Coronavirus: Singapore's survival at stake, so it's right to tap reserves, says Halimah Yacob

Pandemic an exceptional situation; reserves must be used to take care of people, she says

The Government's three support packages for businesses and workers amount to about $63.7 billion.
The Government's three support packages for businesses and workers amount to about $63.7 billion.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Singapore must draw on its past reserves only in exceptional circumstances - when its very existence is at stake - and now the country must do so to take care of its people, said President Halimah Yacob.

"If I look at Covid-19, it fits into that framework. We are in very exceptional circumstances. We are in a situation where our own survival and existence is at stake," she told reporters via video conference yesterday.

"We need to use the reserves in order to make sure that we are able to take care of the people in terms of health and safety... and ensure that they continue to have income."

President Halimah has already given her assent for about $21 billion to be drawn from the reserves to fund the Government's three support packages for businesses and workers that amount to $63.7 billion. On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who is also Finance Minister, will announce more help for those unable to resume activities after the circuit breaker period ends on June 1, which could require a further draw on the reserves.

Madam Halimah said: "We will need to wait for the Budget that will be presented on Tuesday to see what the components are and how they will help Singaporeans, workers and companies."

The President said her decision to allow the reserves to be drawn down was not made lightly.

"Our past reserves are important for us, but we also want to make sure we can take care of this generation and the future generation.

"We can't talk of a future generation, or even of a future, if we can't take care of the situation now. Getting out of Covid-19 safely and, in the second stage (of reopening), making sure we grow, are very important."

She said she had spent "a great deal of time" thinking through the issues and discussing them extensively with DPM Heng, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the Council of Presidential Advisers.


Earlier, President Halimah had a virtual dialogue with union leaders from the National Trades Union Congress, and she said unionists were grateful for the support packages rolled out so far, but concerned about future uncertainties as the Covid-19 situation unfolds.

Meanwhile, DPM Heng had a virtual dialogue with members of the Future Economy Council (FEC) and the Singapore Business Federation Council yesterday morning.

In a Facebook post after the meeting, he said the participants gave suggestions on what more the Government could do, and discussed what companies would have to do to adapt.

They also discussed how the collaboration between businesses, unions and the Government could be strengthened, he said.

DPM Heng said: "Many good ideas were raised. Some of these ideas will be built into our support measures. Others can be studied for the longer term. I will be working on the ideas over this weekend as I finalise the upcoming Budget."

He also said the FEC held its first meeting of the year following the pre-Budget consultation.

He said a task force set up earlier this month to help the country deal with the longer-term impact of the Covid-19 pandemic gave an initial update to the FEC.

The FEC, in turn, offered its own suggestions to the Emerging Stronger Task Force.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2020, with the headline 'S'pore's survival at stake, so it's right to tap reserves: Halimah'. Subscribe