Saturday 6 June 2020

Parliament passes Fortitude Budget, 4th package of COVID-19 relief measures in 2020

DPM Heng Swee Keat spells out plans to tackle coronavirus crisis from 'position of strength'
Singapore's reserves, both financial and social, will help it emerge stronger from crisis
Singapore in a strong position to prevent lost 'COVID Generation', says DPM Heng in Fortitude Budget debate round-up
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2020

In the face of the global crisis of this generation, with huge uncertainties ahead, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday spelt out the Government's efforts to safeguard Singaporeans' lives and livelihoods, while also striving to ensure that the country emerges stronger from the crisis.

At the heart of its efforts, over the four Budgets unveiled in recent months, are moves to help workers stay in their jobs, or find new ones if displaced, and giving young graduates help to get on the pathway to employment.

Close to 80 per cent of the $93 billion that the Government is committing to tackle the fallout from COVID-19 will go towards this, he said.

Efforts to transform the economy will also have to be stepped up, in the face of underlying structural changes that the pandemic has accelerated. Companies and societies would have to adapt to these changes "with speed and agility" if they were to thrive, or even survive, he added.

Summing up the two-day debate that saw the $33 billion Fortitude Budget passed by the House, Mr Heng also sought to make plain that he believed Singapore approached the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic from a position of strength.

Not only is it armed with sizeable financial reserves that will help save many jobs, but it also has deep social reserves, mutual trust and close partnerships, he said. This will stand it in good stead.

"We must work to prevent a 'COVID Generation' of workers and students in Singapore," said Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, pointing to fears of a lost generation of youth, with skills, incomes and hopes diminished, as had happened in Western countries after World War I.

All over the world, he noted, governments have been grappling with the twin challenges of saving lives and livelihoods. Those which were slow to act for fear of hitting their economies have faced tragic consequences.

"Delayed and incomplete measures to stem infections resulted in a massive number of casualties, as healthcare systems were overwhelmed.

"Singapore has managed to avert some of the harsher outcomes from COVID-19. We were able to act boldly, as Singaporeans stood in unity, trusted the Government, and worked together to save lives and livelihoods."

Noting that there has been a "flight to leadership" around the world in the face of the crisis, he said that populations had looked to government as the one institution that can organise and mobilise in response.

Administrations across the political spectrum have responded with substantial packages to support businesses from airlines to carmakers.

"We too have mounted a strong response, because lives and livelihoods are at stake."

He noted that the number of unemployed residents is likely to exceed 100,000 this year, more than the 91,000 registered during the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic, and those who are employed may suffer significant income loss.

But no effort will be spared to help workers. Jobs in viable businesses will be saved, said Mr Heng. New jobs will also be created in growth areas. About 100,000 opportunities will be created for local job seekers to take on new roles.

There will also be extra help and traineeship opportunities for harder-hit groups such as graduating students and mid-career workers.

But Singapore is not just thinking of weathering the storm - it hopes to be even stronger when it passes, said Mr Heng.

The Emerging Stronger Taskforce, for instance, is studying key shifts and developing recommendations in the areas of technology and innovation, digitalisation, and disruption to global supply chains.

Singapore is also fortunate that it started the structural transformation of its economy before COVID-19 struck. It could use this time to prepare for its next phase of growth.

"The COVID-19 situation is a mighty storm that has damaged sails, and forced ships around the world to go into harbour. While waiting for the storm to subside, we must make the best use of this downtime to build new strengths and capabilities," said Mr Heng.

He added that the four Budgets would not only position Singapore for recovery but also help the economy avert an average output loss of 5 percentage points, or $23.4 billion a year, in this year and the next, according to a recent study.

While other countries had to borrow for their support measures - saddling their future generations with debt - Singapore could draw on its past reserves.

"We have a strong fiscal position. Our founding generation left us a legacy of a sizeable reserve, which we must continue to treasure and build on.

"We have strong social reserves, supported by mutual trust, close partnerships, strong values, and a sense of mutual responsibility and support."

Concluding, Mr Heng said that to emerge stronger, Singapore has to get three things right. These are: good governance and strong, adaptive leadership; durable social reserves across all levels; and being crystal clear and unwavering about its values and mission.

"More than ever before, these fundamentals will be crucial as we navigate the uncertainties ahead.

"Our circumstances have changed over the years, but the Government's aspirations for Singapore have not," said Mr Heng.

"It is to be a place where our people, regardless of race, language or religion, can build a better life."

Saving jobs, helping workers the focus of Budget, says Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat
COVID-19 jobs and skills package aims to save jobs, create new openings, help hard-hit groups
By Olivia Ho, Arts Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2020

A jobs and skills package to help workers through the COVID-19 economic slowdown will work on three fronts, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

These are saving jobs, creating new openings and dedicating additional help to hard-hit groups, he said during the supplementary Fortitude Budget debate in Parliament yesterday.

The number of unemployed residents in Singapore could potentially rise from around 73,000 last year to more than 100,000 this year, he said. This would exceed the record number of 91,000 unemployed residents during the 2003 SARS epidemic.

"COVID-19 will take a lasting toll on the quantity and quality of jobs worldwide, despite countries' best efforts to mitigate the impact," noted Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister.

He cited International Labour Organisation estimates that the coronavirus pandemic could raise global unemployment numbers "far higher" than 25 million - outstripping the 22 million left jobless by the 2009 global financial crisis.

"The economic fallout of COVID-19 goes beyond unemployment numbers," he said, adding that even those who keep their jobs may suffer under-employment and significant income loss.

"This could lead to a vicious cycle where income loss reduces consumption, and affected businesses further reduce labour demand."

He noted that the jobs and skills package must go hand in hand with business and industry transformation, as well as the redesign of existing jobs.

"Every business that is confronted with structural changes and the shocks from COVID-19 will need to take a long, hard look at its business model," he said.

"They will need new markets, new products or process innovations and need to harness new technologies. They may need to work with their competitors as industries consolidate for scale."

Elaborating on the three thrusts to the package, he said the first is to save jobs in viable businesses, and "preserve worker capability in sectors which are temporarily hard-hit".

