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Highlights: Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat delivers Budget 2019

Highlights: Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat delivers Budget 2019

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat arrives at Parliament House to deliver the Budget 2019 statement on Feb 18, 2019. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat delivered the Budget 2019 statement in Parliament on Monday afternoon (Feb 18).

Mr Heng announced the key benefits that the Merdeka Generation will get, including MediSave top-ups and other healthcare benefits. The seniors born in the 1950s will also get a S$100 top-up for their PAssion Silver cards.

Eligible Singaporeans will also get up to S$300 as part of a Bicentennial Bonus, as well as a personal income tax rebate. Here's what you need to know about the bonus.

The finance minister also announced a tightening of the foreign worker quota for the services sector among other initiatives for businesses and workers.

The tax system will be made more progressive and resilient, he said.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the highlights of #SGBudget2019 or go to's Budget 2019 site for all the latest stories.

5.37pm: The Budget speech has ended

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat gives a thumbs up as he leaves Parliament House after Budget 2019 on Feb 18, 2019. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

Mr Heng concludes: "Budget 2019 lays out this Government's approach to build a strong, united Singapore. We nurture our young, take care of our seniors, expand opportunities for our people to be at their best, and to live in a liveable, endearing home, secure and globally connected."

From the Merdeka Generation Package to the Bicentennial Bonus, here are the main takeaways from this year's Budget.

For a brief recap of the key points, read the 7 things you need to know about the Budget.

Catch up on all the coverage at Channelnewsasia's Budget 2019 site.

5.33pm: FY2019 Budget remains expansionary

A basic deficit of S$7.1 billion is expected in the coming financial year. On the whole, a deficit of S$3.5 billion or 0.7 per cent of GDP, is predicted.

Singapore has sufficient fiscal surplus accumulated over this term of Government to fund the overall deficit in FY2019. This is no draw on past reserves, says Mr Heng.

5.32pm: FY2018 Budget position

For FY2018, the Government expects an overall budget surplus of S$2.1 billion or 0.4 per cent of GDP. This is S$2.7 billion more than the S$0.6 billion deficit forecast a year ago.

When Government top-ups to funds and Net Investment Returns Contribution from past reserves are excluded, a basic deficit of S$7 billion or 1.4 per cent of GDP is expected.

"FY2018 was hence an expansionary Budget," he says.

5.30pm: Grandparent Caregiver Relief

(Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

Mr Heng says there will be other tax amendments, such as a change to the Grandparent Caregiver Relief.

The age limit of 12 years and below will be removed for the relief. This is to provide greater support for working mothers with handicapped and dependent children.

Read more here

5.28pm: Reduced duty-free concession 

From Apr 1, the alcohol duty-free concession for travellers will be lowered from 3 litres to 2 litres. The maximum allowance for spirits remains at 1 litre.

Read more here

5.28pm: Less GST import relief for travellers

With the rise in international travel, the GST import relief will be reduced, says Mr Heng.

For those who spend less than 48 hours outside Singapore, the value of goods bought overseas that can enjoy GST relief will be reduced to S$100 from S$150.

For travellers who spend more than 48 hours abroad, the relief quantum will be lowered to S$500 from S$600. This will take effect from Tuesday (Feb 19).

Read more here

5.22pm: New tax on diesel fuel

The excise duty for diesel will be doubled from $0.10 per litre to $0.20.

An annual special tax on diesel cars and taxis will be permanently reduced by S$100 and S$850, respectively.

"I strongly urge taxi companies to pass on the savings to their drivers like they did in 2017," says Mr Heng.

Read more here

5.18pm: Adapting to climate change

A turtle hatchling crawling into the sea. (Photo: NParks)

Mr Heng says that the Government is studying the implications of climate change and will come up with measures to prepare the country.

Some measures include:

  • Raising low-lying coastal roads; Changi Airport Terminal 5 will be built at 5.5m above mean sea level
  • Use of polders and dikes are being piloted on Pulau Tekong to help learn how to deal with rising sea levels
  • The carbon tax will be applied on this year's emissions
  • The Zero Waste Masterplan will be launched later this year. More details will be announced by the Environment and Water Resources Minister at the Committee of Supply debates.

5.12pm: Another year of S&CC rebates, Public Transport Fund top-up

Singaporean households who are eligible will get between 1.5 and 3.5 months of rebates for their Service and Conservancy Charges (S&CC). This is similar to last year's rebates.

This will benefit about 930,000 households. There were no new announcements on U-Save rebates for utilities bills, unlike last year.

Mr Heng says the Public Transport Fund for commuters who need help with transport expenses will be topped up with S$10 million.

