Budget addresses not just current needs: Indranee

Second Minister for Finance and Education Indranee Rajah (centre) and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, and Social and Family Development Sam Tan (right), who is also Reach chairman, fielding questions from attendees at a feedback session on the
Second Minister for Finance and Education Indranee Rajah (centre) and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, and Social and Family Development Sam Tan (right), who is also Reach chairman, fielding questions from attendees at a feedback session on the Budget yesterday.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

This year's Budget has set aside money not just for short-term needs, but also long-term ones, stressed Second Minister for Finance and Education Indranee Rajah.

Highlighting plans to transform businesses through embracing technology and lifelong learning, Ms Indranee said these are part of long-term efforts to restructure the economy.

"When you are planning as a government, you have to plan as a whole. And in this particular Budget, we have planned to address both short-term as well as long-term needs," she said at a feedback session on the Budget organised by the government feedback unit Reach.

Around 150 people, including business leaders and young people, attended the event held yesterday at the Asian Civilisations Museum.

In a poll conducted before the feedback session started, about half of them felt that the Budget seemed to be focused on addressing short-term concerns.

"Actually, that is not what this Budget does - the Budget actually does both. It addresses current needs, but there is a long-term view to it," said Ms Indranee, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

She also pointed to the 30 per cent of national spending set aside by the Government for defence, security and diplomacy efforts, and programmes such as SkillsFuture that are available to ensure Singaporeans upskill and upgrade themselves.

 
 
 
 

The $6.1 billion that will be set aside for the Merdeka Generation Package also drew queries. The package, for those born between Jan 1, 1950, and Dec 31, 1959, has benefits such as a Medisave top-up of $200 a year for five years, a one-off $100 top-up to the PAssion Silver Card and additional subsidies for outpatient care for the rest of their lives.

Some asked why the benefits of the package were not means-tested.

Ms Indranee said that the package was designed to recognise a generation's contributions, which is why the handouts for the Merdeka Generation are given to everyone who qualifies equally across the board, regardless of their circumstances.

"For the Merdeka Generation Package, we felt that you are recognising a cohort, you are recognising the cohort's contributions. So all of them, from all different backgrounds, in their different ways, also contributed. So, that was the reason why it was felt that we will give it to them without means testing," she said.

Some asked why the Government is setting aside 30 per cent of total expenditure this year for defence, security and building good relations with neighbouring countries and major powers.

Reach chairman Sam Tan said that a strong defence force had made Singapore well-respected and allowed it to build connections with its foreign partners.

Drawing upon his experience in the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Mr Tan, who is also Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, and Social and Family Development, said: "My own sense is that whenever we go into another country, we are treated well and with respect. Why? It is because we have a defence capability that is more than able to defend our interests.

"So, people know that when we have a credible Singapore Armed Forces, we are able to defend ourselves, and they take us seriously and they take the discussion seriously."

 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2019, with the headline 'Budget addresses not just current needs: Indranee'. Print Edition | Subscribe