to help sectors keep pace with structural changes in the economy.

It was renamed the Future Economy Council in 2017, which was given an expanded mandate.

Mr Heng said the National Jobs Council will focus on creating jobs and building deep skills.

"This important effort will be integrated with the work of the Future Economy Council on the overall upgrading of our economy, through the Industry Transformation Maps in each cluster," he added.

"In this way, we can marshal all our experiences and expertise to manage the huge changes that are coming our way."

The National Jobs Council will provide details at a later date.










Students, seniors to get more help to access digital technology: DPM Heng
By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 27 May 2020

More help will be given to students and seniors to enable them to access digital resources, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

He noted that in the ongoing stay-home period, families have been making fuller use of digital technology for home-based learning, entertainment, ordering meals and keeping in touch with their friends and family members.

The value of having access to digital technology is clear, he said in his fourth Budget speech this year, adding that it has enabled people to connect with and support one another safely during the corona-virus pandemic.

"In a post-COVID world, having all on board digital channels will open up exciting new possibilities for different members of the community to engage with and support each other," Mr Heng, who is also the Finance Minister, told Parliament.

"Going forward, digital inclusion should be an important way for us to strengthen social resilience," he said.

"Regardless of age or resources, all members of our society should have access to digital resources, with no one left behind."

Mr Heng said the Ministry of Education will "accelerate the timeline" for all secondary school students to own a digital learning device as part of its longer-term plans to support digital literacy for all students.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung will announce details of the accelerated timeline when they are ready, he added.

In March, Mr Ong announced during the debate on his ministry's budget that every secondary school student would own a digital learning device, which can be subsidised using Edusave funds, by 2028.

He said that all students would get a $200 Edusave top-up to support the purchase and those from lower-income households would get further subsidies so they would not have to pay any of the cost out-of-pocket.

Students have already gone through about four weeks of home-based learning during the circuit breaker period, which ends next week, but some students from lower-income families may not have digital access at home, Mr Heng said yesterday.

He said the Education Ministry has loaned out more than 22,000 computing devices and Internet dongles to these students for them to benefit from full home-based learning and continue to connect with their teachers and friends.

For senior citizens, Mr Heng said the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) will launch a "Seniors Go Digital" movement to support them to adopt digital channels and equip them with the digital skills to do so.

He said this will enable seniors to stay in contact with their families and friends, and help care teams and volunteers to reach out to seniors more effectively.

The move will require support from family, friends and the wider community, Mr Heng said.



A "Digital Ambassadors" movement will also be launched to rally the community and volunteers to help seniors acquire digital skills, he added.

"For seniors from lower-income households who wish to learn but are unable to afford the devices, we will also provide them with financial support," he said.

Mr Heng encouraged young people with digital skills, as well as corporate companies, to step forward and be involved in the programme.

The Minister for Communications and Information and the IMDA will announce more details at a later date, he added.





Foreign worker levy waiver, rebates extended by up to 2 months for firms unable to resume work after circuit breaker
By Joanna Seow, Assistant Business Editor, The Straits Times, 27 May 2020

Businesses that are not allowed to resume operations on-site immediately after the circuit breaker ends on June 1 will have their foreign worker levy waived for up to two more months.

Levy rebates for them will also be extended for up to two more months, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat told Parliament yesterday.

This is part of a fourth round of budget measures to help firms manage costs amid the pandemic, and will include all businesses in the construction, marine and offshore, and process sectors.

The waiver will be 100 per cent in June, and 50 per cent in July, while the rebate will be $750 in June, and $375 in July.



Mr Heng first announced in his Solidarity Budget speech in April that the foreign worker levy due that month would be waived, and firms would receive a rebate of $750 that month for each work permit or S Pass holder, from levies paid this year. After the circuit breaker was extended for another four weeks, requiring most workplaces to close, the waiver and rebate were extended by a month.

Mr Heng highlighted the built environment sector, which includes construction, as one that needs additional support. It has many significant infrastructure projects, including MRT lines and public housing, that must continue to be planned and built, he said. The Government will co-share the additional costs that businesses will incur to meet extra requirements in order to resume their existing projects safely, he added.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and the Building and Construction Authority will announce the details later, said Mr Heng.









F&B and retail businesses can get up to $10,000 under new digital transformation scheme
By Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 27 May 2020

Companies in the food and beverage and retail sectors, which will be most affected by safe distancing requirements as Singapore reopens its economy, could get up to $10,000 each under a new scheme to accelerate digital transformation.