5.10pm: Bicentennial Bonus - Up to S$1,000 in CPF top-ups for older Singaporeans 

There will be S$300 to S$1,000 in CPF top-ups for Singaporeans aged 50 to 64 with lower CPF balances.

Those aged 50 to 54 with up to S$30,000 in their accounts will get S$500. If they have more than S$30,000 but less than S$60,000, they get S$300.

The amount is double – S$1,000 and S$600 – for those aged 55 to 64.

The majority of recipients will be women, many of them mothers, caregivers or housewives, says Mr Heng.

Read more here

5.10pm: Mr Heng announces a Bicentennial Bonus

"I hope that all Singaporeans, young and old, will join us to commemorate this significant moment in Singapore's history," says Mr Heng.

It includes: 

  • Up to S$300 in GST vouchers in cash for 1.4 million Singaporeans
  • Workfare Bicentennial Bonus – 10 per cent of WIS payouts in cash, with a minimum payout of S$100
  • 50 per cent rebate for taxpayers, capped at S$200 for Year of Assessment 2019
  • S$150 Edusave top-ups for primary and secondary school students
  • Singaporeans aged 17 to 20 will receive up to S$500 in their Post-Secondary Education Accounts
  • CPF top-ups for Singaporeans aged 50 to 64

Read more here

5.06pm: Bicentennial Community Fund

S$200 million will be set aside for this fund to provide dollar-for-dollar matching donations made to Institutions of a Public Character in FY2019.

"With this, we hope to further encourage more Singaporeans, including younger Singaporeans, to embrace the spirit of giving back," Mr Heng says

5.01pm: More help for lower-income families, pensioners
Cash assistance rates under the ComCare Long-Term Assistance scheme will be raised. For example, a two-person household will receive an additional S$130 a month, bringing the total cash assistance to S$1,000 a month.

The Singapore Allowance and monthly pension ceiling will increase by S$20 per month each, to S$320 and S$1,250 respectively. This benefits about 9,300 pensioners.

5.00pm: Medisave top-ups for those above 50

Those above 50 years old who do not receive Merdeka or Pioneer Generation benefits also get a Medisave top-up of S$100 a year, for five years. 

4.59pm: Merdeka Generation Package to cost S$8 billion 

S$6.1 billion will be set aside for a new Merdeka Generation Fund. With accumulated interest over time, this will cover the projected costs of S$8 billion for the package.

Read more here

4.58pm: Merdeka Generation Package to benefit close to 500,000 Singaporeans

(Photo: Christy Yip)

Those eligible include those born in the 1950s and who obtained citizenship by 1996. They are aged 60 to 69 today. 

In addition, those born in 1949 or earlier but missed out on the Pioneer Generation Package will also be eligible, if they became citizens by 1996.

They will be notified by April this year and will receive Merdeka Generation cards starting from June.

Read more here

4.55pm: Merdeka Generation Package: CareShield Life incentives
There will be a participation incentive of S$1,500 for joining CareShield Life, a disability insurance.

Together with S$2,500 incentive announced earlier, Merdeka Generation seniors get S$4,000 if they join CareShield Life.

Read more here

4.54pm: Merdeka Generation Package: MediShield Life premium subsidies
Mr Heng announces an additional 5 per cent off annual MediShield Life premiums for those aged 60 to 75, and 10 per cent off for those above 76 years old.

This means a discount of between S$31.50 to S$918, depending on the premium amount.

Read more here

4.54pm: Merdeka Generation Package: Subsidies for outpatient care
Merdeka Generation seniors will receive special subsidies at CHAS GP and dental clinics - this is regardless of income, including for those who do not have CHAS cards.

They will get an additional 25 per cent off bills at polyclinics and public specialist outpatient clinics.

Read more here

4.53pm: Merdeka Generation Package: MediSave top-ups

Mr Heng announces a MediSave top-up of S$200 a year from 2019 to 2023. This is on top of the GST Voucher which they are eligible for.

Read more here

4.52pm: Merdeka Generation Package: PAssion Silver Card top-up
There will be a one-off S$100 top-up to PAssion Silver cards. They can use this to pay for activities and facilities at Community Clubs, public swimming pools, public transport and more.

Read more here

4.52pm: Merdeka Generation Package

Mr Heng says that the Government wants to express its appreciation and support for the Merdeka Generation, who were born in the 1950s.

"The Merdeka Generation was among the earliest batches to serve National Service, build up our public services and modernise our economy," he says.

The Merdeka Generation Package will have five key benefits. It will provide them with better peace of mind over healthcare costs, and help them keep active and healthy, says Mr Heng.

