Singapore

MPs begin annual debate on Budget statement today

Fiscal management during coronavirus outbreak, support for workers and the vulnerable among topics to be raised by MPs

Parliament will sit for nine days from today to debate the 2020 Budget amid a climate of economic uncertainty made worse by the coronavirus outbreak.

The Government's planned aid for workers and businesses will thus be among the hot topics of the annual marathon debate.

The first two days will focus on the Budget statement, which sets out the financial priorities and policies for the new financial year that starts on April 1.

About 50 MPs typically speak on the Budget statement. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will respond on Friday. The MPs will then vote on the Budget.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), as chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Finance and Trade and Industry, is expected to speak first.

He told The Straits Times yesterday he will weigh in on the Government's fiscal management amid the current virus outbreak.

"Sectors such as tourism and aviation have been directly affected, but there could also be knock-on effects on the whole economy as China is also affected.

"The crisis is still unfolding, and you don't know how it will go, so saving for a rainy day will benefit us," he said.

He will also speak about how the goods and services tax voucher scheme, which will be enhanced when the tax hike takes place some time between 2022 and 2025, can help to mitigate the impact of the hike.

Workers and businesses will be the focus of the speech by Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC), who chairs the GPC for Manpower.

Among other things, he is calling for training support for vulnerable groups of workers to be expanded.

He is also proposing to reinstate the National Trades Union Congress' (NTUC) Surrogate Employer Programme, which will allow freelancers and workers whose companies could not sponsor their training to get course fee funding and financial support from NTUC.

ELECTRIC VEHICLES

Other key topics MPs said they would discuss, question and seek clarification on include electric vehicles, retirement adequacy and support for the vulnerable.

Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan) said she will raise the issue of retirement adequacy, and in particular, whether help given in this area would be fiscally sustainable for the long term.

Singapore's financial packages for seniors and other vulnerable groups are getting larger, and with long tails - which could become expensive for the state, said Ms Chan.

She hopes to seek clarity on whether this indicates that Singapore is moving towards a welfare-state model, and if alternative means of supporting retirement adequacy can be considered.

Nominated MP Anthea Ong plans to call for more action to improve the affordability, accessibility and quality of mental healthcare.

Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) will talk about improving the quality and efficiency of assistance for the vulnerable and needy to ensure there is better follow-up on cases.

After MPs vote on the Budget, the House will sit as the Committee of Supply to look at the budgets of various ministries.

MPs will give their views on the agencies' programmes and policies, after which the ministers and other office-holders will respond.

This year's sitting is scheduled to end on March 9.

Singapore Politics