President Halimah assents to draw on $21 billion from past reserves for historic Resilience and Solidarity Budgets

Together with the Unity Budget, the Resilience and Solidarity Budgets have some $59.9 billion in support measures. PHOTO: HALIMAH YACOB/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - President Halimah Yacob has given her assent to the Resilience and Solidarity Budgets, including a draw of up to $21 billion from Singapore's past reserves.

Assenting to the revised Supplementary Supply Bill on Thursday (April 9), an act which formally authorises the Resilience and Solidarity Budgets announced in March and April respectively, Madam Halimah said the Government's support measures should be rolled out quickly given the escalating Covid-19 pandemic, which has impacted economies, societies and livelihoods.

"It is important that we cushion this impact for Singaporeans, and help everyone tide through this challenging period," she said in a Facebook post.

"The situation is still extremely fluid, so it is important that we implement the measures well, yet remain responsive to the changing needs on the ground."

On Monday, an additional $5.1 billion was announced to cushion the impact of the Covid-19 circuit breaker measures, which will see most businesses and all schools shuttered until May 4.

Together with the Unity Budget announced in February, the Resilience and Solidarity Budgets have some $59.9 billion in support measures to deal with the impact of the outbreak.

The country will chalk up its largest Budget deficit ever at $44.3 billion. Both the size and close timing of the announcements are unprecedented in Singapore's history.

Madam Halimah, who as President is responsible for protecting Singapore's past reserves, has held several rounds of discussions with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat since February.

While they agreed there was no need to draw on past reserves then, given the scale of the support package envisaged at the time, the issue was revisited in March after the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a global pandemic. The President gave her in-principle support to draw on past reserves to fund part of the second support package.

Following the spike in local cases in late March and early April, she discussed with PM Lee and Mr Heng the need to provide additional support, in view of the further economic impact caused by the impending circuit breaker measures.

After Parliament debated and passed the revised Supplementary Supply Bill on April 7, the Supply Bill was sent to Madam Halimah for assent.

Following her assent, the Bill will be enacted into a law called the Supply Act, which controls the Government's spending in the coming financial year.

This will be the second time the Government has drawn on past reserves and the largest amount to date, eclipsing the $4.9 billion then President S R Nathan approved during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.

"We are able to do this decisively because of the substantial reserves built up over the years," said Madam Halimah. "We should be thankful for the discipline of our forebears in spending prudently and saving up in the past."

This year's Budget and two waves of supplementary measures have seen new and enhanced schemes relating to jobs and wage support, cash handouts to households to defray living expenses, and help for the self-employed.

Examples include a Jobs Support Scheme to cover 75 per cent of all local employees' wages this month, up to a salary ceiling of $4,600, and a Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme that will disburse $9,000 in cash over nine months to eligible self-employed people.

Last Friday, Madam Halimah had said that the next few weeks will be critical in the fight against Covid-19.

"It is crucial that all of us comply with safe distancing measures, even though they may be inconvenient in the near term," she said.

Urging Singaporeans to stay home to stay safe, she added: "If we stand united as a nation, I am confident that we will be able to weather this storm together and emerge stronger as one people."

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