Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday delivered a Budget aimed at helping Singapore thrive in a rapidly changing global environment as well as meet longer-term domestic challenges such as ageing, social mobility and economic transformation. Highlights include a Merdeka Generation Package that will benefit nearly 500,000 Singaporeans and a special $1.1 billion Bicentennial Bonus to mark what he called a key turning point in Singapore's development. Here are edited excerpts from his Budget speech.
This year marks 200 years since Sir Stamford Raffles landed in Singapore.
1819 was a key turning point in Singapore's development. The British decision to declare Singapore a free port plugged us into an emerging network of global trade. This, and subsequent developments, transformed Singapore into a global node.
In our bicentennial year, let us reflect on the twists and turns in our history, so as to chart a path forward for an even better future for our people.
CHARTING OUR PATH FORWARD
Today, we are in a different phase of globalisation, with new forces reshaping the global environment.
In last year's Budget Statement, I mentioned three major shifts:
• The shift in global economic weight towards Asia;
• Rapid technological advancements;
• And changing demographic patterns.
A fourth major force that is gaining prominence is the decline in support for globalisation. Some countries are benefiting from globalisation, while others are questioning its value.
These four major forces are interacting in complex ways, at the global, regional, and national levels.
On the global stage, the trade frictions between the US and China are developing into a deeper strategic competition of strength and of governance systems. This is raising geopolitical uncertainty.
Domestically, we need to address longer-term challenges, including ageing, social mobility, inequality, economic transformation, and climate change.
OUR STRENGTHS AND OUR SINGAPOREAN DNA
The changing global and domestic landscape presents both challenges and opportunities. We will continue to chart our way forward confidently in the Singapore way, building on our distinct strengths and our Singaporean DNA.
We must always respond to challenges with grit and determination. There were episodes in the centuries of Singapore's history where our island's fortunes waned due to external forces. These are sobering reminders that we have to constantly build up our security and resilience, and plan long-term.
As a multi-cultural society, our openness to diversity is our strength. It has inculcated a global mindset and deepened our knowledge of Asia. We strive to be a place where people and ideas congregate, at the frontier of global developments. We want to be a Global-Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise.
We turn our size and strategic location into an advantage.
Technological shifts have spread economic activities more widely, and at the same time, made cities more important as key nodes of enterprise and innovation.
As a city-state, we are nimbler and can adapt to changes faster. We serve as a neutral, trusted node in key spheres of global activity. Like Sang Kancil, the small but quick-witted mousedeer, we can make our way in the world.
Budget 2019 is a strategic plan to allocate resources to build a Strong, United Singapore.
In this bicentennial year, let us draw on our strengths, and our Singaporean DNA - openness, multiculturalism, and self-determination - to continue to progress.
At a fundamental level, we must keep Singapore safe and secure. We must continue to transform our economy, for only a vibrant and innovative economy can provide opportunities for our people to realise their potential.
We must continue to build a caring and inclusive society, one where we look out for one another, and all of us play our part in weaving a tightly-knit social fabric.
We must continue to build Singapore as a global city and home for all, keeping it smart, sustainable, and globally connected.
Last but not least, we must achieve these goals in a responsible and fiscally sustainable way.
KEEPING SINGAPORE SAFE AND SECURE
A safe and secure Singapore gives us the confidence to chart an independent course.
Against an increasingly uncertain geopolitical environment, our commitment to defence and security cannot waver. Diplomacy and deterrence are the twin pillars of our approach.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs works continuously to build good relations with our neighbours and the major powers, and to promote a rules-based international order with international laws and norms.
A strong Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) lends weight to our diplomatic efforts and ensures that negotiations with Singapore are taken seriously. Should diplomacy fail, we must stand ready to safeguard our interests, and defend ourselves.
The Home Team also works round-the-clock alongside other security agencies, to ensure a safe environment for all.
We also now have the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore leading our efforts to protect our Critical Information Infrastructure from cyber threats, and to create a secure cyberspace for businesses and communities.
These are fundamental to our sovereignty, our success, and to safeguarding our vital interests.
Beyond physical threats, malicious cyber activities are growing. The networked nature of our society has enhanced connectivity. But this can be exploited to disrupt and divide society, through cyber attacks, the spread of falsehoods, or other means. In particular, foreign actors will try to influence our domestic affairs and politics.
To stay ahead of these threats, we must continue to innovate and build new capabilities to meet our security needs. Both the public and private sectors have a major role to play.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will set up a Home Team Science & Technology Agency by the end of this year, to develop science and technology capabilities to support the Home Team's operational needs. These capabilities will strengthen the Home Team's ability to carry out its mission of safeguarding Singapore. With our Smart Nation drive, digital technology has become an integral part of our lives.
To harness the digital advantage, we must be prepared to also deal with the threats that arise inevitably from its more pervasive use. Digital Defence has now been incorporated as the sixth pillar of Total Defence.
The Government is also engaging our tech community with programmes such as the Government Bug Bounty Programme, to achieve a higher level of collective cyber security.
Given its strategic significance, the Government will continue to invest a significant share of our resources - about 30 per cent of our total expenditure this year - to support our defence, security, and diplomacy efforts.
This spending is significant, but indispensable.
SKILLED WORKFORCE, INNOVATIVE FIRMS AND A VIBRANT ECONOMY
A vibrant and innovative economy provides our people with the opportunities to realise their potential and to have a better life.
Our efforts to transform our economy are bearing fruit. In tandem with the global expansion, the Singapore economy grew by 3.2 per cent in 2018.
Good growth translated into good outcomes for our workers. Over the past five years, the real median income of Singaporeans has grown by 3.6 per cent per year.
Global growth is expected to moderate in 2019, while uncertainties and downside risks in the global economy have increased.
Over the years, our sound monetary and fiscal policies have enabled us to weather global economic crises and keep inflation stable. These provide a stable environment for investors to make long-term investment decisions.
Beyond maintaining a supportive macro-economic environment, we need to build a sound micro-economic foundation, so that resources can be allocated to their best possible uses; and to undertake structural reforms, to enable our workers and firms to adapt and stay competitive.