The Jobs Support Scheme, which provides wage support to help employers retain local workers, will spend $23.5 billion on supporting 1.9 million jobs over 10 months, close to two-thirds of which are in small and medium-sized enterprises, he said. More than $11 billion has already been disbursed.

He stressed that the scheme, as its name states, is meant to support jobs. "We are not supporting businesses for their own sakes. We are supporting businesses - defraying their wage costs - so they can retain and pay workers."

The Government is also creating about 100,000 opportunities to help local workers find new jobs, including in emerging and growth areas such as infocommunication technologies, financial services and healthcare.

"Never before in our history have we set out to preserve so many jobs as well as create so many new opportunities," he said, adding that the National Jobs Council chaired by Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has already begun its task.

Additional help is on the way for heavily affected groups, including graduating students, mid-career workers and self-employed persons, Mr Heng said.

He thanked several MPs who had raised concerns about these groups, including Mr Ang Hin Kee (Ang Mo Kio GRC), Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) and Nominated MP Lim Sun Sun.

Fresh job entrants will get access to jobs and traineeship opportunities in growth areas through programmes like the TechSkills Accelerator, he said.

Support for mature workers will come from the SkillsFuture Mid-Career Support Package and enhancements to the Adapt and Grow programme, introduced in an earlier Budget.

Mr Heng also thanked firms which have stepped forward to create openings.

For example, both local and foreign banks have pledged to offer close to 900 traineeships for local fresh graduates and job seekers, while the NTUC FairPrice and Enterprise Groups have offered some 4,000 jobs and 300 traineeships.

"But despite our best efforts, we cannot possibly save every job," he warned. "Many sectors were already facing disruption before COVID-19. For workers who are displaced, you have our assurance that if you make the effort, our tripartite partners will support you to tide through this difficulty."

80% of COVID-19 war chest to help businesses, workers
$72 billion set aside to save jobs and workers affected by COVID-19 pandemic: DPM Heng
Rest of $92.9 billion to fight pandemic's impact to fund public health, social support measures
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2020

About 80 per cent of the nearly $100 billion set aside to tackle the coronavirus pandemic will be used to support businesses and help workers keep their jobs.

The rest of the money will fund public health and social support measures, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said in Parliament.

Speaking at the end of the Fortitude Budget debate yesterday, he said: "The fortunes of workers and businesses are intertwined.

"By keeping the economy stable, we strengthen social resilience.

"By investing in upgrading the skills of our people and transforming our businesses, the economy can recover more strongly."

The $33 billion Fortitude Budget, which Mr Heng announced last month, is Singapore's fourth Budget in less than four months.

In February, the Government rolled out the $6.4 billion Unity Budget, followed by the $48.4 billion Resilience Budget in March.

In April, the $5.1 billion Solidarity Budget was approved.

All in, the Government has allocated $92.9 billion, or nearly 20 per cent of the country's gross domestic product, to tackle the economic impact of the pandemic. Of that, $72 billion will go to saving jobs and keeping businesses going.

In his speech, Mr Heng said that such government intervention has become the cornerstone of the COVID-19 response.

Administrations worldwide - regardless of where they stand on the political spectrum or their stance on government intervention - have rolled out substantial support packages for citizens. There has been a "flight to administration", he said, with people looking towards the government - the "one institution that can organise and mobilise".

He noted that while governments elsewhere grapple with the tensions between saving lives and livelihoods, Singapore has managed to avert some of the harsher outcomes from COVID-19.

"We were able to act boldly, as Singaporeans stood in unity, trusted the Government, and worked together to save lives and livelihoods."

Mr Heng said the COVID-19 pandemic has shocked both the demand and supply sides of the global economy, and will continue to disrupt lives until a suitable vaccine or treatment is found.

On the demand side, reduced social interactions and weakened consumer confidence have significantly reduced consumption, which have in turn reduced income and investment levels.

On the supply side, lockdowns have disrupted deeply integrated supply chains across borders, and slowed global trade and investment.

Mr Heng said the International Monetary Fund has projected that the global economy will shrink by 3 per cent, even as growing geostrategic competition between the United States and China threatens to destabilise the global order.

After the Great Depression in the early 1930s, unemployment levels around the world took eight to 10 years to rebound, Mr Heng said. Singaporeans, he added, should not be surprised if it takes as long or longer to bounce back from COVID-19.

He said: "There is now talk of a global 'Lockdown Generation', and fears that the youth of our time could have their skills, employability and incomes permanently affected, even after the world recovers from the pandemic.

"We must work to prevent a 'COVID Generation' of workers and students in Singapore."

Mr Heng said that is why the Government has channelled an enormous amount of resources to fighting the pandemic.

After adding the country's usual spending to the amount set aside for the COVID-19 response, the total size of Singapore's four Budgets this year stands at $193 billion.

He said: "We are looking to spend in one year what we would have done in two years or more in normal times. This is a very big commitment."

Touching on the importance of ensuring resources are directed to the right areas, Mr Heng said that "design and implementation are critical", as it will enable people and the economy to rebound "faster and stronger".

At the same time, Singaporeans must learn to adapt to the new reality. This includes adjusting to new norms, such as higher standards of personal and public hygiene, and reduced social contact.

"We are thus not reopening and going back to our familiar routines, but into a new, uncertain reality," he said. "We will need to adjust to new ways of working, such as telecommuting, and acquire new skills relevant in the new economy. Changing habits is difficult, but we must all do our best."

Singapore must position itself as a key node in Asia in a post-COVID world: Heng
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2020

As the coronavirus changes the global landscape, Singapore must ensure that it plays a "valued and inextricable role" in this new post-COVID-19 world, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

Central to achieving this goal is the work of the new Emerging Stronger Task Force, which is studying the shifts and recommending how Singapore should refresh its economic strategy.

The recommendations will focus on technology and innovation, digitalisation and disruption to global supply chains.

"Like a pearl that is part of a strand of vital global nodes across the world, we must play a valued and inextricable role in the new global configuration," said Mr Heng. "We will do so by forging new partnerships and bringing new value to the world through innovation and deep capabilities, including technological capabilities."

The 17-member task force is chaired by Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee and PSA International group chief executive Tan Chong Meng. It includes representatives from sectors such as banking, aviation, engineering and hospitality.

