Budget 2021 to be unveiled on Feb 16

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AND MINISTER FOR FINANCE HENG SWEE KEAT
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AND MINISTER FOR FINANCE HENG SWEE KEAT

Singapore will unveil its Budget 2021 in Parliament on Feb 16, a Tuesday, amid an economic outlook that will remain "highly uncertain" for some time to come, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

But he assured Singaporeans the Government is prepared should the situation go downhill.

"If the trajectory of economic recovery is on track, then we will have a more 'traditional' Budget year. But if the situation takes a turn for the worse, we are ready to respond and adapt," said Mr Heng, who is also the Finance Minister.

He gave the assurance in a Facebook post after the Finance Ministry announced the 2021 Budget Day in a statement.

There will be live television and radio coverage of the Budget, and a live webcast will also be available on the Singapore Budget website.

It has become almost a tradition to announce the date of the annual Budget around the turn of the year, Mr Heng said in his post, and "this year is no different".

But the past year has been far from traditional, he noted, as the pandemic brought economic turmoil around the world, including Singapore.

To support workers, companies and households through Covid-19, the Government introduced several rounds of support measures, he said.

Preparation for Budget 2021 is well under way, and the pandemic is contained locally, with the vaccination exercise ongoing, he noted.

"But the overall outlook remains highly uncertain, and will be the case for some time to come."

In the lead-up to Budget 2021, various channels have been set up for Singaporeans to share their views and hopes for the upcoming Budget until Jan 8.

Government feedback unit Reach has set up virtual and physical listening points, or roving feedback booths, at high-traffic areas, while the People's Association and its grassroots organisations will reach out via virtual platforms.

Themes and questions to be covered include those on the economy, workforce, society and community, a safe and smart nation, and environmental sustainability.

Some of these questions include how Singapore can encourage and accelerate digital adoption and support vulnerable groups more effectively, as well as how businesses can transform and thrive in a post-Covid-19 world.

Close to $100 billion was dedicated to Covid-19 support measures, with up to $52 billion drawn from the reserves.

Bukit Panjang MP Liang Eng Hwa, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Trade and Industry, expects new schemes and grants in Budget 2021 to be more targeted and measured. "We have to expect that direct relief in cash assistance will taper off, so new measures will facilitate growth in other ways, like helping businesses enhance their capabilities, productivity and transformation," he said.

There should also be incentives to enable Singapore to continue to attract new direct investments and encourage international companies to set up shop here. "This will help us to keep up growth rates," said Mr Liang.

Mr Ang Yuit, vice-president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said some of the Covid-19 measures such as Enterprise Singapore's E-Commerce Booster Package were useful in accelerating SMEs' business transformation last year. The package covers 90 per cent of costs to set up operations on existing e-commerce platforms, among other things.

He hopes to see similar grants to help businesses go digital in the upcoming Budget.

Grants to help companies restructure and redesign job roles could also be made more accessible so that more firms can easily tap them, added Mr Ang.

The Singapore Business Federation's SME Committee last November submitted several proposals to the Government for the Budget.

Among other things, it called on the Government to expand foreign worker levy rebates in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors to cover industries such as food and beverage services, hospitality and logistics.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2021, with the headline 'Budget 2021 to be unveiled on Feb 16'. Print Edition | Subscribe