As spending needs rise, Singapore can supplement funds: Minister of State Josephine Teo

Singapore is in the unusual position of being able to tap more sources of revenue to fund its increased spending needs, said Senior Minister of State for Finance and Transport Josephine Teo yesterday.

Referring to the moves in Monday's Budget to raise taxes on the rich and draw on more contributions from Temasek Holdings, Mrs Teo said "virtually no other country" has this ability to supplement its finances.

"Many other countries around the world actually need additional revenue sources to help pay for programmes that benefit citizens, but not that many have the courage to raise taxes," she said at a forum organised by government feedback unit Reach to discuss Budget 2015.

"But we think that it is the responsible thing to do."

At a separate roundtable organised by The Straits Times on Wednesday, panellists welcomed the Budget's focus on helping the elderly poor and moves to address Singaporeans' retirement needs.

They also offered more ideas of their own, including free universal pre-school education and removing the retirement age as people here live longer.

The four participants, with expertise from business to ageing issues and career development, said the Jubilee Budget had laid foundations for Singapore's future but more can still be done.

"Should we still be sticking strictly to the retirement age? Is it time to remove that, and allow people to work for as long as they want, rather than having an artificial line drawn there?" said UOB economist Suan Teck Kin.

Mr Paul Heng, the founder and managing director of NeXT Career Consulting Group, said Singaporeans need more help to plan better for old age.

Meanwhile, free, high-quality pre-school education should be provided to lift the birth rate, said Dr Kanwaljit Soin, immediate past president of Women's Initiative for Ageing Successfully.

"I'm sure if we provide better pre-school education, many women will want to have more babies. This has been shown in some of the Scandinavian countries where total fertility has gone up."

The panellists also lauded the Budget's SkillsFuture initiative, which aims to deepen and broaden Singaporeans' skills amid a changing economy.

But Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Thomas Chua said smaller firms might need extra help to make use of the scheme.

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