The topic of helping Singaporeans adapt to changes caused by the pandemic was raised several times during the two-day debate on the supplementary Fortitude Budget.

Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan) called for the Government to consider proposals from various industries as they prepare to restart work in a changed environment. The authorities should make "specific adjustments instead of broad measures", and trade associations and merchant groups should also weigh in, she suggested.

Nominated MP Douglas Foo lauded the Budget's efforts to help small and medium-sized enterprises go digital, but he noted some firms still struggle to send older workers for training as there are relatively few courses conducted in Chinese, Malay or Tamil.

Mr Heng replied that hastening Singapore's economic transformation is a national priority. He called on workers and employers to do their part by staying focused on it.

Other MPs, such as Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) and Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC), spoke on the importance of self-sufficiency and building up a strong Singaporean core.

"The pandemic has taught all of us an important thing: Self-sufficiency is important, be it on supplies or labour," Mr Saktiandi told the House on Thursday.

Mr Heng acknowledged that one way for businesses to build resilience is to establish a strong Singaporean core. This creates opportunities for local workers and helps businesses to operate in a sustainable manner, he said, even if the country's external labour supply is disrupted.

He compared the pandemic to a mighty storm that has damaged sails and driven ships around the world back into their harbours.

Singapore must use the downtime to build new strengths and capabilities, he said.

"Let us take this rare chance to repair, upgrade our ship and install new instruments, re-orientate our mental compass and strengthen our sailors so that when the fair wind comes, we will sail out faster and farther than ever before."

Efforts to transform economy early have helped
By Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2020

Singapore is fortunate to have started efforts to transform its economy early, as COVID-19 has accelerated changes in global supply chains and technology, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

The coronavirus has triggered a "deep cyclical shock" and sped up changes in the global economy, Mr Heng told the House in his round-up speech after two days of debate on the Fortitude Budget.

"To thrive, or even to survive, companies all around the world must adjust to these forces with speed and agility," said Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister.

He noted that Singapore embarked on its structural transformation efforts early.

These include setting up the Committee on the Future Economy in 2015, and launching the Industry Transformation Maps across 23 sectors and six industry clusters from 2016.

Some business leaders said they have found it easier to pivot to new areas of opportunity, having embarked on transformation early, Mr Heng noted.

He said he had an e-conference with a group of start-ups and venture funds in Singapore last week, and remarked on their progress in seizing new opportunities, such as 3D-printing of instruments for swab tests, and telemedicine.

Mr Heng also shared examples of firms ranging from an artificial intelligence company to an alternative protein food start-up, which were branching into new areas during the current pandemic.

He noted that "the start-up mantra is to disrupt the world, to make it better".

"But with COVID-19 disrupting the world, it is good to see start-ups pivoting to enabling us to cope better with a disrupted world, with the right innovations."

Four Budgets projected to help avert $23.4 billion in annual economic losses in 2020 and 2021
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2020

Some people think the Government has spent too much, while others say it has spent too little to cushion Singapore from the impact of the coronavirus, but the four Budgets this year are projected to help the country avert more than $23 billion in annual economic losses in 2020 and 2021, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

The Government's support measures in the Unity, Solidarity, Resilience and Fortitude Budgets come up to $92.9 billion, and while MPs welcomed the support measures, some had baulked at the unprecedented spending.

Mr Heng, who is also the Finance Minister, agreed the total amount, at double the size of the annual Budgets in preceding years, is no small commitment.

But, he said the spending was necessary to support jobs and livelihoods, and the strong response has been projected by the Monetary Authority of Singapore to help the economy avert an average output loss of 5 percentage points.

This amounts to $23.4 billion a year over this and next year.

Acknowledging Mr Alex Yam's (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) observation on the contrasting views on the spending, Mr Heng said this showed that "crisis budgeting is anything but straightforward".

Other MPs such as Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) and Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) had asked how an additional $13 billion set aside this year in the Contingencies Funds would be used.

Under the Constitution, Parliament can create Contingency Funds for unexpected spending. The President must consent to an advance from the funds.

Mr Heng said the funds would allow Singapore to respond swiftly to the evolving situation, but since they are for unforeseen and urgent spending, the Government has not designated specific purposes for them.

"So unlike our usual annual Budget, where we seek to provide as much details as possible, we are setting aside a sum to meet future events or circumstances that are possible, but for which we cannot yet predict with certainty."

Among the scenarios contemplated in deciding the amount is that Singapore could experience a setback in its COVID-19 fight.

Planned increase in GST will need to be done by 2025, says DPM Heng Swee Keat
However, $6 billion in funds has been set aside to cushion impact on Singaporeans, says DPM
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2020

The planned increase in goods and services tax (GST) cannot be put off indefinitely and will have to be done by 2025. However, money has been set aside to cushion the impact of the tax hike for Singaporeans, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.

The Government has committed $6 billion to offset at least five years' worth of additional GST expenses for the majority of households, and more for lower-income families, he added.

It will also continue to absorb GST on publicly funded healthcare and education.

Mr Heng raised the issue of GST while speaking about the need for fiscal sustainability, and he outlined how Singapore would achieve it during the debate on the Fortitude Budget. "The crisis has underscored the importance of upholding the prudence and discipline of our forefathers to spend responsibly, and prepare for the future.

"This is why, even as we devote considerable resources to overcome the immediate challenges posed by COVID-19, we must continue to plan ahead to secure a fiscally sustainable future," he said.

When the Government announced in 2018 plans to hike GST from 7 per cent to 9 per cent, it said the move was necessary given the growing spending to support an ageing population, and to ensure that Singapore remains a liveable city, among other things.

It said the increase would take place sometime between 2021 and 2025, but 2021 was ruled out as a start date earlier this year after taking into account revenue and expenditure projections and the state of the economy.

Yesterday, Mr Heng said Singapore needed to continue to spend on healthcare, education, training and infrastructure in the medium-to long-term, and this would require significant fiscal outlay.

He added that while these needs were known before the COVID-19 outbreak, the pandemic had increased the urgency for some of these investments, such as developing advanced medical research and production capabilities, and boosting training capacity for workers.

