Singapore's deep reserves allow it to quickly roll out Budget measures to tackle Coronavirus outbreak, says DPM Heng Swee Keat

Noting that Budget details were usually settled "as early as possible", Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said the same could not be done this year because of the outbreak of the coronavirus disease, known as Covid-19. ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN YONG ZHI

SINGAPORE - If not for its deep reserves, Singapore could not act quickly and decisively to roll out Budget measures to fight the coronavirus outbreak, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Monday (Feb 17).

Budget 2020 will include measures that were not on the table a month ago, he noted in a Facebook post on the eve of the Budget.

In highlighting the country's reserves, he said he did not just mean its financial reserves, which give the Government the ability and confidence to mount a robust response to unexpected situations.

He also meant the reserves of strength, resilience, empathy, and resourcefulness among public servants and Singaporeans.

"Without these reserves, we would have been much worse off - both financially and psychologically. My team and I would not be able to spend the last few weeks working on the stabilisation and support measures," said Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister.

"We would instead be lying awake trying to project the negative impact of the outbreak, how much of a hit we are going to suffer, rather than what we can do to stabilise our economy and support our people."

The Budget is funded by various sources of income: taxes and fees, and returns from Singapore's invested reserves, or the Net Investment Returns Contribution (NIRC). The NIRC stood at $17 billion in 2019.

Noting that Budget details were usually settled "as early as possible", Mr Heng said the same could not be done this year because of the outbreak of the coronavirus disease, known as Covid-19.

Instead, the Finance Ministry (MOF) had been putting in extra hours to track the fast-evolving situation, listening to Singaporeans' suggestions, and coming up with targeted support measures, he said.

"I had really hoped that (the many young officers at MOF) could have a nice Valentine's Day with their loved ones last Friday. Instead, they asked for understanding from their partners, and worked with me through the night and over the weekend," he added.

Mr Heng had on Sunday said the Budget will have a package to assist households with the cost of living. Other broad-based measures include wage support to help companies preserve jobs for local workers, and tax rebates and rental waivers for firms to address cash flow issues.

Recalling in his post the sacrifices made by past generations - from Singapore's first Finance Minister Goh Keng Swee to the Pioneer and Merdeka generations - he called on Singaporeans to never take for granted the reserves of strength that the nation had built over the years.

"These can be squandered easily. I urge all of you, my fellow Singaporeans, to never forget but treasure what we have inherited."

"Somebody asked me, 'Is the (viral) outbreak a disruption to the Budget?' I thought about this. You could look at it as a disruption, or you could see it as a spur and a test for us," he said.

He urged Singaporeans to see it as a test to show that they can rise to the challenge, and be worthy of the generations who came before them, as well as future generations.

Mr Heng added: "I am grateful for the deep reserves we have - of finances, but more importantly of friendship, care, grit. I will do my best to protect and grow these.Let's advance as One Singapore, and emerge stronger as one people."

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