Singapore

Heng: Budget will help meet major challenges in future

It also aims to help companies and workers prepare for digital economy: DPM Teo

The upcoming Budget will be pro-Singaporean, pro-business and pro-environment, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday during the River Hongbao celebrations.

Mr Heng, who is due to give his annual Budget statement in Parliament today, was addressing crowds gathered at The Float @ Marina Bay.

"Budget Day is tomorrow. Everyone has been asking me if there will be a hongbao," Mr Heng joked in Mandarin.

But the Budget is actually a comprehensive, strategic plan for Singapore, he added in a more serious tone.

"In the coming 10 to 15 years, we will face some very large challenges, so we need a strategic plan to build a better Singapore," he said.

Ahead of Budget Day, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday also spoke of the need to help companies improve their technology and workforce, and help workers gain skills needed for the "jobs of the future".

He said in Mandarin: "Although everyone hopes for a big red packet, what is more important is how we continue to partner our trade associations and unions to help companies transform and develop new technologies such as in the digital economy.

"We will also help our workers to raise their knowledge and skills needed for the jobs of the future."

Mr Teo, who is also the Coordinating Minister for National Security, said he expects economic growth of 1.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent this year.

He was speaking at the annual spring reception held by the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre (SCCC) and Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA), attended by close to 1,000 guests.

The goal of the SCCC is to nurture and promote the Singapore Chinese culture, and it has attracted more than 100,000 visitors since it opened in May last year.

ENHANCE SOCIAL HARMONY

Mr Chua Thian Poh, president of the SCCC and chairman of the SFCCA, said the new Chinese cultural centre will lead initiatives in the coming year to nurture a "distinctive local Chinese culture and enhance social harmony". These will include an art exhibition and an opportunity for young people to plan community events.

Mr Teo also said in his speech that the Government would continue to help Singaporeans start families, own homes more quickly and take care of senior citizens through social support schemes, including MediShield Life.

With life expectancy rising, healthcare is one area the Government will continue to support, with more resources to help seniors lead more active lifestyles, among others, he said.

"We need to ensure government finances remain sustainable and are able to provide for our future needs," he said.

The Government had indicated earlier that spending on services for seniors will be a "big item'' in this Budget.

This and other "big bills" to pay has meant a need to look at new sources of revenue.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told the PAP Convention last November that raising taxes "is not a question of whether but when".

Analysts have predicted a larger-than-expected Budget surplus for the financial year ending March 31, with United Overseas Bank economist Francis Tan expecting an overall surplus of $3.1 billion, compared with the official initial estimate of $1.91 billion. (See report on Page 12.)

But many also agree on the need to raise revenue.

Nine of 10 economists polled by Reuters expect the goods and services tax to go up for the first time since 2007.

An e-commerce tax is also under study.

The Budget statement will be delivered at 3.30pm today.

BUSINESS & FINANCE