Progressive, pro-future Budget

DPM and Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam arrives at Parliament House on Budget Day, Feb 23, 2015. -- ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA
DPM and Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam arrives at Parliament House on Budget Day, Feb 23, 2015. -- ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

With an assured hand, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has crafted a pro-future Budget that articulates integrally with pro-people policies. Given the far-reaching nature of the change envisioned and the implications, it wouldn't do to put one before the other.

It is change that has been sharpened further, compared to previous Budgets, and expressed in a deft new way - a departure from an earlier focus on productivity improvements which have proven elusive since 2011, in the wake of the Economic Strategies Committee's recommendations. The emphasis now is on pinpointing what Singaporeans can be good at and on mastering capabilities - from the shop floor to the C-suite, on home turf and on an international stage. The very pursuit of proficiency - for its own sake and for material gain - often leads to higher productivity and a strong competitive edge.

For the Budget's transformative agenda to be fulfilled, nothing less than a sea change is called for in Singapore's business culture and social culture. Innovation must not just be a buzzword but a daily preoccupation, whatever the scope and scale of one's work. And acquiring deep skills out of sheer interest or practical necessity must be a lifelong pursuit. Tilling the ground for such a culture are the SkillsFuture Credits, the SkillsFuture Awards, enhanced subsidies for courses, and additional top-ups to the Child Development Account, Edusave and Post Secondary Education Account. Beyond budgetary measures, there are a host of other ways that the yen for learning must be kept alive.

The inspiration for such pursuits lies in the areas mapped by Mr Tharman that the nation can harvest, like advanced manufacturing, applied health sciences, sustainable urban solutions, finance, logistics and aerospace. The ramping up of Changi Airport, the development of Tuas port, and the enhancement of living spaces are all mega projects that can also offer many opportunities to workers.

A strategic balancing of fiscal largesse to fulfil overarching economic and social objectives, however, would not be complete without a progressive strengthening of the social safety net and safeguarding the welfare of middle-income families. The Silver Support Scheme, follows in the footsteps of other major moves like MediShield Life, the Pioneer Generation Package and CPF reforms. Just as Workfare provides targeted help for those at the bottom rungs of society while they are economically active, Silver Support offers aid for the needy in their old age.

In various senses, therefore, Budget 2015 is as forward-looking as one would hope from both the individual and national perspective.