SINGAPORE: This year's Budget addresses both Singapore's short-term and long-term needs, said Second Minister for Finance and Education Indranee Rajah on Thursday (Feb 21).
She made the comments on the sidelines of the REACH Budget 2019 dialogue, which was held to engage Singaporeans on key announcements from the Budget 2019 statement.
The dialogue was co-hosted by REACH chairman Sam Tan, who is also Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Social and Family Development.
REACH contributors, PMETs, youths, grassroots, union and business leaders were among those who attended.
READ: Government will help businesses transform, reduce reliance on foreign manpower: Indranee Rajah
Ms Indranee, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, was responding to a survey conducted during the dialogue, which found that 50 per cent of respondents felt that the Budget had addressed only the current needs and not the long-term needs of Singaporeans.
She said that the Government's decisions on where to spend money provide clues on the direction it is taking the country.
In this Budget, spending in areas like skills training and health stood out.
“The money that we put into SkillsFuture is again helping people acquire jobs, taking them forward to the future. The money that we put into healthcare is because people are living longer," Ms Indranee said.
"Take the Merdeka Generation Package, half of them are actually still working and they may not necessarily need specific healthcare support at this point. But we do know that at some point when they get older, it will be something that they are concerned about," she added.
"This Budget has something for everyone and it also has a clear strategic direction. There is focus on defence, a focus on transforming the economy, helping the economy to grow so as to help our business and our workers, a very clear social objective which is to help the elderly," she said.
30% BUDGET ON DEFENCE, SECURITY AND DIPLOMACY NECESSARY
During the hour-long session, questions on almost all aspects of the Budget, such as the Government’s allocation of 30 per cent on defence and security were fielded.
Mr Tan said the amount was necessary for a capable and credible defence force, adding that this would affect how Singapore is viewed on a global stage.
He said: "When people know we have (a) strong security and defence team, when we negotiate Free Trade Agreements, they are willing to do it.
"They know that we are able to defend ourselves, and their economy. Foreign investors want to see stability and security," he added.
Ms Indranee said the Government allocates the amount it thinks is needed for a strong and operationally-ready Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
CONCERNS OVER TIGHTENING OF FOREIGN WORKER QUOTA
Another issue brought up is the tightening of the foreign worker quota for the services sector.
Mr Tan said that as Singapore’s population ages, it needs to consider mature workers and give them the opportunity to upskill themselves.
READ: Budget 2019: Services sector to face ‘challenge’ of tighter foreign worker quota, but adapting firms will benefit
“We hope to be able to give more opportunities to our graduates from ITE (and) polytechnics to be able to get a job. Otherwise, their job will be substituted by foreign workers on the S pass,” Mr Tan said.
Speaking to reporters, Ms Indranee said she understood that some businesses would be concerned about the availability of foreign labour in future.
“It’s not possible to have unlimited foreign labour. But when this Budget was designed, it was designed such that when we did that, we also extended the assistance for businesses - in the form of the Productivity Solutions Grant, and the Enterprise Development Grant," Ms Indranee said.
"Because the idea was if you’re cutting back on foreign labour, look to Singapore workers as your source of labour. To the extent that Singaporeans may not be want to do those jobs, consider how you can restructure your business to use technology and other ways of innovation so that you’re less dependent on labour.”
Ms Indranee also said that as businesses restructure, there will be some areas that are affected, and companies must ask themselves how they can innovate and restructure to allow their businesses to continue despite limited foreign labour.