SINGAPORE: As part of the second assistance package in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, more than S$1 billion will be set aside for sectors such as aviation and tourism that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.
The bulk of this, amounting to more than S$750 million, will go to two schemes for the aviation sector, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.
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Speaking in Parliament on Thursday (Mar 26), he said COVID-19 was the “single biggest shock” that air hubs and airlines around the world had ever experienced.
Mr Heng, who is also the Finance Minister, described the Changi Air Hub as an “important pillar” of Singapore’s economy, noting it contributes more than 5 per cent of Singapore’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employs about 192,000 people.
“The air hub supports other economic sectors such as tourism, manufacturing and logistics, and anchors aerospace companies like Rolls Royce and Airbus here,” he said.
Singapore’s aviation sector has “significant linkages” to the rest of its economy, he noted.
“If it collapses in a crisis, it will be very hard for the aviation industries to rebuild after the crisis is over, and the recovery of the rest of the economy will be impeded,” he added.
“We must therefore ensure that this temporary shock to our air hub does not become a permanent one.”
Mr Heng noted that Singapore Airlines (SIA) - which announced it was slashing more than 96 per cent of its capacity and grounding most of its planes - had requested a halt to trading on Thursday, adding that he had been informed the national carrier was considering a "corporate action" supported by state investor Temasek Holdings.
Noting that he welcomed the move by Temasek to support SIA, the Deputy Prime Minister said the airline was a "strategic asset" for Singapore.
"Through the Government support for the aviation sector and, if necessary, more direct support measures, we will make sure that SIA is able to come through this in good shape," he said,
"Ultimately this is about preserving the status of our air hub so that it can emerge stronger from this crisis."
ENHANCED JOB SUPPORT SCHEME
Mr Heng said an enhanced jobs support scheme would be introduced to help businesses in the aviation sector retain local workers.
“For every local worker in employment, I will provide a total of 75 per cent wage offset for the first S$4,600 of monthly wages,” he said, noting this will be paid in the same months as the main jobs support scheme pay-outs.
The Deputy Prime Minister said this enhanced scheme would cost the Government more than S$400 million.
Separately, a S$350 million enhanced aviation support package would be introduced to fund measures such as rebates on landing and parking charges, and rental relief for airlines, ground handlers and cargo agents.
“This will also allow Singapore to retain a minimum level of connectivity to the world, even during the pandemic. This is critical to enable overseas Singaporeans to return home and keep our supply lines for essential goods open,” he said.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) also announced it will allow Singapore carriers and the airport operator to defer the payment of certain fees by up to one year, as an additional support measure for the sector.
The deferment will apply to fees due between Apr 1, 2020 and Mar 31, 2021, and follows last month's announcement that CAAS would provide a 50 per cent rebate on certain regulatory fees, which would save Singapore carriers about S$6 million.
Mr Heng also noted that tourism-related industries - including hotels, attractions, travel agents and bus companies - have had a “difficult time” because of COVID-19.
“I will therefore also enhance the jobs support scheme for licensed hotels, travel agencies, tourist attractions, cruise terminals and operators, and purpose-built MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) venue operators, to offset a total of 75 per cent of the first S$4,600 of monthly wages,” he said.
He added that an additional S$90 million would be set aside to help the tourism industry rebound strongly, “when the time is right”.
Mr Heng also announced measures to help other sectors, which usually involve a “high level of human interaction”, that would take a hit from safe distancing measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.
He stated that the jobs support scheme for the food and beverage firms would also be enhanced, with a 50 per cent wage offset for the first S$4,600 of monthly wages.
The point-to-point support package for taxi and private-hire car drivers would also be beefed up, with another S$95 million added on top of the previously announced S$77 million.
Mr Heng also announced the special relief fund of S$300 per vehicle per month for taxi and private-hire drivers, originally intended to expire by end-April, will now be extended to the end of September.
Support will be also provided to taxi and private-hire car operators, he noted.
In a media release by the Land Transport Authority (LTA), the Transport Ministry and SkillsFuture Singapore, it was announced that the Government would provide taxi companies here with up to S$2,200 in relief funds for each unhired taxi.
The firms are "strongly encouraged" to pass on these savings to drivers through measures such as rental reductions, they noted.
And while a regulatory regime for the sector will still come into place in September, licence fees for taxi and ride-hail operators will be waived for an additional six months, a move which will cost the Government S$3 million.
With the slowdown in the sector, those who wish to convert their cars which are currently registered as private-hire vehicles into personal vehicles will be eligible for a one-time waiver of the S$100 conversion fee between May and September this year.
“To help private bus operators, I will provide them with a one-year road tax rebate and a six-month waiver of parking charges at government-managed parking facilities,” said Mr Heng, adding this would cost the Government S$23 million.
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An additional S$55 million would be provided for arts and culture, said Mr Heng, noting this would help save jobs and support upskilling and digitalisation of the sector.
This would go to providing additional support to major companies and leading arts groups, which the Deputy Prime Minister said were “integral to our vibrant arts scene”.
This would help safeguard jobs and retain capabilities in the arts sector, he noted.
Meanwhile, the National Arts Council’s capability development scheme for the arts will be enhanced, to “deepen skills and support the professional development of arts organisations and practitioners”, he said.
Digitalisation efforts for the arts would also be stepped up by “building the sector’s digital capabilities and establishing more digital arts platforms which can reach out to new audiences,” said Mr Heng, adding the Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth would provide more details on these efforts.