Singapore

President Halimah on why she gave her support for draw on reserves

President Halimah Yacob said yesterday she gave the nod to the Government's request to tap past reserves to deal with the coronavirus pandemic after careful deliberations, describing it as a matter of survival for Singapore.

In a message read out in Parliament by Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin, she said she has given "in-principle support" for the Government to draw up to $17 billion for the supplementary budget, which the House will debate next month.

This was done after "careful deliberations, considering the grave circumstances and highly uncertain outlook", she added.

The sum will help fund a second tranche of support measures, announced by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, to deal with what the President described as an unparalleled and unprecedented crisis.

It follows an initial support package announced in Budget 2020 last month, and seeks to help workers and businesses tide over this period.

The President said the Government had assessed that the additional measures were needed to swiftly stabilise the economy, keep as many workers as possible in their jobs and help businesses survive.

But this $48 billion package would require it to dip into past reserves, built up over years of prudent spending and is meant for rainy days.

"The situation we are heading into looks more like a thunderstorm and not just a drizzle," she said."This downturn is likely to be deeper and last longer than Sars and the 2009 global financial crisis."

Singapore's past reserves are safeguarded by a "two-key system", with the Government and President each holding a key. The Government would thus require the President's consent to draw on these funds.

Drawing on the reserves to fund special Budget measures has happened only once before - during the 2009 global financial crisis, when then President S R Nathan approved a $4.9 billion package to fund support measures.

coronavirus