Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat's first Budget likely to help SMEs weather the slowdown

Heng's first Budget may be a relatively prudent one so that Govt has resources to act later

Minister for Finance, Mr Heng Swee Keat, arrives at the Parliament House on March 24, 2016. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Newly minted Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will deliver his first Budget today in Parliament at 3.30pm.

His speech is widely expected to focus on the economy given the ongoing slowdown, and likely to contain short-term measures to help firms. However, few are anticipating generous cash handouts or a blockbuster package for the business community.

Mr Heng himself has indicated that this will be a relatively prudent Budget: "Because it's the first term of the new Government, it means that we have to be particularly prudent so that we have resources when we need to act later."

The minister said the Budget will address the immediate challenges of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), while also supporting them in longer-term goals such as restructuring through innovation, internationalisation and transforming or upgrading their business models.

Meanwhile, slowing growth has hit the labour market. Layoffs climbed 20 per cent to 15,580 last year while job vacancies fell.

A poll by government feedback unit Reach found that Singaporeans were worried about the slowdown in the economy and whether this would mean poorer job prospects for them.

Nine Nominated MPs will take their oaths of allegiance before the Budget statement.

Ministers will also answer questions that MPs have tabled on recent developments, including the shortage of local information technology workers and the punishments given to the two officers in charge of a training exercise in which a national serviceman died.

The Budget will be broadcast live on television and radio. Those planning to watch it online can do so on the official Singapore Budget website or through the mobile application.

The Straits Times will provide in-depth coverage on its website as well as updates on social media.

The paper is also convening a roundtable on Saturday to discuss the measures announced in Mr Heng's Budget speech.

The roundtable will feature four panellists: Mr Jimmy Koh, the head of global economics and markets research at United Overseas Bank; Dr Walter Theseira, senior lecturer at UniSIM; Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises; and Mr Desmond Choo, an MP for Tampines GRC and a unionist. It will be moderated by Straits Times deputy business editor Aaron Low.

The roundtable will be covered extensively on The Straits Times website and in the paper's Sunday edition.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2016, with the headline Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat's first Budget likely to help SMEs weather the slowdown. Subscribe