In Budget 2016, we launched the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs), which drive transformation at the company, industry, and economy-wide levels. Each ITM integrates four key pillars of transformation: jobs and skills; innovation; internationalisation; and productivity. These are mutually reinforcing pillars to maximise impact.
To coordinate efforts, the Future Economy Council brings together leaders from the Government, industry, trade associations and chambers (TACs), unions, and academia.
After three years of intensive work, I am glad that all 23 ITMs have been launched, covering about 80% of our economy. We are seeing good progress, aided by the global economic upturn in recent years:
Productivity, as measured by real value-added per actual hour worked, grew by 3.6 per cent per year in the past three years, higher than the 1.6 per cent per annum growth recorded in the preceding three years, from 2012 to 2015.
In particular, we have seen strong performance by outward-oriented sectors such as manufacturing, while others like construction and some service industries continue to show weaker productivity growth.
But this is a continuing journey. There is much more we can do, especially in sectors like domestic services. We must press on.
Let me now outline three key thrusts in this Budget to support industry transformation:
• First, building deep enterprise capabilities.
• Second, building deep worker capabilities.
• Third, encouraging strong partnerships, within Singapore and across the world.
BUILDING DEEP ENTERPRISE CAPABILITIES
The basic building blocks of a vibrant economy are strong, competitive companies that maximise value creation. Hence, the first thrust is to support the building of deep enterprise capabilities.
Companies at different stages of growth have different needs. The leadership of each company is in the best position to lead and drive changes, while our agencies can provide support at each stage of growth.
A vibrant start-up ecosystem encourages budding entrepreneurs to try out their business ideas. Such an ecosystem enables entrepreneurs to connect to mentors, prospective business partners, customers, and investors.
Two years ago, we launched Startup SG to provide holistic support for start-ups and entrepreneurs. Such support ranges from co-investments and proof-of-concept grants, to mentorship and physical space.
Our start-up ecosystem is flourishing.
There are now over 220 venture capital deals per year in Singapore, worth close to US$4.2 billion, a significant rise from the 80 deals worth US$136 million in 2012.
Today, more than 150 global venture capital funds, incubators, and accelerators are based in Singapore, supporting start-ups here and in the region.
Start-ups can only thrive if they scale up, and venture into new markets. To help them do so, we will provide support in three areas: providing customised assistance, better financing options, and supporting technology adoption.
Customised support can enable firms to identify and overcome the unique challenges they face, and scale up quickly.
Enterprise Singapore will launch a Scale-up SG programme in partnership with the private and public sectors. Scale-up SG will work with aspiring, high-growth local firms to identify and build new capabilities, to innovate, grow, and internationalise.
To support innovation, we will launch a pilot Innovation Agents programme, for firms to tap on a pool of experts to advise them on opportunities to innovate and commercialise technology.
Having smart, patient capital that attracts investors with the expertise and the right time horizon is another way to help firms scale-up. Over the past few years, the Government has worked on improving access to private capital for start-ups and SMEs. The pool of private equity and venture capital managers in Singapore has grown.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has simplified the regulatory regime for venture capital managers, and launched a US$5 billion private markets programme to encourage global private equity players to deepen their presence here.
To further deepen the pool of smart, patient capital:
The Government has, since 2010, set aside $400 million through two rounds of fund injections for the Co-Investment Programme (CIP) to invest in our SMEs, alongside the private sector. So far, the Government's investments have catalysed approximately $1.3 billion of additional funding for our SMEs.
This year, I will set aside an additional $100 million to establish the SME Co-Investment Fund III. As part of the CIP, it will catalyse investment in Singapore-based SMEs that are ready to scale up. We expect that this will bring in at least $200 million of additional funding.
Loan financing remains an important source of funding for SMEs. Our banks have been responding. To catalyse these further, we will enhance the accessibility of loans.
Today, our economic agencies have different financing schemes. To make it simpler for companies, we will streamline the existing financing schemes offered by Enterprise Singapore into a single Enterprise Financing Scheme that will cover trade, working capital, fixed assets, venture debt, mergers and acquisitions, and project financing. This will be launched in October this year.
In addition, the Enterprise Financing Scheme will provide stronger support for companies that have been incorporated for less than five years. The Government will take on up to 70 per cent of the risk for bank loans to these young companies, compared to the current 50 per cent under most existing loan schemes.
HELP FOR SMES TO GO DIGITAL
To support viable SMEs in their day-to-day operations, I will extend the SME Working Capital Loan scheme for about two more years, till March 2021. Since its launch in June 2016, the scheme has catalysed more than $2.5 billion of loans. We expect the extension to catalyse a further $1.8 billion. Support for working capital will be folded under the Enterprise Financing Scheme from October.
Our companies and workers must stay on top of rapid advances in technology, especially in digital technology. We will continue to help our SMEs adopt digital technologies:
We launched the SMEs Go Digital programme in Budget 2017. Since then, around 4,000 SMEs have adopted pre-approved digital solutions.
We will expand the SMEs Go Digital programme.
First, Accountancy, Sea Transport, and Construction will also get their own industry digital plans, with more sectors to be added later. These will guide SMEs on relevant digital technologies and skills training programmes.
Second, we will expand the number and range of cost-effective, pre-approved digital solutions that will be supported under SMEs Go Digital, to boost technology adoption among SMEs.
MAS and the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) will also jointly pilot a cross-border innovation platform for SMEs, known as the Business sans Borders, with an artificial intelligence-enabled marketplace to help our SMEs match with buyers and vendors globally.
To help companies in the services sector capture opportunities from digitalisation, the Ministry of Communications and Information launched a pilot of the Digital Services Lab (DSL) in November last year. The DSL brings together industry and the research community, to co-develop digital solutions with sector-wide impact. For example, the DSL is exploring the development of solutions to integrate the logistics chain for retail in malls.
Besides digital technology, we will support our firms to integrate technologies and re-engineer business processes to raise efficiency and enhance product development.
Last year, I announced the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG), to help firms adopt off-the-shelf technology. This year, we will extend the Automation Support Package (ASP) by two years.
