Nine-day Budget debate starts on Monday

Hot topics include help for SMEs and individuals amid economic slowdown; pre-debate questions on hep C saga

Parliament will sit for nine days, starting on Monday, to debate the Government's Budget statement for the new financial year, and the hot topics will include help for small businesses and vulnerable Singaporeans to weather the uncertain economic climate.

In the first three days of the annual marathon, MPs will weigh in on the programmes and spending priorities that Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced on March 24.

Each MP is allowed to speak for up to 20 minutes.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance as well as Trade and Industry, is expected to start the debate. He told The Straits Times yesterday he would talk about "the challenges of getting our act together and how our workforce can better prepare for the structural changes to come".

As part of the $4.5 billion Industry Transformation Programme, government officers will be attached to about 20 sectors to help drive innovation in firms and industries.

"These cluster champions are a good move, but it is not easy to get people from different groups to work together," Mr Liang said.

Mr Heng will respond to the MPs' comments and concerns on the third day, after which Parliament will vote on the Budget for the financial year starting in April.

Ministers will then present the budgets of their individual ministries, and MPs will scrutinise and comment on their spending plans.

To do so, MPs will file "cuts" - a call for a $100 reduction in a ministry's budget - and use the opportunity to give their views on a ministry's programmes and policies.

The minister and other office-holders will respond and, if satisfied, the MP will withdraw the cut in order for the individual budget to be passed by Parliament.

Mr Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir) plans to address the issue of fiscal prudence.

He said: "We must differentiate between a 'must-have' and a 'good- to-have' when we allocate our Budget priorities. Must-haves include defence, security and training our population to be equipped with skills and expertise to face up to future challenges."

Before the debate on the Budget statement on Monday, last year's hepatitis C saga will come under the spotlight during question time.

Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera wants to know the names of and penalties given to the Singapore General Hospital and Health Ministry staff linked to the outbreak, while Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC) will ask what measures are in place to ensure such an incident does not happen again.

The marathon debate will wrap up on April 14.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2016, with the headline Nine-day Budget debate starts on Monday. Subscribe