They will be the first to benefit from a new Digital Resilience Bonus, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat told Parliament yesterday.



It gives eligible businesses a payout of up to $5,000 if they adopt PayNow Corporate and e-invoicing, as well as business process or e-commerce solutions. An additional $5,000 is available for F&B and retail businesses which incorporate advanced solutions.

The new scheme is part of over $500 million allocated to support businesses in their digital transformation in the fourth round of budget measures announced yesterday.

"Those who are willing to transform will not be left behind," said Mr Heng, highlighting that digital solutions will become more deeply embedded in everyday lives.

He noted that the Emerging Stronger Task Force is studying two key shifts which have been accelerated by the pandemic - the rise of digital transformation and the decline in support for globalisation, which has affected global supply chains. The task force was set up to study how sectors in Singapore's economy can adjust to future changes in a post-COVID-19 world.



Stallholders in hawker centres, wet markets, coffee shops and industrial canteens will also get bonus payouts of $300 a month, over five months, for adopting e-payments.

The bonus is contingent on sustained use of the e-payment solution, with a minimum number of transactions per month. The Government will also bear the transaction fees until Dec 31, 2023.

This will help businesses which have not done so to start using digital tools, said Mr Heng, noting that the take-up for e-payments has risen sharply, with 50,000 more enterprises adopting PayNow Corporate from last month.

Around $250 million will also be set aside to help businesses digitalise in partnership with platform solution providers and industry champions, he said.

Schools and higher institutes of learning must also make full use of digital technologies for learning, Mr Heng said.

The Education Ministry and the National Research Foundation will share more details on how new digital platforms for online learning and teaching can be developed, integrating the latest advancements in artificial intelligence and learning sciences.

A new set of National Innovation Challenges will also be introduced to develop industry-led solutions for challenges which all businesses face, especially measures to reopen Singapore safely, he added.

Mr George Kokkinis, general manager of Greek restaurant Bakalaki, said the new Digital Resilience Bonus would help the restaurant implement more digital solutions on top of the online delivery options it recently introduced.

The payouts would contribute to its short-term cash flow and help with cost savings in the long term, he added.

Restaurant Laut Collective's co-founder Frank Shen said upgrading back-end systems is often not a priority for F&B operators, given the substantial investment involved and the focus on more pressing service and operation needs. "If the Government is willing to help support (businesses like ours to upgrade our systems), we would definitely look to and hope to grow the business in any way we can," he said.















$285 million for promising start-ups
By Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 27 May 2020

Promising start-ups will get financial help to bolster their innovation and entrepreneurship activities as well as give them a leg-up to gain access to credit, under new financing measures in the fourth Budget for this year.

A total of $285 million has been allocated to catalyse and match private investments, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said in Parliament yesterday.

The money will help bridge the financing gap they face amid the COVID-19 crisis, which could result in the loss of good jobs and companies if not addressed, he added.

"It is important to preserve what has been built up in our innovation ecosystem so painstakingly over the years," he said.

Earlier this year, about $300 million had been set aside to help deep-tech start-ups under the Startup SG Equity scheme, in which the Government co-invests with qualified third-party investors in eligible start-ups. Artificial intelligence and alternative proteins are some examples of deep technologies.

Mr Heng also highlighted that loan schemes introduced in the earlier Budgets, like the Temporary Bridging Loan Programme, have benefited about 5,000 businesses which have received loans totalling about $4.5 billion so far.

This amounts to more than three times the loans catalysed in the whole of 2019, he noted.

On top of these loan schemes, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, plus banks, finance companies and insurers, have introduced relief measures to help individuals and small and medium-sized enterprises to pay for their loans and insurance cover, Mr Heng said.





Top-ups for 2 fund-raising programmes to boost social service sector
By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 27 May 2020

Two fund-raising programmes under the Tote Board and the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) will get top-ups to help the social service sector tide over the coronavirus pandemic.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday that charities and social service agencies have been facing difficulties such as falling donations.

He told Parliament during his speech on the fourth Budget for this year that the Tote Board's Enhanced Fund-Raising Programme will get an additional $100 million on top of the $70 million it had already set aside.

The programme will allow charities to receive dollar-for-dollar fund-matching from the Tote Board on eligible donations raised from projects implemented from April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021, capped at $250,000 per charity.

