Budget debate in Parliament: 'Spirit of enterprise and caring' will take Singapore to SG100, says Heng Swee Keat

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat has said that a spirit of enterprise and caring will see Singapore through the next 50 years.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat has said that a spirit of enterprise and caring will see Singapore through the next 50 years.PHOTO: SBF

SINGAPORE - A spirit of enterprise and caring will see Singapore through the next 50 years, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Wednesday (April 6), at the end of the debate on the Government's Budget for the new financial year.

Rounding up the speeches made by 53 MPs since Monday (April 4), Mr Heng noted that in his Budget speech delivered on March 24, he had named Budget 2016 as the beginning of Singapore's journey towards SG100.

"After listening to Members, it is clear to me that not only do we know where we are heading, we are committed to getting there together," he said.

And it is the spirit in which this journey is made - "the spirit of enterprise and caring" - that will make it possible, he added.

 

In the area of the economy, for instance, he acknowledged various MPs' worries about the changing global environment and the short-term struggles faced by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

But he also noted a common thread running through MPs' suggestions on how to help firms and workers: "to nurture, celebrate and reinforce the spirit of enterprise and not undermine it even as we provide support".

So even as Budget 2016 is "tilted to support SMEs", government support must not become a crutch - as MPs such as Nominated MP K Thanaletchimi and Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) themselves noted, said Mr Heng.

He related a metaphor used by business leader Stephen Koh, of government support being like push-starting a car that is stuck in a difficult patch. "They can get the car going again but the Government cannot be pushing the car for miles and miles... Once the car is moving, it has to rely on its own engine to go for the long haul."

Partnership between Government, firms and the labour movement will yield the best chance of succeeding, he concluded.

Mr Heng also highlighted the need for partnership within industries.

Firms can still compete to differentiate themselves, but should also cooperate to drive down costs, grow the market and gain a global presence for all of them. Trade associations and chambers - which Budget 2016 seeks to strengthen - can help to do so, he said.

"The Government cannot be pushing the car for miles and miles... Once the car is moving, it has to rely on its own engine to go for the long haul."

- Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat likens government support for businesses to push-starting a car that is stuck in a difficult patch.

The new Industry Transformation Programme will also help workers by creating the right jobs, but in turn, workers themselves must develop the right skills, said Mr Heng.

This is why the SkillsFuture movement is important, he added.

Under SkillsFuture, the Government is developing an online, individualised learning portal for each Singaporean to plan their careers. The portal will be launched in phases starting from 2017, and accounts will be given to pupils from Primary 5 and upwards.

Regarding the spirit of caring, Mr Heng similarly noted that even as the Government seeks to foster and nurture this spirit, it should not overreach.

He cited the Silver Support Scheme as an example, noting that the cash supplement for needy elderly is "not meant to replace other forms of support".

"We must be cautious that Silver Support does not undermine values such as filial piety, or lead to a divisive mentality among citizens," he added.

Finally, as Singapore makes this journey, it must be able to pace itself.

Mr Heng noted that many MPs spoke on the importance of maintaining fiscal sustainability even as Singapore tackles its economic and social challenges.

Singapore's spending needs are growing, yet revenue growth will slow as the economy matures. To ensure spending needs are met, Singapore must firstly prioritise a vibrant economy to grow revenue, secondly spend prudently and spend right, and thirdly have a fair and progressive fiscal system, he said.

"Though we keep our sights on the distant future, we move towards it one Budget at a time. If we gaze upon the distance and don't look at the road immediately in front of us, we risk falling into a hole."

He concluded: "We have to budget for our journey. We can't use up all our supplies at the start and we have to have ways to grow our store of supplies."