Singapore Budget 2015: The debate in 2 minutes

Parliament opened the debate on the Budget Statement on Tuesday, March 3, 2015, with 25 Members of Parliament speaking. -- ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI
Parliament opened the debate on the Budget Statement on Tuesday, March 3, 2015, with 25 Members of Parliament speaking. -- ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

SINGAPORE - Parliament opened the debate on the Budget Statement on Tuesday, with 25 Members of Parliament speaking.

Almost all of them supported the Budget unveiled last Monday by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Preaching prudence

The issue of Singapore's fiscal sustainability was raised by at least eight MPs, with some urging fiscal discipline.

Of particular concern was the move to include Temasek Holdings' projected returns in the calculation of the Government's net investment returns, which currently include only those of the GIC and Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Mr Hri Kumar Nair (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) warned that while this would boost spending power, dipping into the country's reserves now would mean leaving less for future generations.

Left is right

The strengthening of social safety nets in this year's Budget, with such new programmes as SkillsFuture and Silver Support - signals a timely and welcome shift in Singapore's budgeting philosophy, said Workers' Party (WP) MP Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC).

Calling it a shift to the left, she said it would help mitigate Singapore's income and wealth disparity.

Implementation is key

Even as they welcomed the SkillsFuture programme that will help Singaporeans develop their skills to advance their careers, MPs said the way it is implemented is key to its success.

Some asked for more courses for people to choose from, while others wanted guarantees that courses provided would be of good quality.

Skilled housewives

They may not be working for companies, but housewives can benefit from the SkillsFuture programme too by going for courses that would help them if they wanted to return to the workforce one day, said Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) and Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC).

They also suggested that husbands can give the unused money in their SkillsFuture credit account to their wives, or children to their mothers.

Soft power

Watching the Ah Boys To Men movies on television made MP Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC) realise that some jokes were lost when translated from dialect to Mandarin.

He asked for more leeway to use Chinese dialects in local movies. More flexibility in implementing such policies can boost Singapore's cultural heritage and soft power, he said.

WP on CPF

The WP has called for more flexibility in the Central Provident Fund system, proposing that Singaporeans be allowed to receive monthly payouts earlier, when they turn 60 instead of at 64.

It was made by Nominated MP Gerald Giam and reiterated in Chinese by Mr Chen Show Mao (Aljunied GRC).

Whose money is it?

Do people have an unfettered right to spend their CPF monies however they please?

NMP Chia Yong Yong, who raised the question, did not think so, pointing out that an individual's savings include contributions from employers and Government top-ups from public funds.

So, Singaporeans have a moral obligation to spend their CPF monies judiciously, she said, because if they are left with nothing in their old age, other tax payers will be saddled with the burden of supporting them.

Protect low-wage workers

Labour MP Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), said outsourcing had caused the page of low-wage workers to stagnate.

He urged the Government to lead the way in encouraging good outsourcing practices, by awarding contracts only to companies that give fair wages to workers.