Pay cut for ministers, extra bonus for front-line staff in virus battle

S'pore is able to respond strongly and effectively because of trust between people and Govt: DPM


All Cabinet ministers - including the Prime Minister - and political office-holders, as well as the President, will take a one-month pay cut to show solidarity with Singaporeans coping with the coronavirus outbreak.

Meanwhile, public officers on the front line will get up to one extra month of special bonus in recognition of their sacrifices battling the Covid-19 disease.

They include healthcare officers in restructured hospitals and the Ministry of Health, as well as some officers in other front-line agencies who have been directly involved in containing the spread of the virus.

A one-off grant will also go to the 900 general practitioner clinics that have been designated as Public Health Preparedness Clinics to support them as they care for patients with respiratory symptoms.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced these in Parliament yesterday in rounding up the debate on this year's Budget, which comes at a trying time for businesses, families and workers, especially those on the front line.

"Our front-line workers, especially healthcare workers in the restructured hospitals, have shown outstanding courage and dedication," he said.

"While we cannot thank them enough, we can show our appreciation and support in a tangible way," he added at the close of debate on Budget 2020, following speeches from 57 MPs over three days.

In addition to the pay cut for office-holders, all MPs will take a one-month cut in their allowance. Senior public service officers, including permanent and deputy secretaries and statutory board chief executives, will also take a half-month pay cut.

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, said this year's Budget debate took place under "exceptional circumstances", with businesses, workers and households facing a softening of the global economy and the Covid-19 outbreak that has hit sectors like tourism, hospitality and retail especially hard.

As MPs like Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) noted, the entire population needs to come together to weather the storm, said Mr Heng.

They have done so, at a time when it is tempting to just look out for oneself, he added, citing various efforts by groups and individuals to help those affected. He said: "We will win this war over the virus by fighting as one united people."

"Singapore has been able to respond strongly and effectively to Covid-19 because there is strong trust between the people and the Government, and the sense that we are all in this together," he added.

Such trust also enabled the Government to make decisions quickly and carry them out effectively, with people confident that those responsible know what they are doing, said Mr Heng.

"We do not hide bad news, we do not flinch from doing the right thing, we will go the extra mile to help every one of us come through this together. That is why people comply with stringent quarantine orders, people accept reassurances about masks, people feel safe and carry on with their lives," he said.

"The fundamental basis for this is trust and solidarity between the Government and the people."

Noting that Singapore will face challenges in the weeks and months ahead, he added that it would need to draw on its reserves of trust and solidarity.

"This unity of purpose across our whole society is what will see us through these challenging times."

"And if we conduct ourselves well in this crisis, we will replenish those reserves, and strengthen our resilience and unity for another generation," he said.

President Halimah Yacob welcomed the bonus for those on the front line, saying on Facebook: "They truly deserve it. It is a small recognition, but it goes a long way... We must not underestimate their sacrifices."

Nominated MP Walter Theseira, one of several MPs who sought more support for front-line staff, welcomed the move.

On MPs' questions over whether the Government could provide businesses with more sizeable support, and for longer, Mr Heng said the hope was that this would not be necessary.

"But if it does, for example if the outbreak becomes a worldwide pandemic, and the global economic impact is deeper and longer, we have the fiscal resources to do so, and the will to act," he said.

Parliament will continue to debate the spending plans of the various ministries all of next week.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 29, 2020, with the headline Pay cut for ministers, extra bonus for front-line staff in virus battle. Subscribe