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'Best option' to announce latest COVID-19 measures via broadcast before Parliament opens: Indranee Rajah

'Best option' to announce latest COVID-19 measures via broadcast before Parliament opens: Indranee Rajah

Office workers at Raffles Place during lunch hour on Jun 2, 2020, the day after Singapore exited its "circuit breaker" to stem the spread of COVID-19. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: Broadcasting Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat's statement on the fifth set of COVID-19 Budget measures before Parliament opens was "the best option", said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah on Sunday (Aug 23).

"That gives both MPs and the public enough time to absorb the contents before Parliament sits," she said in a Facebook post.

The comment was made in response to a question brought up to her and her colleagues of why the measures were announced via broadcast rather than delivered in Parliament, said Ms Indranee, who is also Second Minister for Finance and National Development.

She said the broadcast was done to give businesses and workers clarity on the Government's plans as well as to give Members of Parliament (MP) enough time to consider the measures before Parliament opens on Monday.

Adding that "many jobs are at stake if there is no clarity on Government’s plan", she pointed out that some of the earlier Budget measures were about to expire - including the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) that was slated to end in August.

In his ministerial statement last Monday, Mr Heng extended wage subsidies under the JSS for seven months and announced a new initiative to bolster hiring in still-growing sectors. The additional measures amounted to S$8 billion.

READ: Younger and more diverse Parliament faces age-old challenge of tackling job issues amid COVID-19

"MPs CAN AND SHOULD STILL RAISE QUESTIONS"

Ms Indranee also said, even with the broadcast, the new measures would still be subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

"When there are significant Budget measures, the usual practice is to announce them ahead of time. This gives the MPs time to form their views on the plans. It also gives the public time to provide feedback to their MPs and the ministries.  This is then debated in Parliament," she said.

During Parliament's official opening on Monday, MPs will elect the Speaker while President Halimah Yacob will deliver her address on the Government's agenda, giving no opportunity for any ministerial statement, said Ms Indranee.

MPs will then debate the President's Address during the first business sitting on Aug 31.

"If we deliver the ministerial statement on 31 August itself, MPs won’t have enough time to reflect on the measures before the debate.

"Also, with the President’s Address being delivered on 24 August there will be a lot of substantive things for MPs and the public to consider between 24 and 31 August," said Ms Indranee.

"MPs can (and should) still raise questions and express their views on the ministerial statement in Parliament."

READ: Extra stimulus for aerospace, aviation and tourism sectors; Singaporeans to get S$320m worth of local tourism credits

Ms Indranee, who has been appointed Leader of the House, added that the Government will seek Parliament's approval "in the coming months" through a Supplementary Supply Bill, to give effect to the measures announced by Mr Heng.

"So not to worry: The Government remains accountable and all is still fully in accordance with good governance.

"It’s just that we put it out sooner rather than later because it affects people’s welfare and well-being, and we wanted to give enough time for proper scrutiny and deliberation," said Ms Indranee.

She also noted that the latest measures will be financed by reallocating funds from the previous Budgets.

"Because of COVID-19, some of the things we had wanted to do in the earlier Budgets have had to be deferred or reprioritised. We are therefore reallocating some of the money to more urgent needs."

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Source: CNA/jt(ac)

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