Even with the projected increase in spending and unprecedented relief measures amid the coronavirus pandemic, Singapore must continue to hold tight to the principles of prudence and discipline to ensure a sustainable future, said Mr Heng.

The Government will do this by borrowing to finance spending on major long-term infrastructure projects, which typically involve hefty upfront investment but will benefit people for years to come.

This will allow current and future generations of Singaporeans to bear the cost fairly, he said.

Spending that mainly benefits the current generation of Singaporeans would be met with current revenues, so that everyone can chip in and do their part, he added.

Said Mr Heng: "With this differentiated and principled fiscal strategy, each generation rightly pays for the benefits that they enjoy, and we do not saddle future generations with our bills. This is an equitable approach, and will continue to be the cornerstone of fiscal sustainability for Singapore."

President Halimah Yacob briefed on reserves, supported drawing on it: DPM Heng
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2020

President Halimah Yacob is aware of the size of Singapore's reserves and had given her approval for the draw on it with full knowledge of why it was necessary, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said in answer to questions from two Workers' Party MPs.

Non-Constituency MP Dennis Tan and Mr Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC) had both asked during the two-day budget debate that ended yesterday if the information was made available to Madam Halimah before she made the decision to allow the reserves to be drawn down.

Mr Heng, expressing surprise that they would even ask, said it is public information that the President has access to information about the size of the reserves.

Citing Article 22F of the Constitution, he said the President is entitled to any information regarding the reserves for the purposes of exercising her constitutional functions. The Ministry of Finance (MOF) website also states that the President has full information about the size of the reserves.

Mr Heng added that the Government had conducted two briefings for President Halimah and the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) on its assessment of the global and local health and economic situations, the details of measures to address the coronavirus pandemic and the resources needed, in seeking her approval.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah were with him at the briefings. Mr Wong and Ms Indranee are both Second Ministers for Finance as well.

"In our system, the President is the custodian of our past reserves. She needs to concur with any draw, and her decision is made in full knowledge of why the draw is necessary, and the size of our reserves," said Mr Heng.

He noted that Madam Halimah herself had said in a message to the House, delivered on her behalf by Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin before Mr Heng announced the Resilience Budget on March 26, that she had been apprised of the situation.

In her message, President Halimah said she gave her in-principle support to the proposed draw on the reserves, and she was satisfied with the process by which the Government had proactively reached out to her and the CPA, adding that the agencies had comprehensively answered her queries as well as those from the CPA.

The Government eventually required a $21 billion draw on the reserves in April, when more measures were announced to help companies and people during the circuit breaker period. The Fortitude Budget requires a further $31 billion draw, bringing to $52 billion the sum that may need to be drawn from past reserves this financial year.

Mr Heng said: "We have a strict governance system scrupulously observed."

Singapore's past reserves, which comprise assets accumulated in previous terms of government, are safeguarded by a so-called "two-key system" - with the Government and the President each holding one key. Any draw on these funds by the Government would thus require the consent of the President.

Over the years, critics have charged that Singapore uses too little of its reserves at the expense of current generations, and some have asked for the size of the kitty to be disclosed so the public can judge.

Mr Heng said part of the amount is already known as what is invested by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and Temasek is public information. Only the component invested by GIC is not disclosed.

The MOF's website states that as at March 31, 2019, the official foreign reserves managed by MAS were $401 billion and the size of Temasek's portfolio was $313 billion. While the size of funds managed by GIC is not published, it manages well over US$100 billion (S$139 billion).

Mr Heng warned that revealing the full size of the reserves to all and sundry will diminish its value as a strategic asset to defend against threats, and is not in the national interest. "We will be diminishing its value if we disclose this for potential adversaries to use against us. No responsible leader will lay bare their nation's defence plan."

Reserves have allowed Singapore to deal with COVID-19 crisis without need to borrow: DPM Heng
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2020

Unlike other countries, Singapore can depend on its national reserves and did not have to borrow or take on debt to fund its COVID-19 stimulus packages, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

He was speaking about the role of past reserves, which many MPs touched on yesterday as they spoke about the Fortitude Budget and the ones before it, which draw $52 billion in all from the reserves.

Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) likened the reserves to a golden goose" to be protected, warning that the more it is drawn on, the less there will be for future generations to depend on.

Agreeing, Mr Heng said the reserves are Singapore's "rainy-day fund" and have allowed the country to deal with the crisis from a position of strength.

It not only assures Singaporeans that the country has the means to navigate the challenges ahead, but also fosters confidence in global investors, and protects the economy from detractors and speculators who may otherwise try to take advantage of this period of flux to attack the Singapore dollar.

Mr Heng added that a draw of $52 billion from the reserves is not a trivial matter, and urged Singaporeans not to take the limited resource for granted. Singapore managed to build up its savings as successive governments have put in place policies that discourage waste or over-consumption, and also run the public services based on outcomes and not the size of spending.

Among MPs who spoke, several including Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) asked if there were plans to return the $52 billion drawn from the reserves, and how long this would take.

Mr Heng said there is no legal or constitutional obligation for the Government to do so, though it had put back the $4 billion drawn from the reserves during the global financial crisis in 2009.

"How long would it take to build this back? We cannot be definitive. At this moment, we must focus our minds fully on making the best use of the resources that we have deployed, be prepared to work hard in the years to come, and have the resolve to rebuild our economy," he said.

Being prudent with finances a hallmark of Singapore system, says Heng Swee Keat
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2020

Borrowing to fund Singapore's immediate needs would be like making children pay for their parents' spending.

Interest rates may be low now, but it is hard to predict with certainty that any accumulated debt obligations can be paid back in future, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

This is especially when countries around the world, including Singapore, will be operating in a tighter fiscal space with the uncertain economic outlook, he said.

Mr Heng laid out in Parliament yesterday the reasons why Singapore has opted not to borrow to fund expenditure despite low interest rates, in response to Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC).

Mr Saktiandi, who heads foreign exchange research at Maybank, said that in a national crisis, a case could be made to allow the Government to borrow and tap the bond market to fund fiscal spending.

He also suggested that the Government consider relaxing the constitutional requirement of a balanced Budget over each term of Government.

Mr Heng said the Government is already using debt productively and equitably to generate long-term returns, and he listed three examples.