Introduced in Budget 2016, the ASP supports firms to deploy impactful, large-scale automation, such as robotics, Internet of Things solutions, and other Industry 4.0 technologies.
Since its launch, the ASP has helped more than 300 companies to automate their operations and raise productivity. We will extend the ASP to encourage more companies to do so.
In the same spirit, our government agencies must also embrace technology to serve companies better. We have made progress in this area.
• The Business Grants Portal, launched in 2017, provides a one-stop shop for businesses to identify and apply for the right grant for their plans.
• To make it easier for businesses to transact with the Government, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and relevant agencies are developing a one-stop portal, with a pilot to be launched for the food services sector by 3Q 2019. Businesses will deal with only one point of contact, instead of up to 14 different ones.
• BCA and HDB are also testing the use of drones to inspect building facades more effectively.
• Learning from these pilots, government agencies will continue to innovate, and improve the ease of doing business.
Let me now touch on other ways to help build deep enterprise capabilities.
We have more than 200,000 enterprises in Singapore, ranging from large MNCs to our neighbourhood shops.
Today, across each of the four pillars of our ITMs, different agencies provide support in each area. While helpful, companies have given feedback that we could streamline these. I agree.
To better support this broad base of companies with diverse needs, we will draw resources from each agency, but focus support in an enterprise-centric way to better help enterprises at each stage of growth. This will be done in a tiered manner.
• Firms with large and complex needs or with strong growth potential will be provided a range of customised support by the Economic Development Board (EDB), Enterprise Singapore, and other agencies.
• The large numbers of SMEs facing common challenges will be supported through scalable solutions that are easy to adopt.
For instance: I recently visited Precursor Assurance, a local accounting firm. Precursor has developed an integrated digital solution with modules for corporate functions, such as HR, customer relationship management, and finance.
SMEs can simply plug and play, and scale up the use of these modules when they expand.
For medium-sized companies that are seeking to grow, we will provide targeted support, in each of the different industry clusters, to better address their needs as they grow.
HELPING SINGAPOREANS SEIZE OPPORTUNITIES
I have touched on the measures to support our enterprises to build deep capabilities so that they can succeed in the global competition. But our ultimate goal is to enable our people to continue to have good jobs and opportunities, and to be at their best. Hence, the second thrust of our economic transformation in this Budget is to deepen the capabilities of our workers.
We want our people to have the skills, knowledge, and attitude to adapt and thrive in this competitive and technology-intensive environment.
On the part of the Government, we will continue to invest in our people across all stages of their lives, from pre-school to work.
Over the years, we have instituted a range of support measures for workers, including the Workfare Income Supplement, Special Employment Credit, and Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs), to name a few.
With the national SkillsFuture movement and the Adapt and Grow initiatives, we have made a stronger push to enable our people to reach their fullest potential throughout life, and help Singaporeans affected by restructuring.
Our investments in supporting our people in their careers, including Adapt and Grow initiatives and continuing education and training, reached more than $1.1 billion in FY2017.
The percentage of residents in the labour force who participated in training grew from 35 per cent in 2015, to 48 per cent in 2018.
From 2016 to 2018, more than 76,000 jobseekers found employment through the Adapt and Grow initiative.
Workers need to embrace upskilling and reskilling, and make the most of new opportunities both locally and overseas.
In 2015, we launched the Career Support Programme to provide wage support for employers to hire eligible Singaporeans who are mature and retrenched, or are in long-term unemployment. We will extend this programme for two years.
We must also ensure that the benefits of enterprise transformation are passed on to our workers. Starting from April 1, 2020, all transformation efforts supported by Enterprise Singapore's Enterprise Development Grant must include positive outcomes for workers, such as wage increases.
Although some firms have done well to deploy their staff efficiently, productivity growth has been uneven across sectors.
The manufacturing sector, which faces strong global competition, has done well.
In the service sector, while some firms have done well despite a tight labour market, some segments like F&B and retail remain very labour-intensive. Growth in S Pass and Work Permit holders in the service sector has also been picking up pace. The number has risen by about 3 per cent per annum or 34,000 in the last three years. In particular, the S Pass growth in services is the highest in five years.
If this trend persists, foreign manpower growth may be on an unsustainable path.
We need to act decisively to manage the manpower growth in services, and encourage our companies to revamp work processes, redesign jobs, and reskill our workers.
Our workforce growth is tapering, and if we do not use this narrow window to double down on restructuring, our companies will find it even harder in the future. Relying on more and more foreign workers is not the long-term solution - other economies are developing too.
What we need is to have a sustainable inflow of foreign workers to complement our workforce, while we upgrade our Singaporean workers and build deep enterprise capabilities in these sectors. We must enhance the complementarities of our local and foreign workers.
Based on evidence on the pace of foreign worker inflows, and the progress being made in raising productivity across sectors, we need to calibrate our policies.
The Government recognises the economic headwinds and cost pressures ahead of us. But if we do not take action early, our firms will find it harder to compete in the years ahead, and our workers will be left behind.
After much deliberation, we will adjust the workforce quota for the service sector:
Reduce the service sector Dependency Ratio Ceiling (DRC) in two steps, from 40 per cent to 38 per cent on Jan 1, 2020, and to 35 per cent on Jan 1, 2021.
We will also reduce the service sector S Pass Sub-DRC in two steps, from 15 per cent to 13 per cent on Jan 1, 2020, and to 10 per cent on Jan 1, 2021.
We are announcing these changes about a year ahead, to give companies time to prepare.
For firms whose existing workers are in excess of the new limits, the DRC will apply as and when these firms apply for renewals of permits.
To support firms as they adjust to these changes, we will put in place the following measures, till FY2022.
First, the 70 per cent funding support level for the Enterprise Development Grant was due to lapse after March 31, 2020. I will now extend this enhanced funding support for three more years, up to March 31, 2023.
Second, we will do the same for the Productivity Solutions Grant, and expand its scope to support up to 70 per cent of the out-of-pocket cost for training.
