Focus on Govt's total social spending: Chan Chun Sing

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing with Mr Sam Tan (standing), Minister of State for Social and Family Development and Foreign Affairs and chairman of government feedback and engagement unit Reach, at the Budget dialogue yesterday.
Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing with Mr Sam Tan (standing), Minister of State for Social and Family Development and Foreign Affairs and chairman of government feedback and engagement unit Reach, at the Budget dialogue yesterday.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Instead of universal welfare, he says, Govt has opted for targeted mode to help most vulnerable

Look at the Government's total social spending each year, rather than the amount spent on packages such as that for the Merdeka Generation, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.

And while some have called for a universal welfare scheme, Mr Chan said the Government has opted for a targeted approach that helps society's most vulnerable.

He was speaking at a public Budget feedback session where he was responding to a commentary by sociologist Teo You Yenn published in The Straits Times last Friday.

At the session held at the National Press Centre near Clarke Quay involving about 100 members of the public, Mr Chan answered questions on Budget announcements, ranging from whether the Merdeka Generation Package was sustainable to why there was a need to reduce dependence on S Pass foreign workers.

The Merdeka Generation Package, for people born in the 1950s, is expected to cost the Government more than $8 billion, with $6.1 billion set aside for the package during this year's Budget.

About 500,000 Singaporeans will receive benefits such as Medisave top-ups and additional subsidies for outpatient care for life.

NO EMPTY PROMISES

In Singapore... we don't allow any government to make promises on behalf of future governments... Some people ask, why is it that people make promises at elections and why is it that we take them to task? And the simple reason is that if you make promises at an election, you have not yet earned the money. How can you promise to spend the money?

MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INDUSTRY CHAN CHUN SING, on the Budget being called an "'election Budget".

 
 

In her commentary last Friday, Associate Professor Teo called for the introduction of a set of welfare principles so that all future cohorts of Singaporeans may enjoy "peace of mind and a sense of security".

"Introducing one-off, cohort-based rewards is, arguably, not a principled, sustainable, or solidarity-enhancing way to protect people in retirement," wrote Prof Teo, who is head of sociology at the Nanyang Technological University.

But Mr Chan said the Government provides "structural support" to the people, and that base, in terms of social spending, is more than 40 per cent of the budget every year in areas such as education and healthcare.

He said the Merdeka package, unveiled in last Monday's Budget speech, was the "icing on top of the cake" to help the most vulnerable.

"And it's also an expression of our values that whenever we have some extra resources, we care for those who have contributed to Singapore the most, those who are most in need," he said. "By sharing it equally, actually, we don't give as much help as we would like to those who need it the most."

On why there is not a simpler, universal scheme - instead of one that involves means testing - he said an across-the-board policy would not be fair as it could apply to all, regardless of income.

He acknowledged that means testing has implications, such as people comparing the amount of subsidies they receive.

"Of course, we agree that everyone should have peace of mind, that's one of the aims of the Government. But it should be done in a more targeted manner, rather than across the board."

The three-hour feedback session, conducted in Mandarin, was organised by radio station 96.3 Hao FM and Reach, the Government's feedback and engagement arm.

Mr Sam Tan, who is Minister of State for Social and Family Development and Foreign Affairs, and Reach chairman, was also present.

Participants discussed how they would spend a hypothetical $10 million sum for the country, in five areas such as security, social spending and savings.

They also had a question-and-answer session with the ministers.

Mr Chan also made the case for the need to lower the cap on the number of S Pass workers companies can hire for the next two years - from 15 per cent now to 13 per cent from Jan 1 next year, and to 10 per cent from Jan 1, 2021. These workers are mid-skilled foreigners earning at least $2,300 a month.

 
 
 

He explained that Singaporeans do not typically do the jobs that Work Permit holders do, adding that Employment Pass professionals make up the minority of foreign workers here, and S Pass holders compete the most with middle-class Singaporeans.

"If we don't control the growth of S Pass workers, then the ones to bear the brunt first are middle-class Singaporeans," he said.

Earlier yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman hosted a separate feedback session for Malay residents in East Coast GRC and Fengshan. At the annual session at Siglap Community Centre, participants discussed Budget announcements such as the Bicentennial Bonus.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 24, 2019, with the headline 'Focus on Govt's total social spending: Chan Chun Sing'. Print Edition | Subscribe