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Singapore

Budget debate focuses on low income, elderly and small businesses

Members of Parliament focussed on the schemes announced to help the low income, the elderly and small businesses.

SINGAPORE: Parliament on Tuesday kicked off the annual debate on the Budget.

Members of Parliament focussed on the schemes announced to help the low income, the elderly and small businesses.

A total of 25 Members of Parliament spoke on Tuesday.

MPs have described Budget 2012 as "A Budget for the Future" while others called it "A Caring Budget".

Under it, the government will spend about $5.5 billion over the next five years to help the less well-off in Singapore.

Its new initiatives are targeted at the elderly, disabled and lower-income group.

So it was no surprise that in nearly every speech delivered on Tuesday, the plight of two groups of Singaporeans - the elderly and the low-income were addressed.

Zainudin Nordin, GPC Chair for Manpower and MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, said: "I urge the Government to place some emphasis, using the power of whole of Government, to look at how we can improve the lives of this group.

"While I am sure that they appreciate the rebates, vouchers and so on that the government offers from time to time, I think there is a need for a closer examination of where each dollar that a low-wage worker earns goes to."

Sylvia Lim, MP for Aljunied GRC, said: "In this Budget, the Finance Minister course-corrected to ensure that our poor, elderly and disabled are not stuck in isolated pockets of poverty in our island of prosperity. Let us all agree never to allow the formation of a permanent underclass."

MPs said the announced cuts to the proportion of foreign workers companies can hire, would make available job opportunities to locals.

Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts, said: "Single mothers will benefit from these changes, in particular. Since they have to shoulder both work and family responsibilities on their own, many need a workplace that provides flexible work arrangements while bringing home a regular income."

Also welcomed, the government's decision to increase the CPF contributions for older workers from September 1 this year.

MPs say for businesses, there are two concerns from the feedback received. First, in the light of the current economic scenario, they are concerned about the costs of doing business in Singapore, among them land costs. The second aspect is a bigger concern, the tightening of the quotas for the hiring of foreign workers.

Chen Show Mao, MP for Aljunied GRC, suggested that the government have different industry clusters for setting dependency ratio ceilings.

The dependency ratio ceilings specify the maximum proportion of foreign workers that companies can hire.

"One cluster could comprise industries which have high productivity and generate good jobs for Singaporeans, for example, finance, aerospace, biomedical and professional services. For these industries, we may have more stringent foreign manpower policies so that foreign workers complement and not substitute Singaporeans."

Others suggested that more be done for the SMEs to innovate and increase productivity.

Jessica Tan, GPC Chair for Finance and Trade and Industry, and MP for East Coast GRC, said: "What is important however is to ensure that access to these funds and support is simple to ensure that companies that most need them, will be able to access them, enjoy the cost relief and obtain the funds when needed.

"This is where I feel improvements must be made. As it is often said, while the policies and schemes are the right ones, the implementation and execution are important in achieving the intended outcome."

Turning to the costs of doing business in Singapore, land costs were a key concern.

Liang Eng Hwa, MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, said: "If land costs continue to rise at such a rate, our international competitiveness would be eroded even without this round of labour cost increases.

"At the heartlands industrial workshops, where many of the small businesses operate, they are experiencing higher lease renewal costs and sharp rental increases. Just like hawker centres, these industrial workshops offer to businesses no-frills, practical and budgeted workspace to operate. And these businesses in turn offer low costs and small job repairs to residents living at the neighbourhoods."

The House continues debating the Budget on Wednesday.

Source: CNA/de

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