Separately, firms can continue to apply for additional manpower flexibilities in certain cases.
The Lean Enterprise Development Scheme provides support to firms that undertake transformation projects which lead to a more manpower-lean business. Transitional manpower flexibilities can be considered if firms need more resources in the short term to transit to new operating models.
On a case-by-case basis, firms can bring in foreign workers with specialised skills that are in demand globally. This is provided that they still face a shortage after having given fair consideration to Singaporeans.
As the marine shipyard and process sectors have only begun showing early signs of recovery, I will defer the earlier-announced increase in Foreign Worker Levy rates for these sectors for another year.
Let me now touch on the third key thrust to support economic transformation - building deeper partnerships within Singapore, and across the world.
To succeed, companies need to both compete and cooperate - compete to differentiate themselves, and cooperate to solve common challenges.
Our TACs can play an important role in developing industry-wide capabilities. This includes supporting members in getting business advice, and improving access to local and international networks.
TACs have done well in helping our companies build overseas partnerships. For example, the Singapore FinTech Association has forged many partnerships with foreign FinTech associations, and the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) has organised Singapore's commercial participation at numerous overseas trade fairs including the 2018 China International Import Expo.
The Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry has also developed the Trade Association Hub, which now houses 39 TACs, to raise the level of services for members. SBF is also working closely with our TACs.
We will strengthen our support for TACs through the Local Enterprise and Association Development (LEAD) programme. Enterprise Singapore will be developing five-year road maps with TACs that have demonstrated strong leadership and shown ambition to do more for the business community. This will enable them to take on a more strategic and longer-term approach in driving industry transformation.
These TACs will be able to access funding and potentially take in public sector secondees through LEAD.
We will also develop stronger partnerships around the world, at the Government-to-Government and Business-to-Business levels. Our TACs, such as the SBF, have developed international linkages for our businesses.
Over the years, we have negotiated free trade agreements (FTAs) with partner economies, which enlarge our businesses' access to new markets. Just last week, the EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (EUSFTA) and the EU-Singapore Investment Protection Agreement (EUSIPA) received the European Parliament's consent with a clear majority.
To draw greater value from these trade networks, we will streamline and digitise our trade processes further to raise efficiency. This will enable easier access to overseas markets, and help firms make better use of these FTAs.
Last year, I launched the Networked Trade Platform (NTP), to streamline trade processes and provide a one-stop information management system for traders.
We will also be working with partners to facilitate the secure exchange of electronic trade documents, to unlock further productivity gains.
GLOBAL-ASIA NODE OF TECHNOLOGY, INNOVATION AND ENTERPRISE
Over the years, we have forged deep partnerships with the G3 economies of US, Europe and Japan, as well as China, India and Asean. With the centre of economic gravity shifting to Asia, and with the technological depth of partnerships with G3, we should position Singapore as "Asia 101" for global MNCs looking to expand into Asia's growing markets, and as "Global 101" for Asian companies ready to go global.
For our next phase of growth, as we press on with industry transformation, we will continue to build Singapore's position as a Global-Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise. This will open up new opportunities for our firms and our people to ride on the wave of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Our efforts to achieve this will build on the same three key thrusts as laid out for the broader economic transformation. First, investments in research and innovation by our universities, research institutes, and our firms; second, investments in our people; and third, building global partnerships.
First, we will continue to invest in R&D to support the push to make innovation pervasive. We have set aside $19 billion as part of our five-year Research, Innovation, and Enterprise 2020 plan. Our investments in R&D in our universities and research institutes are bearing fruit.
NUS and NTU are ranked the best in Asia in areas such as materials science and chemistry, and among the top 50 globally for engineering and computer science. Many of our researchers are regarded by their peers as among the world's best, especially in areas such as artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and biomedical sciences.
But for R&D to make an impact, our companies must take the lead.
To tap on the demand for high quality food, and to build on our progress, Enterprise Singapore's investment arm, SEEDS Capital, has appointed seven partners to co-invest in Singapore-based agri-food start-ups, to catalyse more than $90 million of investments.
Leading MNCs and our large local companies are also establishing their R&D centres in Singapore, in different areas of technology. We now have 14 corporate laboratories in our universities, doing cutting-edge work from cyber-physical systems to power electronics.
Last year, we opened four corporate labs with major companies - Applied Materials, HP, Wilmar, and Surbana-Jurong - to work on advanced manufacturing, biochemicals and smart cities.
I recently visited LUX Photonics Consortium, which brings together researchers in NTU, NUS, A*Star, and the industry to translate cutting-edge photonics research into practical applications
There, I met Nanoveu, a Singapore start-up specialising in nanotechnology applications. One of its prototype products, a high-tech screen protector, promises to allow long-sighted users to see clear images on digital devices without their glasses. I am sure this House will support the enabling of us to see issues, far or near, with greater clarity!
To keep the momentum going, we will continue to invest in Centres of Innovation at our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) and research institutes, and to support companies in innovation.
The spirit of entrepreneurship is critical for all these endeavours - having a vision of the future, and taking practical actions, day in, day out, to explore a range of possibilities and solve a myriad of problems. It is the grit and determination of our entrepreneurs that make a difference.
Mr Sim Wong Hoo, CEO of Creative Technology, brought us the popular Sound Blaster sound cards in the 1990s.
Creative Technology went through a difficult patch after its initial success with the Sound Blaster, but Mr Sim and his team pressed on. After 20 years of R&D costing US$100 million, the company recently launched the Super X-Fi, a technology that recreates the holographic sound experience - or 3D sound - with headphones. It has already won 14 awards at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in the US.
Mr Sim's story illustrates the point that to succeed, we must learn, we must walk the ground, and we must persist.
Singapore as a Global-Asia node will bring new opportunities for our people, in new frontiers. The second thrust is to prepare and develop our people to make full use of this node. We are partnering firms to invest in our people, including young Singaporeans, to provide them with opportunities to gain working experience abroad.
For students who are currently in IHLs, we will combine the current local and overseas internship programmes into a single Global Ready Talent Programme. It will have enhanced funding support for our students interning overseas with Singapore firms.