This includes donations raised through approved digital platforms such as Giving.sg

If a charity hits the $250,000 cap, it will still be able to get a further 40 per cent in fund-matching for eligible projects, capped at $100,000 per project.

Charities must be registered with the Commissioner of Charities to be eligible, and the fund-raising project must not have benefited from other government matching funds such as the Cultural Matching Fund or the Bicentennial Community Fund.

Another programme, the Invictus Fund set up by the NCSS, will get a top-up of $18 million.

The fund is supported by donations raised through the Community Chest, which receives 20 per cent fund-matching from the Bicentennial Community Fund.

It was started to help social service agencies maintain service continuity, retain staff and adopt technology to transform their work amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

As of May 22, the Invictus Fund had raised $6.2 million, and 171 social service agencies had app-lied for it during the first round of applications.

More details on the next round of applications for the fund will be given later.

Mr Heng said these agencies and charities are key partners which have been supporting families and vulnerable groups during the pandemic.

A stronger social service sector will be even more critical in the years ahead, he added.

"I urge our social service agencies to accelerate their digitalisation efforts, scale up capabilities, and share resources and efforts to solve common challenges," Mr Heng said.

"We will continue to provide our strongest support for you."




















Singaporeans must continue to stand together as nation recovers: Heng Swee Keat
By Toh Wen Li, The Straits Times, 27 May 2020

Singaporeans need to continue to stand together as the country recovers from the coronavirus crisis, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat told Parliament yesterday as he unveiled Singapore's fourth Budget for the year.

The Fortitude Budget, as he calls it, will commit an extra $33 billion to bolster the country's efforts to ride through the pandemic. Combined with the three earlier Budgets, this takes the total amount the Government is dedicating to this cause to $92.9 billion.



"The battle against COVID-19 will be a long one. The road ahead will be uncertain, with more ups and downs," said Mr Heng, who is also the Finance Minister.

"Our generation must have the fortitude to persevere, to adapt and to emerge stronger, just like our founding generation. This is why I have named this our Fortitude Budget - courage in adversity."

Singaporeans from all walks of life have responded to the crisis with "unity, resilience and in solidarity", he said, acknowledging the efforts of various groups of people.

The country is building up its local production of surgical and cloth masks, and steps have been taken to control the spread of the corona-virus in migrant workers' dormitories, he added.

"Our agencies pulled out all the stops to set up centres in a matter of days, and have been running major operations to take care of the workers. NGOs (non-governmental organisations), such as the Migrant Workers' Centre, and volunteer groups, such as the COVID-19 Migrant Support Coalition, are also providing significant support.

"Many are coming forward to contribute their resources, skills and gifts to help the wider community get through this together."



More than 32,000 people in Singapore have been infected with COVID-19. Most of the new cases have been foreign workers living in dormitories.

Mr Heng also spoke of the good work of others - from arts company 3Pumpkins' online programmes for Malay, Mandarin and dialect-speaking audiences, to the people who provide emotional support via the 24-hour National Care Hotline.

"This spirit of Singapore Together will be critical, as we come together to recover and rebuild for a stronger, more sustainable tomorrow."



Singapore's circuit breaker measures will be eased in phases from June 2 onwards. Mr Heng urged Singaporeans to comply with these measures.

"Our collective action protects us, our families, our community and our lives."

He also encouraged businesses to support one another.

"Larger businesses can bring forward procurement and payment schedules to help their suppliers. Our trade associations and chambers (TACs) have stepped up to support businesses. For example, the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has formed a COVID-19 task force to raise funds to support their micro-SME members.

"And, of course, landlords can support their tenants."

The Emerging Stronger Task Force is partnering business leaders, owners of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), industry experts and TACs as it studies how the country can emerge stronger in the post-COVID world, he added.

"In the spirit of Singapore Together, I hope Singaporeans will participate to share your ideas."

Mr Heng also said society must take special care of its more vulnerable members, such as seniors, those with special needs and people who have lost their jobs. The Government is implementing many help schemes to address their needs, he added.

"Some groups have been more severely affected, such as low-wage workers in informal jobs and self-employed persons, whose incomes have fallen sharply. We will continue to assist them, and help to strengthen their longer-term social security.

"Our social service agencies, charities and volunteers have stepped up - let us mobilise everyone to do our part to build a more resilient Singapore."










No comments:

Post a comment