First, it issues debt securities in Singapore such as bonds, then invests the proceeds for returns.

Second, it provides a guarantee for the loans by Changi Airport Group to fund the development of Changi East, including Terminal 5, to lower financing costs.

Third, the Government is considering borrowing to fund the spending on major long-term infrastructure to spread costs equitably and avoid sharp increases in taxes.

Mr Heng said fiscal discipline is one of the fundamental principles underpinning Singapore's fiscal system.

He said: "We spend prudently within our means, and responsibly with a value-for-money culture. The rule to run balanced Budgets for each term of Government remains relevant. We also spend equitably, with the principle that each generation bears the cost of the benefits that they enjoy."

60% of households to get extra COVID-19 relief
By Toh Wen Li, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2020

While some COVID-19 schemes such as the Solidarity Payment and Solidarity Utilities Credits cover all Singaporeans, the overall payouts are tilted towards lower-to middle-income groups, as they have less to fall back on in difficult times, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

About 60 per cent of households in Singapore will be able to receive extra benefits amid the coronavirus pandemic. These include cash assistance from the Temporary Relief Fund, COVID-19 Support Grant and Workfare Special Payment, among others.

The additional assistance will be equivalent to 12 per cent of household income on average, he added.

Mr Heng was addressing questions from Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) and Nominated MP Anthea Ong about whether the Government could enhance existing COVID-19 support schemes for low-income workers and households, especially if unemployment persists.

No one who needs help will be left behind, he said.

"There may be instances of families that marginally miss the eligibility criteria, but also need help. We will assess these on a case-by-case basis, and refine the schemes as the situation develops," he added.

During the debate, Ms Denise Phua (Jalan Besar GRC) and Nominated MP Yip Pin Xiu were among those who called for more support for vulnerable groups such as those with special needs and mental health conditions. Thanking Ms Phua for the suggestion to formalise a workstream on employment for people with disabilities within the National Jobs Council, Mr Heng said he and Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who chairs the council, "welcome her leadership on this, and are glad to accept her proposal".

He added that the Government has worked with community partners on "finances, networks and systems" to support the vulnerable over the years, and will continue to do so. Social spending has also nearly doubled over the past 10 years, he said.

Some people, Mr Heng added, have said the support for jobs is big while that for them or their household seems small. "The COVID-19 support measures should be seen in the context of the larger suite of measures to protect jobs and livelihoods, and support our businesses during this crisis," he said.

"A thoughtful commenter said to me, it is right that the Government has devoted, as a central plank of the four Budgets, this central focus on supporting our workers to retain their jobs, or to move into new jobs," he added.

"Should the sole breadwinner of the family lose his or her job, the effect on the whole family is much more adverse. So it is important that we see this in totality, not just what is in each little component."

Singapore can draw on strength of its social reserves: DPM Heng Swee Keat
Crisis has brought out best in community, he says, citing stories of people helping out
By Toh Wen Li, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2020

Singapore's strength in the face of adversity lies not just in its financial reserves but in the "deep reserves of social capital", said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.

In fact, the crisis, he said, has brought out the best in the community. For instance, many Singaporeans chose to donate their Solidarity Payments to charitable causes. And over 10,000 people have stepped forward these past two months to volunteer, such as helping to distribute care packs or to manage the National Care Hotline.

Rounding up the debate on the Fortitude Budget in Parliament yesterday, Mr Heng said: "It is the spirit of Singapore Together, where all parts of society work together in partnership, keeping us strong and united, even as the pandemic fragments many societies."

Mr Heng also lauded how others in Singapore - from those in the corporate sector and community groups, to individuals and public servants - have done their part to help in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

He cited several encouraging stories of people helping one another, such as Madam Julie Li, who at 82, frequently checked in with fellow seniors on the phone and shared healthy cooking recipes with them during the circuit breaker.

On behalf of Parliament, Mr Heng expressed his appreciation to the many volunteers and donors, front-line officers and people in Singapore for taking seriously the measures in place to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

"Every constructive action adds to our social reserves that allow us to face this challenge with fortitude. I encourage more Singaporeans to step forward and help one another in our community."

Mr Heng noted that social spending has nearly doubled over the last 10 years, reflecting the Government's commitment to invest in and support its people.

He also assured Nominated MPs Terence Ho and Yip Pin Xiu, who spoke on additional support for the arts and sports, among others, that even as Singapore battles the pandemic, it will continue longer-term investments in education, housing and healthcare - and to uplift the arts and sports sectors.

"We will take lessons from COVID-19 to continue refining our social support policies, to help build stronger families and communities. Individuals and the community too, play a part," he said.

Ms Yip had, during the debate, cited how safe distancing measures could pose challenges for people with disabilities, and said others should look out for them. She asked: "How many Singaporeans have thought about how somebody who is blind and living alone, while observing safe distancing measures, is coping?

Ms Yip, who is a national para swimmer, also touched on the challenges people with disabilities may face in accessing information, food and other essentials, as well as working from home and facing higher costs for care. "These costs are likely to increase as alternative or emergency arrangements are made during the disruptions of service during the circuit breaker or the phases after that," she added.

Mr Ho said more could be done to engage online viewers of arts and culture content, and suggested a cultural pass for pay-per-view digital concerts. There could be more collaborations with the private and public sectors to use resources "in a more effective way", he added.

In his speech, Mr Heng noted many MPs had proposed refinements and help for various groups.

In preparing the Budgets, he and his colleagues reached out through many channels to identify where the greatest needs are, before carefully considering how they can help those who are most in need, especially those who are less able to articulate their needs, he said.

"The result is not perfect, but has gone a long way in alleviating pain points," he added.

Mr Heng also cited Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan) who had said on Thursday: "The Government can act as a catalyst, but we, ourselves must be the changemakers."

The DPM added: "There is a role for every Singaporean to play. We have the reserves of strength and kindness in each of us to pay it forward in deed or resources to help support someone else."

"Moments of crisis are tests of the strength of our reserves. And we have the strength - not least of all in ourselves as a people. We have the fortitude to each do our part, and emerge stronger."