The programme will also support high-growth Singapore firms to send Singaporeans with up to three years of working experience, for postings in key markets such as South-east Asia, China, and India.
By giving young Singaporeans overseas exposure, they can develop new skills to better support our firms' overseas expansion.
For instance, Oceanus Group, a local seafood supplier, sent interns from Republic Polytechnic to its operations in China in a range of jobs. One of their former interns, Bernice Chan, is now a management trainee in Oceanus' farm in Fotan, China.
Our third thrust is to build global partnerships, so that our firms and people can forge new areas of collaboration with other innovation centres.
In Budget 2017, we started the Global Innovation Alliance (GIA), one of the Committee on the Future Economy's recommendations. We have now established nine nodes in global start-up hot spots, including Bangkok, Beijing, Berlin, Jakarta, and San Francisco. These GIA nodes give our entrepreneurs and students opportunities to learn and build networks globally.
We are also bringing the global innovation community to come together in Singapore, to explore and collaborate.
Last year, we held the third edition of the Singapore FinTech Festival. This is now the world's largest FinTech event.
As part of this festival, the Global Investor Summit brought together investors on our Meet Asean's Talents and Champions (MATCH) platform. These investors expressed an interest to invest up to US$12 billion in Asean enterprises in fintech, info-communications technology, and MedTech over the next three years.
Another technology event, the Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology (SWITCH) brought together more than 350 exhibitors, and 1,000 promising startups and financiers from 75 countries.
This year, SWITCH and the Singapore FinTech Festival will be held in the same week in mid-November. We can draw in even more entrepreneurs, investors, innovators, from around the world, to explore and collaborate in technology innovation in this Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Our economic transformation is progressing well. We must persist with our industry transformation efforts. At the same time, the pace of technological innovation is rapid, and global economic weight is shifting towards Asia. We will position Singapore as a Global-Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise.
Economic transformation is critical. We expect to spend $4.6 billion over the next three years on the new and enhanced economic capability-building measures in Budget 2019, and to support Singaporean workers. $3.6 billion will go towards helping our workers to thrive amid industry and technological disruptions $1 billion will go towards helping firms build deep enterprise capabilities.
But let me emphasise that supporting companies and supporting workers are mutually reinforcing - stronger companies provide better jobs and pay for workers, and highly skilled workers make companies stronger.
A CARING AND INCLUSIVE SOCIETY
I have spoken about how we invest to secure our home and grow our economy. At the heart of these efforts is the desire to improve the lives of current and future generations of Singaporeans.
We strive to ensure that all Singaporeans, regardless of background, enjoy a quality living environment and have good access to healthcare. And, we provide targeted support to those who are less advantaged, so that they too have a fair chance to succeed; and to those who fall on hard times, so they can bounce back.
Our efforts were affirmed by the World Bank when they ranked Singapore top in the Human Capital Index last year.
We recognise that Singapore, like many advanced economies, will have to deal with issues such as:
• Maintaining social mobility;
• Supporting healthy and purposeful ageing;
And fostering a stronger sense of unity amid polarising forces.
Over the past decade or so, we have significantly increased our social spending.
Social ministry expenditures have doubled from $15 billion in FY2009, to $30 billion in FY2018.
The social measures in Budget 2019 are part of our long-term plan to build a caring and inclusive society. They are driven by three main strategies:
First, uplifting Singaporeans to maximise their potential and providing access to opportunities through their stages of life. We pay particular attention to children from disadvantaged backgrounds, to give them a good start in life. With increasing lifespans, we are also helping older Singaporeans stay in the workforce, so that they can earn and save more for retirement.
Second, providing greater assurance for healthcare.
We will continue to strengthen support for the healthcare needs of Singaporeans. In particular, we want to help our seniors stay active, healthy, and engaged in their silver years.
Third, fostering a community of care and contribution, through strong partnerships.
We strive to nurture an ethos in our society, where we support one another, giving a helping hand where we can.
Those who succeed should help to uplift others, just as they have benefited from the support of others around them.
We invest heavily to provide a world-class education for young Singaporeans. This is to bring out the best in every child, no matter his or her starting point.
Pre-schools support parents in laying a strong foundation for children - by helping to develop children's cognitive, language, social, and emotional skills.
The Government spent about $1 billion on the pre-school sector in 2018. This is more than two and a half times of the $360 million that we spent back in 2012.
And this support continues throughout the schooling years. The Government subsidises over 90 per cent of the total cost of educating our children. This means that a child entering primary school in 2018 will receive over $130,000 in education subsidies by the time he or she completes secondary education.
Children from lower-income families get even more support, for example, through the recently enhanced MOE Financial Assistance Scheme.
We have been doing more to better support children from disadvantaged backgrounds, by intervening earlier, with new forms of proactive and targeted support.
One such effort is KidSTART. KidSTART practitioners, pre-schools, and community partners work together to provide health, learning, and developmental support for children and their families. Since the pilot programme began in 2016, more than 900 families have been supported by KidSTART.
Last year, we set up the Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce (UPLIFT).
This taskforce will pilot upstream interventions and partner communities to help disadvantaged children and their families, to ensure that no child is left behind.
A recent initiative is the UPLIFT scholarship for Independent Schools. This will provide a monetary award of $800 per year for eligible lower-income students in Independent Schools, to cover their out-of-pocket expenses.
The taskforce is also looking at how to strengthen after-school care and support for disadvantaged students in school-based Student Care Centres.
Our support for Singaporeans continues into their working lives. Workfare, together with Silver Support, is a key pillar of our social security system. The two schemes supplement incomes and mitigate inequality in the working and retirement years respectively.
The Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) scheme provides cash payouts and CPF top-ups for workers whose earnings are in the bottom 20 per cent, with some support for those slightly above. The scheme has raised their incomes, encouraged employment, and helped them save more for retirement.
We will enhance WIS to better support lower-wage workers.
From January 2020, the qualifying income cap will be raised from the current $2,000 to $2,300 per month.
The maximum annual payouts will also be increased by up to $400. Older workers will see higher increases in payouts.
