DPM Heng Swee Keat spells out plans to tackle coronavirus crisis from 'position of strength'

S'pore's reserves, both financial and social, will help it emerge stronger from crisis

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat speaking in Parliament yesterday. He said Singapore is not only armed with sizeable financial reserves that will help save many jobs, but it also has deep social reserves, mutual trust and close partnerships.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat speaking in Parliament yesterday. He said Singapore is not only armed with sizeable financial reserves that will help save many jobs, but it also has deep social reserves, mutual trust and close partnerships.PHOTO: GOV.SG

In the face of the global crisis of this generation, with huge uncertainties ahead, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday spelt out the Government's efforts to safeguard Singaporeans' lives and livelihoods, while also striving to ensure that the country emerges stronger from the crisis.

At the heart of its efforts, over the four Budgets unveiled in recent months, are moves to help workers stay in their jobs, or find new ones if displaced, and giving young graduates help to get on the pathway to employment.

Close to 80 per cent of the $93 billion that the Government is committing to tackle the fallout from Covid-19 will go towards this, he said.

Efforts to transform the economy will also have to be stepped up, in the face of underlying structural changes that the pandemic has accelerated. Companies and societies would have to adapt to these changes "with speed and agility" if they were to thrive, or even survive, he added.

Summing up the two-day debate that saw the $33 billion Fortitude Budget passed by the House, Mr Heng also sought to make plain that he believed Singapore approached the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic from a position of strength.

Not only is it armed with sizeable financial reserves that will help save many jobs, but it also has deep social reserves, mutual trust and close partnerships, he said. This will stand it in good stead.

"We must work to prevent a 'Covid Generation' of workers and students in Singapore," said Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, pointing to fears of a lost generation of youth, with skills, incomes and hopes diminished, as had happened in Western countries after World War I.

All over the world, he noted, governments have been grappling with the twin challenges of saving lives and livelihoods. Those which were slow to act for fear of hitting their economies have faced tragic consequences.

"Delayed and incomplete measures to stem infections resulted in a massive number of casualties, as healthcare systems were overwhelmed.

"Singapore has managed to avert some of the harsher outcomes from Covid-19. We were able to act boldly, as Singaporeans stood in unity, trusted the Government, and worked together to save lives and livelihoods."

Noting that there has been a "flight to leadership" around the world in the face of the crisis, he said that populations had looked to government as the one institution that can organise and mobilise in response.

THIS GENERATION'S TEST

What about our generation? How will we respond to this crisis? Each generation's crisis, and response, is different. The one constant is how we have persevered with fortitude and emerged stronger. This time, there are huge uncertainties ahead. But we will continue to persevere, and we will once again emerge stronger.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER HENG SWEE KEAT

STRONG RESPONSE

Government interventions have become the cornerstone of the Covid-19 response, as populations look towards the one institution that can organise and mobilise. There has been a 'flight to leadership'..... We too have mounted a strong response, because lives and livelihoods are at stake.

DPM HENG MORE REPORTS FROM PARLIAMENT

Administrations across the political spectrum have responded with substantial packages to support businesses from airlines to carmakers.

"We too have mounted a strong response, because lives and livelihoods are at stake."

He noted that the number of unemployed residents is likely to exceed 100,000 this year, more than the 91,000 registered during the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) epidemic, and those who are employed may suffer significant income loss.

But no effort will be spared to help workers. Jobs in viable businesses will be saved, said Mr Heng. New jobs will also be created in growth areas. About 100,000 opportunities will be created for local job seekers to take on new roles.

There will also be extra help and traineeship opportunities for harder-hit groups such as graduating students and mid-career workers.

But Singapore is not just thinking of weathering the storm - it hopes to be even stronger when it passes, said Mr Heng.

The Emerging Stronger Taskforce, for instance, is studying key shifts and developing recommendations in the areas of technology and innovation, digitalisation, and disruption to global supply chains.

Singapore is also fortunate that it started the structural transformation of its economy before Covid-19 struck. It could use this time to prepare for its next phase of growth.

"The Covid-19 situation is a mighty storm that has damaged sails, and forced ships around the world to go into harbour. While waiting for the storm to subside, we must make the best use of this downtime to build new strengths and capabilities," said Mr Heng.

He added that the four Budgets would not only position Singapore for recovery but also help the economy avert an average output loss of 5 percentage points, or $23.4 billion a year, in this year and the next, according to a recent study.

 
 
 

While other countries had to borrow for their support measures - saddling their future generations with debt - Singapore could draw on its past reserves.

"We have a strong fiscal position. Our founding generation left us a legacy of a sizeable reserve, which we must continue to treasure and build on.

"We have strong social reserves, supported by mutual trust, close partnerships, strong values, and a sense of mutual responsibility and support."

Concluding, Mr Heng said that to emerge stronger, Singapore has to get three things right. These are: good governance and strong, adaptive leadership; durable social reserves across all levels; and being crystal clear and unwavering about its values and mission.

"More than ever before, these fundamentals will be crucial as we navigate the uncertainties ahead.

"Our circumstances have changed over the years, but the Government's aspirations for Singapore have not," said Mr Heng.

"It is to be a place where our people, regardless of race, language or religion, can build a better life."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2020, with the headline 'DPM spells out plans to tackle crisis from 'position of strength''. Subscribe