Workers' Party Chief Pritam Singh calls for thorough review of Government's response to coronavirus pandemic
By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2020

Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) yesterday called for a thorough review and account of the Government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, citing perceptions from some Singaporeans that the measures have been confusing.

"There is the perception that the Government's handling of the COVID-19 crisis has certainly not included adjectives that are more commonly associated with the Singapore Government, such as clarity and decisiveness," he said in Parliament on the second day of the debate on the supplementary Fortitude Budget.

He cited some examples that he described as "piecemeal announcements, U-turns and positions that did not gel intuitively", including having a two-person limit on visits to one's parents and grandparents, even as safe distancing rules on public transport were lifted.

Mr Singh also cited an article in The Straits Times that reflected concerns among business owners in the beauty industry over why certain hair treatments which can last hours were allowed, while other beauty procedures which can be completed quickly were not.

Mr Singh said: "For some Singaporean businesses, at times it felt as if no one in government was taking ownership of how COVID-19 directives would be perceived, interpreted and understood on the ground."

Before raising the issues, Mr Singh stressed, however, that the WP's position on the crisis was to put politics aside so Singapore can overcome it with a "unity of purpose". The party has not publicly criticised the Government's handling of the "unprecedented crisis" in ways that would undermine the national efforts, he said.

But he added: "Our position as a constructive opposition requires us to communicate the feelings of Singaporeans on the ground in Parliament."

The lack of clarity on restrictions and initiatives was a theme for the three WP parliamentarians who spoke yesterday.

WP Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) Leon Perera said that unclear rules that were frequently changed could lead to "rules fatigue or cynicism towards rule compliance". He also said there are too many relief schemes, each with different conditions for eligibility and modes of application.

"The more schemes we have, the more there is a risk of confusion leading to under-utilisation or other side effects," he said. "Also, the more complex the whole system becomes, the more resources need to go into the work of explaining, sifting through and helping people or firms to apply for these schemes."

Mr Perera suggested that a portal could be set up to consolidate information on the various schemes, and existing schemes could be streamlined and given more support in future instead of creating new ones.

This is not the first time a call for a review has been discussed in the House. Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said in Parliament on May 4 that the Government will comprehensively review the response to the pandemic when the time is right.

The WP also raised questions about fiscal responsibility.

NCMP Dennis Tan said measures like the Jobs Support Scheme and rental support could have been more targeted and not applied to some businesses such as supermarkets and those in the healthcare, pharmaceutical and IT sectors, which may not be as affected.

"In this way, more will be available to the businesses who need them. We should not rely on unaffected businesses to voluntarily return the payouts."

Singapore embarks on 'epic challenge' to help job seekers
All 24 towns to have satellite career centres; new pathways for jobs
By Joanna Seow, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 6 Jun 2020

As an economic storm gathers on its doorstep, Singapore is preparing to meet it and do all it can to create pathways and opportunities for job seekers, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said yesterday.

To help both fresh entrants to the job market and those who might find themselves seeking employment as a fallout of the COVID-19 slowdown, the Government aims to set up satellite career centres in all 24 Housing Board towns. This will help job seekers find the most suitable pathway for them, she said.

There are now five career centres islandwide as well as partnerships with the National Trades Union Congress' Employment and Employability Institute (e2i), social service offices, community development councils, and self-help groups. Job seekers can also get help online on the portal.

"We will spare no effort to open up new pathways for job seekers and guide them appropriately," said Mrs Teo.

"But for matches to happen, I urge job seekers to keep an open mind - stay open to pathways that you would not have considered previously. Give the employers a chance and give yourself a chance."

She was joined by Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran and labour chief Ng Chee Meng in setting out the Government's push to secure jobs and career opportunities for Singapore's workers in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.

The schemes introduced under the Budget and supplementary Budgets are helping to save jobs and livelihoods, said Mrs Teo.

"If we did not have this cover, we would already be drenched in soaring unemployment, as can be seen in some countries," she said.

Still, Singapore must gear up for further job losses, she added.

She said there will have to be a big push for pathways to help three groups of workers: retrenched and mid-career people from all sectors; fresh graduates like those from the Institute of Technical Education, polytechnics and universities; and self-employed people.

These pathways will come through the nearly 100,000 opportunities - jobs, traineeships and skills-training places - which the Government aims to generate in the next 12 months. This is more than triple the number of locals placed in jobs every year recently by Workforce Singapore and its partners.

Underscoring the magnitude of the target, Mrs Teo said there will likely be many more job seekers than vacancies as employers will be hesitant about hiring now.

"As a millennial might put it, it's an epic challenge to create new pathways for 100,000 people under such circumstances," she said.

Meanwhile, Mr Ng, the NTUC secretary-general, said more than 10,000 workers who were displaced or at risk of losing their jobs have been matched with new roles by the NTUC's Job Security Council in the past few months.

Mr Iswaran also announced more efforts in the nation's digital push - a total of 5,500 jobs will be created for Singaporeans over the next two to three years in the thriving infocomm technology sector, while companies in sectors badly hit by COVID-19 will receive up to $10,000 each if they adopt digital solutions, such as e-commerce platforms, under a new scheme.

Underlining how Singapore is prepared to meet the oncoming difficulties, Mrs Teo said: "We should gear up for a storm... we should not underestimate how rough the weather could be."

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat will round up the debate on the supplementary Budget in Parliament today.

More than 10,000 workers displaced or at risk of retrenchment matched with new jobs by NTUC Job Security Council
Labour chief: NTUC will also keep working with firms, Govt to preserve and create jobs
By Joanna Seow, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Jun 2020

More than 10,000 workers who were displaced or at risk of losing their jobs have been matched with new roles by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Job Security Council in the past few months, said labour chief Ng Chee Meng.

He told Parliament yesterday that NTUC will continue to work with companies and the Government to preserve jobs, create new ones and match workers with jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just a week earlier, NTUC said it had job-matched more than 7,000 workers since the council was set up in February.

Mr Ng, who is NTUC's secretary-general and a Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, said during the debate on the Fortitude Budget that NTUC will also focus on pushing for economic transformation during this crisis, so that jobs can be redesigned and workers can benefit.

