Govt working to push out support to firms as fast as it can: Lawrence Wong

Mr Lawrence Wong emphasised that the best way to help businesses is to allow them to resume operations and that remains the Government's priority. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Firms' concerns over the disbursement of relief have been heard and the Government is working to push out support as fast as it can, said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (July 27).

In his round-up speech after a parliamentary debate on additional support measures, he acknowledged the calls that MPs had made about the timeliness and availability of government assistance to firms and individuals.

"We will strive to push out the support as fast as we can. We will do so within our operational limits while ensuring accuracy and good governance," he said, in reply to cash flow concerns which Workers' Party MP He Ting Ru (Sengkang GRC) and Mr Edward Chia (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) had highlighted.

Government assistance is flowing such that there is support to businesses throughout the year, Mr Wong noted, citing how eligible firms have been receiving Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) payouts since last April, with the most recent disbursement in June.

The cash payouts under the Rental Support Scheme will be paid out in August, before the next tranche of JSS payments in September, he added.

At the same time, government agencies do exercise flexibility in the implementation of different schemes, Mr Wong noted. He acknowledged that there may be businesses or workers that do not meet the qualifying criteria for some relief schemes.

To that end, the Covid-19 Recovery Grant - Temporary caters to individuals who may not fit into any of the schemes, he said.

Likewise, the Government also takes into account businesses which are badly affected but may not fall neatly into specific SSIC (Singapore Standard Industrial Classification) codes, Mr Wong pointed out. These codes are used to determine which category the business is in and the level of JSS payouts it qualifies for.

It has extended JSS support for close to 6,000 companies through such appeals, and firms which have benefited include suppliers and vendors to the food and beverage sector, retail and events companies.

Noting how Mr Chia and Mr Don Wee (Chua Chu Kang GRC) had asked to extend moratoriums for loan schemes, Mr Wong said that for now, the Monetary Authority of Singapore and the economic agencies' assessment is that the credit market remains healthy and the current support measures are sufficient.

"But we will continue to monitor the situation closely and we will review the need for any adjustments," he said, noting that local banks are proactively contacting SMEs to provide relief and restructuring support.

Mr Wong also outlined existing help, such as training allowances and grants for freelancers, for specific areas like the arts and sports sector. These were sectors which Mr Sharael Taha (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), Ms Raeesah Khan (Sengkang GRC) and Nominated MP Mark Chay had said needed additional aid.

Recognising the issues faced by landlords and tenants in the area of rental relief, Mr Wong reiterated that the Government intervenes only in specific situations and in a carefully scoped manner.

"The Ministry of Law is carefully considering the eligibility criteria and details of the framework, which they will announce in due course," he said, referring to the framework for equitable co-sharing of rental obligations.

"Ultimately, landlords and tenants have a symbiotic relationship where both parties do well or conversely do poorly together, so it's important to keep lines of communication open to ensure constructive discussions."

Mr Wong emphasised that the best way to help businesses is to allow them to resume operations and that remains the Government's priority.

"When we do so, and when we start to reopen our economy, reopen our borders, the manpower inflow will also resume," he said, adding that this would address concerns about acute labour shortages in sectors like construction and marine.

Replying to Mr Melvin Yong (Radin Mas) on the number of migrant workers who have been brought into Singapore through pilot schemes, Mr Wong said that while he does not have those figures, the numbers are not going to be very large at this point.

"It would take time to do this in a safe and sustainable manner," he added.

In response to suggestions from Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Bukit Panjang) and Mr Louis Chua (Sengkang GRC) for a fund catering to pandemic-related economic response or automatic stabilisers, Mr Wong said it may be challenging to do so this year, given that the Government will not have the resources to do so.

But it is an idea that it can study for the next Budget, and it will have to strike the right balance to ensure that Parliament continues to have oversight over the relief measures should it do so, he added.

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