SINGAPORE: President Halimah Yacob has given her in-principle support for Singapore to draw on its past reserves to fund a fourth support package in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
More measures will be announced on Tuesday when Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat delivers his ministerial statement in Parliament.
Called the Fortitude Budget, jobs will be a key part of the support package, said Mr Heng on Monday (May 25), adding that there also will be more support for social sector agencies.
It would be the fourth Budget within two months into the new financial year, and the second time past reserves are tapped for the Government’s COVID-19 response.
In a Facebook post on Monday, Mdm Halimah said Mr Heng and his team of ministers had briefed her and the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) last week on the fourth support package.
"Having deliberated and considered the recommendation of the CPA, I am satisfied that the fourth support package is necessary to ensure a safe transition to this new normal for Singapore. I have therefore given my in-principle support for the proposed measures to draw on the Government’s past reserves," she said.
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Calling it an unprecedented crisis, Mdm Halimah said the economy will take "a while" to recover amid "significant uncertainties" in the global economy.
"We have to be realistic about the pace at which countries around the world make adjustments to the way trade and business are conducted. In the meantime, our Government has to help buffer businesses and people from the challenges, and save jobs," she said.
"It is critical that we reopen safely, so economic activities will remain slow even as we try to restart them."
HELPING WORKERS, SOCIAL SECTOR AGENCIES
Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, had previously announced support measures to help tide businesses, workers and households through the COVID-19 outbreak. Apart from the annual Budget speech in February, there was the Resilience Budget in March and the Solidarity Budget in April.
In the Fortitude Budget, jobs will be a key part of the measures, said Mr Heng.
He noted that while the Jobs Support Scheme has helped many employers retain their workers, a number have lost their jobs and some are worried that they might be retrenched.
"Those in your 40s and 50s are more anxious. We will help you turn anxiety into action. We will support those in their jobs to learn and upskill. We will create new jobs for those who are seeking employment," he said in a Facebook post on Monday.
"We are also creating traineeships and other opportunities for those completing their post-secondary education this year."
Social sector agencies will also get additional support from the Government so that they can continue to help the vulnerable amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said Mr Heng, adding that all these measures will require a further draw on the reserves.
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"The decision to use our past reserves has not been an easy one - we deliberated long and hard on this. Our past reserves were hard earned, and we have the responsibility of making every dollar count," he said.
"I thank Madam President for her support, together with the Chairman and Members of the Council of Presidential Advisors for deliberating the proposals on short notice."
Elaborating on the theme of fortitude, Mr Heng said "this trait of courage in adversity has come to describe our early generations".
Now, amid the long battle against COVID-19, Singaporeans must emerge stronger like the founding generation did, he said.
"The road ahead will be uncertain, with more ups and downs. Our generation must have courage in adversity, to adapt and to emerge stronger, just like our founding generation. This is why I have named the upcoming budget Fortitude," Mr Heng wrote.
Even as Singapore prepares to ease some restrictions in phases after the end of the "circuit breaker" period, Mdm Halimah warned against complacency.
"The war against COVID-19 is far from over. As we prepare to transit in phases after the circuit breaker, we must not let our guard down. Many of the good practices like good personal hygiene must remain our way of life," she said.
"The fight against COVID-19 will be a long-drawn one. But I believe with tenacity and the support for one another, we can emerge stronger in this new world."