Parliament: Singaporeans' values critical to whether nation can tackle next crisis after Covid-19 outbreak: DPM Heng

Pedestrians in Orchard Road at around 5.30pm on April 7, on the first day of Singapore's "circuit breaker" mode. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Whether Singapore can tackle the next crisis after the coronavirus outbreak will depend critically on the values of its people, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Tuesday (April 7).

In his round-up speech after Parliament debated the Supplementary Budget, Mr Heng said he was grateful to be able to tap the "deep reservoirs of strength and resourcefulness" of Singaporeans, beyond the nation's financial reserves.

"Without the strength, resourcefulness, trust of our people, all the right measures won't be worth the dollar tag on them," he said.

Healthcare workers, Home Team officers, cleaners and other unsung heroes have carried out their duties with commitment and courage, he said, adding that the outpouring of support and recognition for these frontline workers was moving.

Singapore's national stock of resilience is made up of individual stocks of resilience, added Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister.

"Ultimately, the long-drawn fight against the virus will be won by us standing together as one united people," he told the House. "We must each do our part, this is absolutely serious, a matter of life and death."

Mr Heng added he was heartened that Singaporeans and MPs have shown strong values and commitment to the nation's future.

He shared that several Singaporeans, while touched by the use of reserves, have said the amounts should be put back later so future generations have funds for the next crisis.

Likewise, MPs also urged against spending in an "unbridled fashion" from the reserves.

"Indeed, as we draw down on our reserves to tackle this generational crisis of unprecedented scale, we must uphold our responsibility to steward our reserves properly in our time, for the benefit of our future generations," he said.

Mr Heng said he was surprised and glad at instances of values demonstrated by the young.

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He cited Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan's anecdote of how his Primary 2 granddaughter had been urging his wife and their helper to put on masks and observe safe distancing.

On the same day, a mother watching Mr Heng's Solidarity Budget speech later told him her daughter had asked if Singapore would become bankrupt.

The answer, he stressed, was no. "We will never let Singapore become bankrupt."

"As adults, let us uphold our values, and not let our children and future generations down. It is precisely for them that my team and I are determined to exercise fiscal discipline and prudence," said Mr Heng.

He also shared that it has been an extremely hectic period for him, other Cabinet ministers and his staff. Officers at the Finance Ministry (MOF) have been working for nearly 10 weeks, preparing three Budgets within 48 days.

It has also been an emotional period, Mr Heng said. "We know what is at stake. Our lives, our livelihoods, our loved ones. Our home and nation," he added.

Noting that MOF officers are often called "bean counters", Mr Heng quipped: "We count, because you count.

"We count, to protect our people and our home."

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