$15.3b set aside for special transfers to Singaporeans in Budget

Estimates Committee urges Govt to ensure sustainability of such transfers

A committee of MPs has called on the Government to ensure the sustainability of such special transfers. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

A total of $15.3 billion was set aside under Budget 2019 for special transfers to meet the current and future needs of Singaporeans. Such transfers include top-ups to endowments and trust funds.

This figure was revealed yesterday in a report by a committee of MPs tasked with examining government spending. They called on the Government to ensure the sustainability of such transfers, to meet competing needs of Singaporeans across different generations.

Of the $15.3 billion, $6.1 billion went to the Merdeka Generation Fund, which provides financial and other support to those born between 1950 and 1959; and $5.08 billion to the Long-Term Care Support Fund, which supports measures like CareShield Life subsidies and the ElderFund assistance scheme.

The rest went to businesses and households, like the one-off SG Bonus that was announced last year to share the fruits of the country's development with Singaporeans.

The eight-member Estimates Committee gave this update yesterday in its 55-page report. Set up by Parliament, the committee considers the Government's Budget and reports on any improvements that can be made.

Noting the "significant amount" of special transfers, committee chairman and West Coast GRC MP Foo Mee Har said: "The committee urged the Government to explore ways to find the right financing solution to fund programmes, balancing competing needs of Singaporeans across generations as well as ensuring the healthcare needs of new cohorts beyond Pioneer and Merdeka generations would receive similar support."

The committee also asked the Ministry of Finance (MOF) if there was any relationship between special transfers and Budget surpluses.

In reply, MOF said the timing and amount of special transfers are not "mechanically determined" by the amount of Budget surplus, but based on considerations like the Government's long-term plans and economic and social needs.

Such transfers could even increase in times of Budget deficit, it said.

It cited how, despite a Budget balance deficit of $0.8 billion during the global financial crisis in 2009, the $4.5 billion Jobs Credit Scheme was introduced to encourage businesses to preserve jobs.

While the ministry expected baseline healthcare spending to climb, given a rapidly ageing population and more prevalent chronic diseases, it said the Government would meet the increase in recurrent expenditure with recurrent revenue - such as from the hike in the goods and services tax from 7 per cent to 9 per cent, which will take place some time between 2021 and 2025.

This will go towards providing subsidies to the elderly, building new capacity and investing in new medical technologies to improve care quality, among others.

The committee also questioned MOF on the use of government debt to finance long-term infrastructure projects such as those that protect Singapore against climate change.

MOF said that doing so is fairer and more efficient, as it converts a lump sum of spending into a smoother stream of loan repayments. "Done in a responsible and sustainable manner, borrowing would help instil financial discipline and distribute the share of funding more equitably across current and future generations," it said.

There will be safeguards to ensure that the debt, and its interest and repayment, are sustainable and in line with the reserves protection framework, it added.

It gave assurance that the Government would spend prudently, save up where possible and raise revenues in a fair and progressive manner.

The committee comprises seven People's Action Party MPs and Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh. In making its recommendations, it had considered the input of MOF and the Singapore Business Federation.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2019, with the headline $15.3b set aside for special transfers to Singaporeans in Budget. Subscribe