For example, workers aged 60 and earning $1,200 a month will now receive $4,000 per year from WIS, or almost 30 per cent of their wages. These enhancements will cost an additional $206 million a year.
In total, we expect the enhanced WIS to cost close to $1 billion a year, and benefit almost 440,000 Singaporeans.
As our society ages, older workers will make up an increasing share of our workforce. Today, about one in four of our workforce is aged 55 and above. They continue to make important contributions to our economy and society.
Some are giving back by mentoring the younger generation, while others wish to continue working.
We are doing more to help older Singaporeans earn more, save more, and have greater peace of mind during their retirement years.
The Government has set up a Tripartite Workgroup to study the concerns of older workers. The Workgroup is reviewing policies such as the retirement and re-employment age, and the CPF contribution rates of older workers. They will present their recommendations later this year.
To support employers in hiring older Singaporean workers, the Government introduced the Special Employment Credit (SEC) scheme in 2011. Since then, we have extended and made changes to the SEC in response to labour market and economic conditions. We have also introduced an Additional SEC (ASEC) scheme, to encourage employers to hire workers who are above the re-employment age.
I am happy that companies have responded by hiring older workers, tapping on their experiences, and supporting them in upgrading their skills. With a tighter labour market, and more Singaporeans choosing to work longer, more companies will be hiring older workers.
The Government will study better forms of support to continue to help workers to remain productive, earn more, and save more for retirement.
We will review the relevance and structure of the SEC and ASEC, in tandem with the recommendations from the Tripartite Workgroup on Older Workers. In the meantime, I will extend the SEC and ASEC for another year, until Dec 31, 2020. To support this extension, I will top up the SEC Fund by $366 million.
As more Singaporeans enter their senior years, healthcare needs will grow.
Over the years, we have implemented major changes to make healthcare more affordable, accessible, and comprehensive.
We have also been providing greater social support within the community to help seniors stay active, through programmes such as the PA Wellness Programme and the Community Networks for Seniors.
Our second social strategy is to provide greater healthcare assurance.
First, doctors at our neighbourhood clinics provide primary care that is easily accessible.
This helps us stay healthy. To enhance access, we will make it more affordable to consult doctors in our neighbourhoods. We introduced the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) in 2012.
CHAS subsidies help lower-to middle-income families by making primary care and basic dental care at clinics near their homes more affordable.
Over 97 per cent of existing CHAS and Pioneer Generation cardholders have access to more than one CHAS clinic within 10 minutes from their homes.
We will enhance CHAS subsidies at GP clinics in three ways:
i. we will extend CHAS to cover all Singaporeans for chronic conditions, regardless of income.
ii. Second, lower-to middle-income Singaporeans who are CHAS Orange cardholders currently receive CHAS subsidies for chronic conditions only. We will extend subsidies for common illnesses to this group.
iii. Third, we will also increase the subsidies for complex chronic conditions.
CHAS makes it possible for more Singaporeans to turn to GP clinics near their homes to manage their chronic conditions.
But we must also put in the measures to ensure that CHAS clinics are delivering good outcomes.
To this end, the Ministry of Health (MOH) will be looking at how to help CHAS clinics better track their patients' progress and outcomes. In a similar vein, MOH will also review its clinical guidelines for care provided at CHAS dental clinics, to ensure that the care delivered is appropriate to the needs of the patient.
With these changes, we expect to pay out more than $200 million a year in CHAS subsidies.
Second, we will strengthen financial protection for long-term care.
As we age, the chances of having one form of disability or another rises significantly. MOH estimates that one in two healthy Singaporeans aged 65 could become severely disabled in their lifetime, and may need long-term care.
Some of us face a higher risk, some lower. But regardless, low risk does not mean no risk. The best way of protecting ourselves is to lead a healthy lifestyle, and take preventive actions.
At the same time, we need to guard against unpredictable events. The most efficient way is to help one another, by pooling risk through an insurance scheme.
Today, we have MediShield Life, for all Singaporeans, to provide financial protection against large hospital bills, for life.
As we live longer, there is a higher chance that we will need long-term care towards the end of our lives. We need to prepare for this. The Ministry of Health has announced that it will be introducing the new CareShield Life from 2020, an enhancement of the current ElderShield scheme.
CareShield Life will provide lifetime coverage, with higher monthly payouts of at least $600 a month for those who become severely disabled. This offsets the costs of long-term care for individuals and their families.
The Government will provide subsidies and premium support to ensure that CareShield Life premiums are affordable.
We will also offer participation incentives for existing cohorts, born in 1979 or earlier, to join CareShield Life, so that they are better protected should they need care in the future.
CareShield Life will offer much greater peace of mind for Singaporeans.
In addition, we will also launch ElderFund next year, to help severely disabled, lower-income Singaporeans who need additional financial support for long-term care. This includes those who might not be able to join CareShield Life, or have low MediSave balances.
The cost of long-term care is not only high, but will also increase as our population ages.
Last year, I earmarked $2 billion for premium subsidies and other forms of support for Singaporeans. This year, I will set aside another $3.1 billion.
The Government will put this $5.1 billion into a new Long-Term Care Support Fund. This will help fund the CareShield Life subsidies and other long-term care support measures, such as ElderFund.
This is a significant commitment to help Singaporeans with their long-term care needs.
MERDEKA GENERATION PACKAGE
As the Prime Minister mentioned at the National Day Rally last year and the Tribute event earlier this month, we would also like to express our appreciation and support for our Merdeka Generation.
The Merdeka Generation is a resilient and independent generation. They played a critical role in our nation's development. The Merdeka Generation was among the earliest batches to serve National Service, build up our public services, and modernise our economy. They came together to forge our multi-cultural, multi-racial society.
The Merdeka Generation Package is a gesture of our nation's gratitude for their contributions and a way to show care for them in their silver years. It will provide them better peace of mind over future healthcare costs, while helping them to stay active and healthy.
The Merdeka Generation Package, or MGP, comprises five key benefits.
