SINGAPORE: The Government’s social expenditure in areas such as housing, healthcare, education and community development almost tripled from S$12.7 billion in financial year 2006 to S$34 billion in FY2016, revealed Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat on Thu (Mar 2).
“We introduced major schemes to open up multiple pathways to success for all, provide assurance in key areas of need and strengthen social safety nets,” said Mr Heng in his round-up speech after three days of Budget debates.
“In education, we significantly enhanced the quality, affordability and accessibility for all across all levels, from preschool to tertiary. In housing, we increased housing supply and housing subsidies. In healthcare, we enhanced Government subsidies across all care settings,” he described.
“We will continue to refine our social policies and study new ideas and suggestions.”
Mr Heng then emphasised the importance of community, noting. “Even the strongest social safety nets are no substitute for the caring hearts and helpful hands of neighbours.
“The Government will do more by helping to create the right supportive environment to encourage community efforts where everyone plays a part,” he said.
He noted that that the Community Network for Seniors has reached out to more than 15,000 senior citizens or 40 per cent of seniors in the three pilot sites.
Acknowledging a growing spirit of enterprise in the social sector, Mr Heng said: “I hope that over time, there’ll be more enterprising Singaporeans in community organisations that start ground-up initiatives and make significant social impact.
“Last year, we introduced Our Singapore Fund and piloted the Business and IPC (Institution of a Public Character) Partnership scheme to encourage more businesses to organise their employees with volunteers and provide services to IPCs.”
Budget 2017 provides additional funding through the Voluntary Welfare Organisations Charities Capability Fund (VCF) to support such efforts, he said. “By building many overlapping networks of community self-help and Government support, we build a more caring and inclusive society and one resilient to weather change in whatever forms it takes.”
SECURING A BETTER LIVING ENVIRONMENT
Earlier in his speech, Mr Heng addressed the hotly-debated water price increase. Calling water sufficiency a matter of national survival, he reminded the House of how founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew “obsessed” over water since separation from Malaysia.
“Securing a sustainable water supply for Singapore has been an all-consuming pursuit of the Government since independence,” he said.
“Singaporeans have enjoyed uninterrupted and high-quality drinking water through rainy weather and droughts alike. This is not mere good fortune or our birthright. Rather, it is the result of long-term planning, can-do attitude, innovation and sound policy.”
Mr Heng pointed out that over the next five years, national water agency PUB intends to invest S$4 billion in additional water infrastructure. On top of that, the Government is investing in a deep tunnel sewerage system which will be completed in 2025 and cost more than S$4 billion. In the next five years, the Government will spend about S$3 billion on other sewerage network projects and to strengthen the resilience of Singapore’s water supply, he said.
“This expenditure exceeds the amount of revenue from the water conservation tax, which is expected to be about S$1.6 billion over the same period. So in other words, the Government pays for part of the total cost of securing a safe and clean supply of water for our people and businesses.”
Mr Heng also said the carbon tax announced in the Budget would help Singapore continue to provide a favourable business environment for companies. “We will consult widely before implementing the carbon tax. Industry consultations have already begun and public consultations will begin this month,” he added.
On the topic of the diesel duty, he acknowledged that the restructuring will impact some businesses but it remained an "important measure to help improve the health of all Singaporeans”.
“The first-year 100 per cent road tax rebate will more than offset the diesel duty incurred for the majority of commercial vehicles,” Mr Heng explained. “There will also be partial road tax rebates for two more years.
“The reduction of the annual special tax on diesel cars and taxis will also help to cushion the impact on these drivers. I urged taxi companies to pass on a special tax reduction to drivers. I’m glad taxi companies will be doing so in various forms.”
He said the Government was taking such decisive steps in a bid to secure a cleaner and healthier environment. “We want businesses, visitors and Singaporeans from all backgrounds to enjoy a large cityscape to work, live and play in.”