Budget Day is Feb 25

Focus is on economic restructuring, health care and cost of living, says Tharman

The Budget will be delivered on Feb 25 and it will focus on pushing ahead with restructuring the Singapore economy.

There will be help for businesses struggling with much-needed changes, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam last night.

"The businesses have been very concerned about the tight labour market, they can't find manpower. And costs are going up. The Bud-get will try to help them on the costs side of things," he said.

It will also take into account concerns voiced in the ongoing Singapore Conversation, including the cost of living as well as health care for the elderly.

But one thing unlikely to happen is a reversal of the tightened foreign worker policy, a move that started two years ago.

Speaking to reporters at the launch of Singapore's first community museum at the Taman Jurong Community Club, Mr Tharman said: "We can't take a break from restructuring the economy. Otherwise, five years from now we will be listening to the same problems and we'll be in the same situation - very tight labour market, tight profits."

The Government aims to raise productivity in the economy by between 2 and 3 per cent per annum over the next decade.

It has also moved to wean firms off cheap sources of foreign labour by restricting the flow of foreign workers, a move which started two years ago. This has led many businesses to complain that the tough stance on foreign workers is hurting them.

Mr Tharman said: "It's a painful transition but the Government is going to help. And in this year's Budget, we'll provide more help for businesses to help them restructure to upgrade productivity."

He also identified childcare, health care and housing for low-income Singaporeans as key, saying: "These are very important priorities in our minds. They are part and parcel of how we are creating an inclusive Singapore."

Economists said they expect the Government to tweak the current set of incentives to help firms raise productivity.

But Bank of America Merrill Lynch economist Chua Hak Bin is hoping for a new and bold approach, given that productivity gains have been weak so far.

"I hope they have in store a bold new approach to help firms, whether it's raising the quantum of incentives or changing the way of delivering it," he said.

Mr Tharman also mentioned the property cooling measures announced on Friday, noting that many analysts said they were a measured, necessary package.

"This time, the measures are clearly stronger than before because we are quite serious about cooling the market and ensuring the prices are within reach of Singaporeans," he said.



For more news and analysis on Singapore Budget 2013, click here for ST's Big Story coverage.