Read more here

4.49pm: Rising healthcare spending

The Economist Intelligence Unit ranks Singapore 2nd in the world for healthcare outcomes. (Photo: SGH) File photo of a hospital ward in Singapore. (Photo: SGH)

Last year, S$2 billion was earmarked for premium subsidies and other forms of support for Singaporeans.

This year, another S$3.1 billion will be added. The S$5.1 billion will be put into a new Long-Term Care Support Fund.

This will help fund CareShield Life subsidies and ElderFund.

4.45pm: Enhanced Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS)

These measures were already announced during the National Day Rally last year:

  • CHAS will now cover all Singaporeans for chronic conditions, regardless of income
  • Subsidies will be expanded for those with CHAS orange cards, for lower and middle-income Singaporeans
  • Subsidies for complex chronic conditions will increase

4.42pm: Workfare enhancements

Income supplements for lower-wage workers will be boosted:

  • The qualifying wage cap raised from S$2,000 to S$2,300 per month, to start from January 2020
  • Maximum payouts per year increased by up to S$400, more for older workers
  • The enhanced scheme is expected to cost close to S$1 billion a year and benefit almost 440,000 Singaporeans

The Government will also extend wage support schemes for older workers for another year. These include the Special Employment Credit (SEC) and the Additional SEC.

4.38pm: Uplifting every Singaporean: Education
Last year, the Government set up the Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce (UPLIFT).

The task force will look at ways to help disadvantaged children and their families "to ensure that no child is left behind". It is also looking at how to strengthen after-school care and support for disadvantaged students.

The Education Minister will speak more about this at the ministry's COS debate.

4.35pm: Social ministry spending doubles in last decade

Singapore has increased social spending From S$15 billion in FY2009 to S$30 billion in FY2018. 

"The social measures in Budget 2019 are part of our long-term plan to build a caring and inclusive society," the Finance Minister says.

There are three main strategies:

  • Uplifting Singaporeans to maximise their potential
  • Providing greater assurance for healthcare
  • Fostering a community of care and contribution

4.30pm: S$4.6 billion for firms and workers

Singapore expects to spend S$4.6 billion over the next three years on economic measures in Budget 2019. Of this, S$3.6 billion will go towards helping workers.

Mr Heng emphasises that supporting companies and workers are "mutually reinforcing".

"Stronger companies provide better jobs and pay for workers, and highly skilled workers make companies stronger," he says.

4.26pm: Global-Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise

"We should position Singapore as 'Asia 101' for global MNCs looking to expand into Asia's growing markets and as 'Global 101' for Asian companies ready to go global," Mr Heng says.

Singapore will continue to invest in research and innovation. It will also prepare and develop its people to make full use of this, to "ride on the wave of the fourth industrial revolution".

Mr Heng announces a new Global Ready Talent Programme and Centres of Innovation for Aquaculture, Energy sectors.

The Global Ready Talent programme will give funding for students interning overseas with Singapore firms, and give them the chance to experience working abroad.

Read more here

4.13pm: Lower foreign worker ratio in services sector

"We need to act decisively to manage the manpower growth in services and encourage companies to revamp work processes, redesign jobs, reskill workers," says Mr Heng. "Relying on more and more foreign workers is not the long-term solution."

The Dependency Ratio Ceiling for the services sector will be lowered from 40 per cent to 38 per cent from Jan 1, 2020, then to 35 per cent from Jan 1, 2021.

The services sector's S Pass worker ratio will also be lowered from 15 per cent to 13 per cent from 2020, then to 10 per cent from 2021.

To support firms, the Enterprise Development Grant and the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) will be extended for three more years, and PSG will be expanded.

Read more here

4.08pm: Programmes to support workers
There will be new Professional Conversion Programmes relating to blockchain, embedded software and pre-fabrication, says Mr Heng.

The Career Support Programme will be extended for another two years: This provides wage support for employers to hire mature, retrenched Singaporeans.

From Apr 1, 2020, all transformation efforts supported by Enterprise Singapore's Enterprise Development Grant must include perks for workers, such as a pay rise.

4.05pm: Second thrust of economic transformation - training workers

File photo of workers in Singapore's manufacturing sector. File photo: Employees at work in Singapore.

The Government will continue to invest in Singaporeans from pre-school to work, says Mr Heng.

The percentage of residents in the labour force who went for training grew from 35 per cent in 2015 to 48 per cent in 2018.

From 2016 to 2018, more than 76,000 job seekers found jobs through the Adapt and Grow initiative.

3.59pm: One-stop shop for firms to deal with Government

One-stop portals will make it easier for companies to transact with government agencies - businesses will have only one point of contact instead of up to 14. 

A pilot for the food services sector will be launched by the third quarter of 2019.

