Singapore sets aside $60 billion for fight against coronavirus: DPM Heng

Task force also set up to review how country's economy can build 'new sources of dynamism'

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat noted that the current crisis is unprecedented - as is the Government's decision to roll out, in 48 days, three aid packages. PHOTO: GOV.SG

Parliament yesterday urgently approved plans to heavily subsidise the wage bills of more than 1.9 million workers, support their families and keep businesses afloat, marshalling an extra $54 billion in Singapore's fight against the coronavirus.

Of this, $5.1 billion flows from the latest Solidarity Budget as heightened social distancing kicked in yesterday, requiring most workplaces and schools to close until May 4 to stem transmission of the virus.

This comes as 106 new Covid-19 cases were reported yesterday, taking the total to 1,481 cases.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who on Monday presented Singapore's third Budget in 48 days, said that even as the country battles the coronavirus, it has to build its resilience and be ready to seize opportunities that emerge.

That is why, apart from the billions of dollars set aside to help Singaporean families, businesses and workers tide over the immediate turmoil, an Emerging Stronger task force is being set up to review how Singapore's economy can bounce back from the crisis and build "new sources of dynamism".

The Singapore Together movement will also be given a new role of emphasising social resilience. The movement was set up last June for the Government and Singaporeans to work together on policy solutions.

One of its first tasks is a Stay Home for Singapore Challenge to get people to help others stay home in a purposeful and positive way.

"Our economy is hit on so many fronts that it is not possible to just restore the status quo," said Mr Heng, adding that the pandemic will reshape the world and amplify global structural shifts already taking place. "Our best response now is to build resilience - in our economy and society."

The Emerging Stronger task force will be chaired by Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee and PSA International group chief executive Tan Chong Meng. Members will include business leaders with experience in areas such as digitisation and connectivity. Their job: to look ahead, identifying trends and responding to structural shifts in the economy.

Mr Heng added that the fight will go on for a long time yet, with things set to get more difficult before they improve. "But one way or other, eventually it (the crisis) will pass - not next week, not next month, but perhaps within a year or two... The question we should ask ourselves even now is when that day comes, what sort of world will it be, and how ready Singapore will be to march forward again."

Rounding up the debate on the supplementary budget, Mr Heng told the House that the current crisis is unprecedented.

In all, nearly $60 billion has been set aside to help Singapore ride out the storm. President Halimah Yacob has given her in-principle support for the Government to draw up to $21 billion from the reserves.

The Revised Supplementary Supply Bill was also presented to her for her assent yesterday.

Mr Heng said as the reserves are called upon to tackle a generational crisis of an unprecedented scale, the Government had to uphold its responsibility to steward the reserves properly for future generations.

"We will never let Singapore become bankrupt," he said.

Thus Singapore's approach aims to help build economic and social resilience. For companies, this means preventing viable businesses from being "permanently damaged" and helping them to preserve their capabilities to recover. And for Singaporeans, this means saving jobs and easing cash-flow needs, especially for the most vulnerable. "We are seeking to ensure that all of us pull through this together, and that we leave no one behind," he said.

Even non-citizens who support Singaporean families - such as adult permanent residents with Singaporean parents, children or spouses and long-term visit pass holders with Singaporean spouses - may apply for a one-time Solidarity Payment of $300, he said.

Half of humanity is now under lockdown, Mr Heng pointed out. "There is hope that as the crisis deepens, people around the world will find the need to come together."

Singapore will need to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic on a "sustainable basis", he added. This means tapping past reserves again if the crisis deepens. "While we must make plans, and we are, at this hour, let us focus our minds fully on making the best use of this very unprecedented Budget to build social and economic resilience."

The Deputy Prime Minister added that beyond its deep financial reserves, the country has also tapped the strength of its citizens. "Without the strength, resourcefulness, trust of our people, all the right measures won't be worth the dollar tag on them," he said.

He also hailed front-line workers and public servants, adding: "It is not only hectic. It has been emotional. We know what is at stake. Our lives, our livelihoods, our loved ones. Our home and nation."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2020, with the headline Singapore sets aside $60 billion for fight against coronavirus: DPM Heng. Subscribe