Budget 2019 debate

House passes Budget targeted at building strong, united Singapore

In a 90-minute speech responding to concerns 55 MPs raised over three days, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat outlined key principles underpinning the Government's spending and revenue plans.
In a 90-minute speech responding to concerns 55 MPs raised over three days, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat outlined key principles underpinning the Government's spending and revenue plans.PHOTO: GOV.SG

Parliament yesterday passed an $80 billion Budget that Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said aims to help Singaporeans thrive and to build a strong, united Singapore.

In a 90-minute speech responding to concerns 55 MPs raised over three days, he outlined key principles underpinning the Government's spending and revenue plans.

While many MPs welcomed the $6.1 billion set aside for the Merdeka Generation Package to fund healthcare subsidies for those born in the 1950s, some called for more help for seniors and the less well-off. Others asked if the planned goods and services tax hike from 7 per cent to 9 per cent, to take effect some time between 2021 and 2025, could be deferred.

Mr Heng noted the Merdeka package is on top of existing schemes. This year alone, he said, the Health Ministry expects to spend $6.1 billion on patient subsidies under existing permanent schemes. And while the Government has yet to decide on the exact timing of the GST hike, it is necessary to support structural increases in healthcare spending, among others, he said.

Addressing calls for more help for the young, workers, the less well-off and seniors, and for a fairer tax system, he outlined three Budget principles he termed the "Singapore way": The Government puts people at the centre of its strategies; plans for the long term and adapts to changing needs; and works in partnership with people, firms and others.

Doing so has allowed Singapore to do more with less, he said. And the Government believes the best way to take care of Singaporeans is to empower them and build capacity. "There is always room to do even better", he said. "But overall, it is a good system, which gives Singaporeans a good foundation in life."

He also listed three goals on the fiscal front: Remain pro-growth, ensure the overall system of taxes and transfers is equitable and keep the tax burden on the middle-income low.

While all MPs backed the Budget, Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC) rose to state for the record that his party's position on the planned GST increase, which it opposed last year, has not changed.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 01, 2019, with the headline 'House passes Budget targeted at building strong, united Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe