Close on the heels of the Unity, Resilience and Solidarity Budgets, the Government announced a fourth yesterday, the Fortitude Budget. These names are of more than semantic interest. They signify the increasing degree of national resolve necessary to meet the gravest economic threat to Singapore's existence since its independence. Social unity is proved by a people's capacity for resilience in the face of crisis, a trait that is strengthened by solidarity, which in turn is underpinned by national fortitude. Few would doubt the concrete importance of these qualities in the fight against the medical and economic contingencies created by Covid-19. Singapore is headed for its worst recession on record, with the economy forecast to shrink by 7 to 4 per cent, worse than the 4 to 1 per cent contraction predicted earlier. The damage to employment, businesses and industries will be severe.
Hence the focus placed on workers and jobs by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in this latest $33 billion supplementary Budget, which is geared primarily at helping workers and businesses tide over the crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic and the dreary economic outlook ahead. The short-term challenge is to overcome the effects of circuit breaker measures that were necessary to save lives but which also affected the material lives and prospects of citizens. Job protection, including enhancements to the Jobs Support Scheme that co-pays salaries to help firms retain workers, figures prominently in the latest support package. A new $2 billion jobs and training plan will create close to 100,000 opportunities for affected workers. Several provisions cater to the needs of sectors hurt particularly badly.
The scale of the crisis - and of the response to it - is manifested in that, together with the earlier three Budgets, the Government is dedicating close to $100 billion, or nearly 20 per cent of gross domestic product, to support Singaporeans in fighting back this unprecedented attack on their collective lives and livelihoods. The latest effort requires drawing $31 billion from past reserves.
This Budget also looks beyond immediate needs, insistent though they are, to see how adversity itself may be turned to long-term advantage. Digitalisation, which has been promoted and pushed by officials for years, has now become a natural reflex among companies and consumers alike. Hence, the Budget commits itself to supporting the digital transformation of businesses. Also, it is clear that initiatives undertaken by the National Jobs Council must be integrated with the needs of the future economy and directions charted in industry transformation maps. Companies that learn to adapt to constant change can survive severe shocks. So, too, for Singapore to emerge stronger.