Coronavirus pandemic

President Halimah gives assent to additional $33b in support packages

President Halimah Yacob gave her assent to the Second Supplementary Supply (FY 2020) Bill, formally authorising the Fortitude Budget. PHOTO: HALIMAH YACOB/FACEBOOK
President Halimah Yacob gave her assent to the Second Supplementary Supply (FY 2020) Bill, formally authorising the Fortitude Budget. PHOTO: HALIMAH YACOB/FACEBOOK

President Halimah Yacob has given the go-ahead to fund Covid-19 support packages totalling $33 billion, which could draw up to an additional $31 billion from Singapore's past reserves.

Giving her assent to the Second Supplementary Supply (FY 2020) Bill yesterday, a move which formally authorises the Fortitude Budget and provides for the fourth tranche of Covid-19 relief measures announced last month, Madam Halimah said that even as Singaporeans look forward to phase two of reopening on Friday, the reality is that the disease will not be eradicated in the near future.

Some studies have even suggested that the virus may have mutated to become more infectious, and Singaporeans must be prepared to make more adjustments to their daily lives until a viable vaccine or treatment is available, she said in a Facebook post.

"We need to take all the necessary precautions to protect our people's health and safety. But at the same time, we should take this opportunity to quickly adapt to the changes," she added.

"The world will evolve into a very different one after this crisis, so all the more we should invest in our people during this period - to protect livelihoods and reskill - so that we are well poised to emerge stronger from this crisis."

On May 26, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced the $33 billion supplementary Budget to help workers and businesses tide themselves over the pandemic and grim economic outlook ahead.

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 - in Covid-19 support measures.

Madam Halimah said that when the relevant agencies briefed her and the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) last month, all the parties were convinced these measures were necessary for the exceptional circumstances facing the nation. She said it was on this basis that she gave her assent to the Bill, notwithstanding its draw on past reserves.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Heng said he had briefed Madam Halimah and the CPA twice over the past few months on the Covid-19 crisis and the Government's response.

"We had comprehensive discussions on the nature of the virus, the extent of the crisis, and the thinking behind the Government's plans," he said.

"Covid-19 is... the deepest economic crisis since Singapore's independence. But thankfully, because of the discipline and foresight of past generations, who saved for a rainy day, we have our national reserves to depend on today."

Madam Halimah, who as president is responsible for protecting Singapore's past reserves, has held several rounds of discussions with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mr Heng since February.

In April, she assented to the Revised Supplementary Supply (FY 2020) Bill, formally authorising the Resilience and Solidarity Budgets.

 
 
 
 

Together with the Unity Budget announced in February, they contained $59.9 billion in Covid-19 support measures, which could draw up to $21 billion from Singapore's past reserves.

After Parliament debated and passed the Second Supplementary Supply (FY 2020) Bill on June 5, this second Bill was sent to Madam Halimah for assent. It will now be enacted into a law called the Second Supplementary Supply (FY 2020) Act 2020 which, together with the Supply Act 2020 and the Revised Supplementary Supply (FY 2020) Act 2020, controls the Government's spending for the financial year.

This is the second time that the Government has drawn on past reserves. Totalling up to $52 billion this year and the largest amount to date, the sum this time eclipses the $4.9 billion then President S R Nathan approved during the 2009 global financial crisis.

Measures announced under the Fortitude Budget include an extended Jobs Support Scheme, which covers up to 75 per cent of the first $4,600 of gross monthly wages of each local employee to help firms retain workers.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2020, with the headline 'President Halimah gives assent to additional $33b in support packages'. Print Edition | Subscribe