Budget 2016 - Shaping our future together: Transforming the economy

Economists hopeful, bosses less thrilled

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

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

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

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

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

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

STRIKING A BALANCE

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

DBS ECONOMIST IRVIN SEAH, on this year's Budget.

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

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

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

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

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2016, with the headline 'Economists hopeful, bosses less thrilled'. Print Edition | Subscribe