First, to support their active lifestyles, all Merdeka Generation (MG) seniors will receive a one-time $100 top-up to their PAssion Silver cards.
• They can use this to pay for activities and facilities at the Community Clubs, entry to public swimming pools, public transport, and more.
• We will also work to introduce more active ageing opportunities for seniors, such as lifelong learning under the National Silver Academy and volunteerism under the Silver Volunteer Fund.
Second, we will provide a MediSave top-up of $200 per year for five years. This will start from this year until 2023.
This will help them save more for their healthcare needs. This is on top of the GST Voucher - MediSave top-ups that eligible seniors aged 65 and above receive every year.
Third, MG seniors will receive additional subsidies for outpatient care, for life.
They will receive special CHAS subsidies, for common illnesses, chronic conditions, and dental procedures. The subsidy rates will be higher than the CHAS Blue subsidies. All MG seniors will receive these enhanced subsidies, regardless of income, including those who do not have a CHAS card today.
At polyclinics and public Specialist Outpatient Clinics, they will receive 25 per cent off their subsidised bills. This is on top of the prevailing subsidies available.
Fourth, MG seniors will have additional MediShield Life premium subsidies, for life.
All MG seniors will receive subsidies for their premiums, starting from 5 per cent of their MediShield Life premiums, and increasing to 10 per cent after they reach 75 years of age.
This is on top of the means-tested subsidies that lower-to middle-income Singaporeans are already receiving.
Finally, we will provide an additional participation incentive of $1,500 for MG seniors who join CareShield Life, when it becomes available for existing cohorts in 2021.
In addition to the $2,500 previously announced, this means that all MG seniors who join CareShield Life will receive participation incentives totalling $4,000 each. This will cover a significant portion of their premiums, and is on top of the regular means-tested premium subsidies.
I hope that this will encourage our MG seniors to join CareShield Life, to have peace of mind against the risk of high long-term care costs.
The Merdeka Generation Package will benefit close to 500,000 Singaporeans.
Those born in the 1950s and who obtained citizenship by 1996 will be eligible for the MGP. In addition, we will extend the MGP benefits to those born in 1949 or earlier, but missed out on the Pioneer Generation Package (PGP), if they obtained citizenship by 1996.
All eligible seniors will receive the MGP benefits, regardless of their income.
They will be notified by April 2019, and will receive their Merdeka Generation cards starting from June 2019.
The Merdeka Generation is aged 60 to 69 today. At the same time, Singaporeans' lifespans are increasing - our life expectancy is now 84.8 years. This is good news. It also means the Merdeka Generation will be able to enjoy the benefits for many years.
We estimate that the package will cost over $8 billion, in current dollars, over the Merdeka Generation's lifetimes.
This Budget, I will set aside $6.1 billion for a new Merdeka Generation Fund. With interest accumulated over time, this will cover the full projected costs of the Merdeka Generation Package.
This is a significant commitment by the Government. It is important that the Government of the day continues to monitor the patterns and cost of healthcare utilisation, and life expectancy over the next 30 years or more, so that the Government is able to meet this commitment.
To better prepare for increasing lifespans, we should encourage everyone to set aside something for the future.
To help Singaporeans who are younger than the Merdeka Generation with their future healthcare expenses, I will provide a MediSave top-up of $100 a year, for the next five years, for Singaporeans who are:
a. Aged 50 and above in 2019;
b. And who do not receive the MGP or the PGP.
This is a generation who are even younger and healthier, and I hope that everyone will make the extra effort to stay active and healthy.
Our third social strategy is to foster a community of care and contribution, and build strong partnerships in our society.
The Government will continue to make every effort to care for our seniors, the disadvantaged, and vulnerable families.
The ComCare Long-Term Assistance scheme provides basic monthly cash assistance to those who are permanently unable to work and have little family support, to support their living expenses. Additional assistance is provided for households with additional needs, such as medical supplies.
We will raise the cash assistance rates for this scheme. For example, a two-person household, where both are on ComCare Long-Term Assistance, will receive an additional $130 a month. This brings the total cash assistance to $1,000 a month.
To help government pensioners who draw lower pensions, we will increase the Singapore Allowance and monthly pension ceiling by $20 per month each, to $320 and $1,250 respectively. This will benefit about 9,300 pensioners.
COMMEMORATING OUR BICENTENNIAL
The spirit of giving back has a special meaning this year, as we commemorate the Singapore Bicentennial.
Therefore, I will launch two special initiatives in support of this.
First, I will set aside $200 million for a Bicentennial Community Fund.
Today, we encourage individuals and corporates to give back to the community in various ways.
Donations to Institutions of a Public Character (IPCs) qualify for a 250 per cent tax deduction.
Businesses also enjoy a 250 per cent tax deduction on qualifying expenditure when their employees volunteer or provide services to IPCs, under the Business and IPC Partnership Scheme.
The new Bicentennial Community Fund will provide dollar-for-dollar matching for donations made to IPCs in FY2019.
With this, we hope to further encourage more Singaporeans, including younger Singaporeans, to embrace the spirit of giving back.
At the same time, we are encouraging IPCs to reach out to more donors. The fund will be designed to ensure a good distribution of support for all donations to IPCs which do not currently receive government matching, and to increase the impact of the good work they are doing.
We have also enhanced our one-stop platform, Giving.sg, to better match donors and volunteers with meaningful causes.
This platform provides charities with an easy and secure way to establish an online presence, and receive donations digitally.
Donors, too, can quickly navigate and find a worthy cause that matches their passion and commitment, and start on their giving journey.
Second, I will introduce a $1.1 billion Bicentennial Bonus.
From time to time, when our finances allow, we share the surpluses with Singaporeans, and provide more help to those with specific needs.
With this Bonus, I hope that all Singaporeans, young and old, will join us to commemorate this significant moment in Singapore's history.
The Bicentennial Bonus has several components:
For lower-income Singaporeans, I will provide additional help with their daily living expenses. I will provide up to $300 through a GST Voucher - Cash (Bicentennial Payment). This will benefit 1.4 million Singaporeans.