"COVID-19 has sped up disruption and moved us towards Industry 4.0 in double quick time. Businesses are on a burning platform, and it's now really (time to) adopt new business models, new technologies, or die," he said.

He said the Job Security Council has placed both rank-and-file workers and professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), citing the case of Ms Gina Ng, 59, who is a senior administrative assistant at Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel The Stamford.

She is now halfway through a three-month redeployment as a retail assistant at NTUC FairPrice while keeping her salary and job title at the hotel. Before her move, she went for training in food hygiene and preparation.

Said Mr Ng: "I am happy she has the ability and the agility to adopt a new mindset, adapt to the new circumstances and, importantly, took action to acquire new skills so that she can stay in the workforce."

Noting the "looming challenges ahead", he reiterated NTUC's full support for the Government's recent formation of the National Jobs Council.

Its 17 members include eight ministers as well as leaders from the labour movement and business associations. Mr Ng is among the members on the council chaired by Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Mr Ng said that to preserve jobs, NTUC is working via its unions to help companies tap the training support available, like the Enhanced Training Support Package announced in the supplementary Resilience Budget in March.

NTUC LearningHub helped more than 500 firms last month to send their workers for over 20,000 days' worth of training. The businesses received up to $80 a day in absentee payroll for each worker being trained and this support for them added up to $1.6 million.

It is a win-win arrangement in which workers stay in their jobs while employers get help with their wages and have better-skilled workers for the eventual upturn, said Mr Ng.

NTUC's deputy secretary-general Koh Poh Koon, in his speech during the debate, said unionised companies that send their unionised employees for training during this period can receive up to $50,000 from the NTUC-Education and Training Fund (NETF) Collaborative Fund, up from the previous cap of $30,000.

A new NETF Collaborative Fund Lite, for non-unionised firms with 50 or more NTUC union members, will also provide training support of up to $8,000 per firm, to speed up business recovery, said Dr Koh.

In his speech, Mr Ng also said that as more economic activities resume in phases one and two of the reopening of Singapore after the circuit breaker, workplaces must change to prevent new infections and ensure businesses can stay open. "Doing so is not only the Government's responsibility. Every business owner and every worker has a shared responsibility and an important role to play," he said.

To this end, NTUC has trained more than 1,700 union leaders, company management and staff on safe management measures, he added.

For the longer term, NTUC will also partner companies with the capacity and vision to seize opportunities emerging from the pandemic.

It has been working with Temasek-linked companies to roll out company training committees (CTCs) since April last year. The committees help unionised companies to work out their specific business needs and translate those needs into a targeted training plan for employees.

Mr Ng said NTUC will redouble its efforts to partner companies through CTCs to conduct operations and technology roadmapping (OTR) to transform themselves.

The roadmapping exercises will help companies chart a course to recovery from COVID-19, as well as identify new areas for growth, exploit new technologies and create new and better jobs, he added.

Citing battery maker Energizer, Mr Ng said it is bringing in more advanced technology for its line machines. So the United Workers of Electronics and Electrical Industries union worked with an institute of higher learning to curate a training programme for Energizer's operators to improve their skills for the new machines.

"Even before COVID-19 hit us, actually our economy was already embarking on industry transformation brought about by technological disruption. COVID-19 has accelerated this disruption and it is clear those who started transformation early, are coping better today with the COVID-19 challenges," Mr Ng noted.

Dr Koh said NTUC will conduct more virtual-OTRs so that companies' transformation and workers' training needs continue to be addressed during the pandemic.

Over 5,000 jobs in the pipeline for digital sector: Iswaran
More jobs in digital sector; businesses in badly hit sectors get up to $10,000 in new scheme if they adopt digital solutions
By Hariz Baharudin, The Straits Times, 5 Jun 2020

More than 5,000 jobs in the thriving digital sector are on the way for Singaporeans, as the Government doubles down on efforts to help workers here seize opportunities to reskill and land new roles amid the challenging economic climate.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran said the jobs are in fields like cyber security, digital marketing and data analytics, adding that in the digital push, companies in badly hit sectors will benefit too.

Those that adopt digital solutions, such as e-commerce platforms, will receive up to $10,000 each under a new scheme.

Mr Iswaran said the infocomm technology (ICT) sector is doing well despite the hits that Singapore's economy has taken due to the disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. From January to March this year, the sector expanded by 3.5 per cent and saw the creation of 1,100 jobs.

"Digital and tech roles are in demand, within the ICT sector but also across the rest of the economy as all sectors seek digital solutions," said Mr Iswaran.

The minister said a total of 5,500 jobs will be created over the next two to three years in this sector through the Government's TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA) programmes.

Launched in 2016, TeSA is a SkillsFuture initiative by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), which is working in partnership with agencies like Workforce Singapore and SkillsFuture Singapore to design programmes that provide training for workers and match them to ICT jobs.

By 2023, the Government will be enhancing its Company-Led Training (CLT) Programme, to place 3,000 workers in new jobs in the sector. Under this CLT Programme, firms partner with the Government and receive financial support to train workers to acquire useful tech skills at an accelerated pace.

Workers can be trained in emerging areas such as 5G, Internet of Things and cloud computing, and gain core ICT know-how in fields like software engineering, cyber security and data analytics.

Also in the same timeframe, the similar TeSA Mid-Career Advanced Programme, which trains and places jobs for professionals aged 40 and above, will aim to create 2,500 jobs.

The TeSA Mid-Career Advanced Programme is a training scheme co-funded by the Government and companies. It was launched to plug manpower gaps and to match jobs to these workers, and the Government provides funds to the firms involved for items like participants' monthly stipends, training fees and cost-of-living allowances.

When it was introduced in March, the scheme was said to offer participants 500 jobs from 10 companies, including ST Engineering, Singapore Airlines and DBS Bank.

Mr Iswaran had said then that the scheme would create 2,000 jobs over the next two years.

In his speech, the minister also gave more details about the new Digital Resilience Bonus (DRB) that aims to help businesses in two sectors badly affected by COVID-19 to digitalise - food and beverage (F&B) and retail.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat had announced the bonus on May 26 in the $33 billion Fortitude Budget to fund COVID-19 support measures.

