Coronavirus: Govt prepared to come up with 2nd package to help businesses if needed, says Heng Swee Keat

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Kiat said at an annual post-Budget forum on March 9 that a working group will be set up to help businesses find opportunities amid the crisis. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - While the Government is prepared to roll out a second package to help businesses tide over the coronavirus outbreak, companies should first try to make the most of the existing $4 billion package, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

He added that the Government is studying how various industries have been affected by the outbreak, and how to better support the transformation of industries and workers.

A working group will be set up to help businesses find opportunities amid the crisis, he said at an annual post-Budget forum organised by Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao at the Capitol Theatre on Monday (March 9).

Mr Heng will head the group, which will involve other ministers and business leaders, and come under the Future Economy Council.

"When the economy slows down, we need to encourage enterprises to build up their strengths and further strengthen their economic transformation," he said.

More details will be announced later, he added.

In presenting the Budget on Feb 18, Mr Heng had announced a $4 billion Stabilisation and Support Package to provide job and cash-flow support to help firms retain and retrain workers in light of a looming slowdown. He also said another $8.3 billion has been set aside over three years to spur enterprises and the economy to transform and grow.

At the forum, other panellists such as Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, and Mr Teo Siong Seng, chairman of the Singapore Business Federation, said that while the measures introduced have been substantial, many businesses are still preoccupied with the short-term issues of survival.

These firms may need more help when it comes to planning for the future and pushing on with restructuring and business transformation efforts, they added.

Some tenants have also run into problems with their landlords, which have been slow to pass on the 15 per cent property tax rebate announced in the Budget by the Government to all qualifying businesses, said the business leaders.

Mr Heng said the working group is one of the ways in which businesses and stakeholders can come together to address the long-term issue of transformation.

He also urged businesses and trade associations to come together, share resources and help one another tide through this current crisis.

Government agencies will bring stakeholders together to address the ongoing tussle between tenants and landlords over rental rebates, added Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister.

On the coronavirus outbreak, he said it is not enough to take reference from Singapore's experience during the 2003 Sars outbreak when coming up with measures for the economy, as the current situation remains dynamic.

He noted that the Covid-19 outbreak can evolve into three possible scenarios for Singapore.

It could become more serious, or it could follow the same trajectory that was seen in the 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak, where the threat of the virus eroded over time and Singapore's economy rebounded within a relatively fast period, he said.

It could also become a situation where the virus spreads slowly, but is able to be contained with government measures.

"We will continue to cooperate with other countries, including China, to strengthen our response to the coronavirus outbreak," said Mr Heng.

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