Read more here

3.55pm: Deepen enterprise capabilities: Support for SMEs
Mr Heng announced an additional S$100 million for an SME Co-Investment Fund III. This is in addition to S$400 million set aside since 2010 to invest in SMEs, alongside the private sector.

Existing schemes by Enterprise Singapore will be streamlined into a single Enterprise Financing Scheme. This will be launched in October.

The Government will take on up to 70 per cent of risk for bank loans to young companies (incorporated for less than five years).

The SME Working Capital Loan Scheme will be extended for two more years, until March 2021. It will be folded under the Enterprise Financing Scheme.

Read more here

3.51pm: Deepen enterprise capabilities: Support for start-ups
The start-up ecosystem in Singapore has grown significantly. In 2016, Startup SG was launched, now it's time to scale up and venture into new markets, says Mr Heng.

Enterprise Singapore will launch Scale-up SG programme to work with aspiring, high-growth local firms to innovate, grow and internationalise.

There will also be a pilot Innovation Agents programme - for firms to tap on a pool of experts for advice on opportunities to innovate and commercialise technology.

Read more here

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat delivers the Budget 2019 statement on Feb 19, 2019.

Singapore's economy grew 3.2 per cent in 2018, a slight dip from 2017's 3.9 per cent.

Global growth is expected to moderate this year and uncertainties have increased, Mr Heng warns.

All 23 Industry Transformation Maps announced in Budget 2016 have been launched, he says.

Productivity grew by 3.6 per cent in the past three years, higher than the 1.6 per cent per annum from 2012 to 2015. There was strong performance by outward-oriented sectors such as manufacturing.

3.45pm: Government to spend about 30% of expenditure on defence
"As a people, we must have the psychological and emotional resilience to face crises stoically," says Mr Heng.

National Service has "forged a deep understanding" in Singaporeans that everyone has the duty to defend the nation, he adds.

The Government will continue to invest a significant share of resources - about 30 per cent of total expenditure - in defence, security and diplomacy.

"This spending is significant, but indispensable. We will invest more, if the need arises," he says.

Read more here

3.42pm: Terrorism, cybersecurity threats

File photo of a person typing on a keyboard. (Photo: Reuters/Kacper Pempel)

The terrorism threat remains high, and malicious cyber activities are growing.

The Home Team Science & Technology Agency will be set up by the end of the year. More details will be announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs at the Committee of Supply debates.

Read more here

3.38pm: Strong, united Singapore
Budget 2019 is a strategic plan to allocate resources to build a strong, united Singapore, says Mr Heng. There are five main themes:

  • A safe and secure Singapore
  • A vibrant and innovative economy
  • A caring and inclusive society
  • A global city and home for all
  • A fiscally sustainable future

But Mr Heng cautions that financial resources alone are not enough: "We call on all Singaporeans to partner with the Government, and support one another to succeed in this endeavour."

3.35pm: Four major shifts - one more than in 2018

Protesters wearing yellow vests take part in a demonstration in Marseille, France, Jan 19, 2019. (Photo: Reuters)

Besides a shift in global economic weight towards Asia, rapid technological advancements and changing demographic patterns, Mr Heng highlights a fourth major force that is shaping the future: A decline in support for globalisation.

These four major forces are interacting in complex ways, he says. Trade frictions between the US and China are raising geopolitical uncertainty.

Closer to home, ASEAN has thrived for more than 50 years and working together, the nations can maximise their potential.

But neighbours will have "occasional differences" - such as Singapore's bilateral issues with Malaysia, he says.

3.32pm: Mr Heng starts delivering Budget 2019

Statues of (left to right) Sang Nila Utama, Munshi Abdullah, Tan Tock Seng, Sir Stamford Raffles and Naraina Pillai. (Photo: Singapore Bicentennial Office)

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat starts his speech with reflections on Singapore's bicentennial - the 200th year since Sir Stamford Raffles landed on the island in 1819.

Archaeological finds show that Singapore was a trading emporium with history that stretches back at least 700 years, says Mr Heng.

"In our bicentennial year, let us reflect on the twists and turns in our history, so as to chart a path forward for an even better future for our people."

3.10pm: Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat arrives

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat arrives at Parliament House to deliver the Budget 2019 statement on Feb 18, 2019. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

Mr Heng Swee Keat waves as he arrives at Parliament House to deliver the Budget statement, holding the traditional briefcase.

3.08pm: Tune in soon for live Budget 2019 coverage

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will deliver this year's Budget speech in less than half an hour.

Mediacorp will carry the 2019 Budget statement live on Channel NewsAsia, 938NOW and Toggle.

Get the latest updates here and on Channel NewsAsia’s app, Facebook page and Twitter account.

You can also go to's Budget 2019 site for all the latest stories.

Source: CNA/hm


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