SINGAPORE - As Singapore heads into the new year with a record Budget deficit, the Government will have to be prudent in spending and make every dollar count, even as it saves jobs and keeps the economy afloat.
This was Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Finance and National Development Indranee Rajah's assessment of the challenges planners face as they prepare next year's Budget.
This year, close to $100 billion was dedicated to Covid-19 support measures over four Budgets - drawing up to $52 billion from the reserves, and leaving a hole of around $74 billion in the state coffers.
But going forward, the focus must now be on how to emerge stronger from Covid-19 despite limited resources, said Ms Indranee on Wednesday (Dec 2).
She said the Government's top priority is to get out of the crisis and keep everyone safe and healthy.
But she noted that the fiscal road ahead will be a tough one.
"In previous years when we might have had budget surpluses, you could think in terms of goodies.
"But next year... it's more in terms of: 'With the resources that we have, how do we use them in the most careful and prudent way such that we get the most out of limited resources?'"
She was addressing 150 Singaporeans at a virtual Singapore Together Emerging Stronger Conversation (ESC) to seek their views and suggestions on next year's Budget.
The two-hour session, organised by government feedback unit Reach and the Ministry of Finance, was co-hosted by Reach chairman and Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office and Ministry of National Development Tan Kiat How.
Participants discussed how to manage the trade-off between strengthening the economy while keeping the public safe, and how to encourage social responsibility and ensure greater digital inclusion, among other issues.
Ms Indranee told reporters a balanced Budget next year will be "quite hard" - echoing Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's remarks last month that Singapore is unlikely to see a Budget surplus in 2021 given the ongoing economic crisis.
She said the Government will have to be prudent, spend where necessary, and ensure good returns on the money that is put in. "We have to make every dollar count and stretch the dollar."
But while cost management is important, she added that one must also look at the growth side of the equation and find revenue which comes from that growth.
"Growth will only come when you have the economic activity, and at the same time, we have got to balance this with the health and safety part of it," she said.
This is why the Emerging Stronger Taskforce was formed to chart strategies for Singapore's post-pandemic recovery, she said.
Under the task force are seven Alliances for Action (AfAs) - industry-led coalitions tasked to devise ideas and generate jobs in areas such as sustainability, robotics and education technology.
Some growth areas she observed are logistics, mergers and acquisitions, and sustainability.
In the afternoon, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat met business leaders to discuss how the Government can partner businesses to emerge stronger.
He said in a Facebook post there will be more pre-Budget conversations in the coming weeks, and urged Singaporeans to share their ideas. "Everyone can play a role... The Budget reflects our collective needs and aspirations as a society, and charts our direction as a nation," he added.
Over 2850 Singaporeans have participated in over 45 Singapore Together ESC since the start of the series in June. Those who are keen can sign up for upcoming ESCs here.