In addition, lower-income workers who received WIS payments will get a Workfare Bicentennial Bonus. They will receive an additional 10 per cent of their WIS payment for work done in 2018, with a minimum payment of $100. This will be given in cash.
I will provide a 50 per cent Personal Income Tax Rebate, subject to a cap of $200, for the Year of Assessment 2019. I have set the cap at $200 so that the benefits go mostly to middle-income earners.
For parents with school-going children, we will provide additional support for their children's education.
Each year, the Government contributes to the Edusave accounts of all Singaporean students at primary and secondary school levels. This helps to pay for school enrichment activities, to better develop students holistically.
This year, we will provide a $150 top-up to their Edusave accounts. This is on top of the annual Edusave contributions that they already receive from the Government.
In addition, Singaporeans aged 17 to 20 will receive up to $500 in their PostSecondary Education Accounts (PSEA). This will go towards helping parents to save for their children's tertiary education.
We will also provide additional support for older Singaporeans, who are near retirement. I will provide a CPF top-up of up to $1,000 for eligible Singaporeans aged 50 to 64 years old in 2019, who have less than $60,000 of retirement savings in their CPF accounts. This will be credited into the Special Account for members aged 50 to 54, and the Retirement Account for members aged 55 to 64.
About 300,000 Singaporeans will benefit from this CPF top-up.
The majority of these recipients will be women. Many of them left the workforce early, and took up important roles as mothers, caregivers, or housewives. As a result, they had fewer years to build up their savings. This top-up is a way to recognise their contributions and to help them save more.
In addition to the CPF top-up, Singaporeans in the age group of 50 to 64 who qualify for Workfare will also benefit from the WIS enhancements.
Most of those in the 60 to 64 age group will also receive the Merdeka Generation Package, while the rest will receive the five-year MediSave top-ups. These are all on top of the targeted benefits such as the GST Voucher.
Together, we hope that these measures will provide greater peace of mind for our older workers now and later in their silver years.
In addition to the special Bicentennial initiatives, we will provide another year of Service and Conservancy Charges (S&CC) Rebate to HDB households.
Eligible Singaporean households will receive S&CC rebates of between one and a half, and three and a half (1.5 to 3.5) months. This will cost $132 million and benefit about 930,000 households.
Finally, I will top up the Public Transport Fund by $10 million, to continue helping commuters in need with their transport expenses, such as through Public Transport Vouchers for lower-income families.
The Government keeps a close watch on the cost of living.
Over the years, we have done much to alleviate cost pressures - whether in healthcare, education, or day-to-day expenses. Good macro-economic management has enabled us to keep inflation low, while the Singapore dollar has been strengthening over time. Over and above these favourable conditions, this Budget continues to provide significant support for Singaporeans, especially our seniors and lower-income households.
Budget 2019 supports the Government's long-term strategy to build a caring and inclusive society. This is our continued effort to improve the lives of our people and our future generations.
A GLOBAL CITY AND HOME FOR ALL
Infrastructure takes time to build, but once built, can serve us for a long time. We must take a long view for our development plans. The upcoming URA Master Plan 2019 will guide our urban development over a 10-to 15-year time frame.
As our home, and a global node, our city has to be well-connected within and with the world.
Within Singapore, we now have about 230km of MRT lines. This will rise to about 360km in the 2030s when major MRT projects such as the Cross Island Line are completed.
To enhance our global connectivity, we are increasing the capacities of our airport and sea port. This will strengthen our role as a key node within Asia and to the world.
ENSURING A SUSTAINABLE ENVIRONMENT FOR ALL
Beyond the next decade, we must also plan for climate change. Climate change and rising sea levels threaten our very existence. As a low-lying island nation, there is nowhere to hide when sea levels rise. Other small island nations like the Maldives are already facing risk of flooding, with severe implications.
The Government is studying the implications carefully and will come up with measures to prepare ourselves adequately. Our Climate Action Plan, which was launched in 2016, sets out the strategy for mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change, especially on our infrastructure.
In line with the Action Plan, low-lying roads near coastal areas have been raised. Changi Airport Terminal 5 will also be built at 5.5 metres above mean sea level. The use of polders and dikes is already being piloted on Pulau Tekong. These will help us to learn how to deal with rising sea levels.
To protect ourselves against climate change and rising sea levels, we will have to invest more. Together with existing infrastructure needs, our total bill for infrastructure will increase significantly.
Tackling climate change requires global cooperation. Singapore is committed to doing our part.
The carbon tax will be applied on this year's emissions. This is an important signal to companies and households to reduce emissions and adopt energy-efficient practices.
As individuals, we too must change our way of life and work towards becoming a zero waste nation, by adopting the 3Rs: reducing consumption, reusing, and recycling. The Zero Waste Masterplan will be launched in the second half of this year.
Among other issues, it will look at better management of food waste, e-waste, and packaging waste including plastics.
We have also taken steps to discourage diesel consumption.
To continue the restructuring of diesel taxes, I will raise the excise duty for diesel by $0.10 per litre, to $0.20 per litre. This takes immediate effect.
At the same time, I will permanently reduce the annual Special Tax on diesel taxis by $850. I strongly urge taxi companies to pass on the savings to their drivers, like they did in 2017 - this will on average reduce the impact of the duty increase by more than three-quarters for taxis. I will also permanently reduce the Special Tax on diesel cars by $100. This will on average reduce the impact by more than half.
To help businesses adjust, I will provide a 100 per cent road tax rebate for one year, and partial road tax rebate for another two years, for commercial diesel vehicles. I will also provide, over three years, additional cash rebates of up to $3,200 for diesel buses ferrying school children.
A FISCALLY SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
Singapore's ability to plan for the long term is our strategic advantage.
But our best-laid plans to develop our people and transform our city can only be realised with a sound fiscal plan.
Our fiscal discipline and prudence gave us the resources to respond decisively to unexpected challenges, such as the 2008 global financial crisis. We must not take this for granted.
While our nation's needs are growing significantly, we must continue to take a disciplined and prudent approach.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 19, 2019, with the headline 'Taking Singapore forward in a fast-changing world'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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