A survey published last month by restaurant booking platform Chope of more than 150 dining establishments found that about two in five said they would not be able to operate beyond the next two months. More than four in five said that they cannot survive beyond six months.

Singapore's retail sales in March dropped 13.3 per cent on a year-on-year basis, the steepest pace in more than 20 years, according to data released by the Department of Statistics last month.

The DRB scheme may see businesses that adopt tech-driven solutions to better their processes, such as in accounting, human resources or inventory management, receive $2,500. They will also have to have in place PayNow Corporate and Pan European Public Procurement On-Line e-invoicing.

A secondary bonus of $2,500 under the DRB will be paid to businesses if they build an online shopfront or e-commerce platform, said Mr Iswaran.

Additionally, companies can receive a further $5,000 should they decide to provide "advanced digital solutions", which include data mining and data analytics.

Local cafe chain Foreword Coffee Roasters will be receiving DRB payouts. Its director, Mr Lim Wei Jie, 28, said sales increased tenfold after the company launched a new website in April by adopting an e-commerce development package.

It plans to use the funds from the DRB to install a new e-payment and online ordering system.

"We had wanted to implement a digital payment and ordering system to simplify our workflow for our employees and customers. With the Digital Resilience Bonus, we are going to implement this sooner than planned," said Mr Lim.

Essential service workers deserve better wage growth: Labour MP Zainal Sapari
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 5 Jun 2020

The current COVID-19 pandemic has opened society's eyes to the value of the work that essential service workers perform, and Singapore must change how it treats such workers in the long-term, said labour MP Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC).

This includes finding ways to ensure that the average wage growth of such workers - many of whom are in sectors that pay lower wages - continues to be higher than that of workers in the median income group, Mr Zainal said in Parliament during the debate on the supplementary Fortitude Budget yesterday.

He noted that under the Progressive Wage Model (PWM), cleaners and landscape workers are currently given just two weeks' worth of mandatory PWM bonus, while there is no such bonus for security officers.

Giving such workers an annual one-month bonus would increase their annual wage sum by 8 per cent, he pointed out, urging tripartite committees overseeing these essential services to work together to enhance these workers' skills and wage ladders.

A PWM is a wage ladder that specifies higher pay for workers as they upgrade their skills.

Sectors where the PWM has been made mandatory are also currently characterised by an older workforce, limited use of technology and relatively low productivity, he said. These include the cleaning, security and landscaping sectors.

Mr Zainal said that workers in environmental services and the landscape sector, as well as security officers, should be regarded as specialists instead of being seen as low-wage workers. This can be done by improving the skills of workers in these industries and finding ways to raise their productivity - by tapping technology, for example.

This will also help to attract a younger and higher-skilled workforce to these sectors, which could in turn raise wages in the industries.

Consumers and service buyers should also become more socially responsible by rejecting service providers that offer services at low cost, but at the expense of the welfare of such essential service workers, Mr Zainal said.

Instead, service buyers should adopt an outcome-based contracting model, where contracts are awarded to companies with progressive employment practices that give due recognition to workers, rather than basing decisions on price alone.

"This crisis has also forced us to reflect on our core values and principles... and highlighted our unseen class system. At the same time, it also showed that we can rise to the occasion to put things right," said Mr Zainal.

He appealed to Singaporeans to play their part in creating a "new normal", where workers are treated in a more equitable manner, after the crisis.

He added: "If the $100 billion we have spent in this crisis does not lead us to a future where we can be more progressive, more equitable and more enlightened, then indeed it would be a tragedy if the only thing we did was just trying to survive rather than coming out stronger as a society."

Singapore can build an economy of skilled workers beyond PMET jobs, says NMP Walter Theseira
By Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 5 Jun 2020

Essential services and manual jobs, which by their nature require a physical presence, offer some resilience in a world where office work can be potentially shifted to any country, Nominated MP Walter Theseira said yesterday.

He made the point as he argued for a rethink of the model where Singaporeans are directed towards professional jobs, while migrant workers take on lower-status ones. Working from home has weakened the physical link between doing business in Singapore and having that business actually be done by a Singaporean here, he told Parliament.

"Rather than develop an economy where most Singaporeans, despite their different skills and talents, feel compelled to earn degrees to hold PMET (professional, manager, executive and technician) jobs, we can build an economy that also includes many skilled and decently paid craftsmen, technicians and service workers," Associate Professor Theseira said during the debate on the supplementary Fortitude Budget.

Commenting on the structure of Singapore's economy and its reliance on foreign labour, the Singapore University of Social Sciences economist said the country will, in the coming months, face the question of how to restructure its economy and society for a "more sustainable and resilient future".

While vast sums from the reserves have been committed to preserve jobs and support those who have been laid off, Singapore must resist the temptation to use our reserves to "preserve" the economic model of the past in the hope of returning to it once the coronavirus pandemic subsides, he said.

He likened the Republic's model of having Singaporeans take up PMET jobs, and migrant workers other roles, to running an army with only sergeants and officers - absent the foot soldiers - and questioned if it was the right approach for the country's future. There is no shame in having Singaporeans take up manual and service jobs, he said.

Rather, the only shame is if those who have power and influence fail to ensure that the conditions of work and wages in these jobs are such that Singaporeans find no dignity in taking them up, he added.

Singapore's present economic structure and migrant labour system has created entrenched interests that would be harmed by - and would therefore resist - attempts at reform, not just among business owners who hire foreign workers, but also Singaporeans who benefit from this system, he noted.

Noting that it would be shortsighted to assume that our interests and comfort with the existing economic structure would not affect the quality of judgment for Singapore's future, Prof Theseira suggested that the representation on councils set up to tackle the challenges for Singapore's economy, such as the newly formed National Jobs Council, be broadened beyond "the captains of industry and state".

It could include members who are rank-and-file workers, draw from sectors such as essential services and academia, and engage the public "as equal partners in the creation of a new Singapore", he said.

Singapore Budget 2020

Budget 2020: Advancing as One Singapore

$48 billion Resilience Budget to combat impact of COVID-19

Solidarity Budget: $5.1 billion third COVID-19 relief package to save jobs and support businesses and families

Parliament passes both the Resilience and Solidarity Budgets in Singapore's fight against COVID-19

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

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