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Budget to include measures to cope with coronavirus , and support business , workers , families : Indranee Rajah

06 Feb 2020

By Grace Ho


SINGAPORE - Budget 2020 will be a comprehensive one that helps companies and workers transform, supports families in coping with the cost of living and caregiving needs, and ensures environmental and financial sustainability, Ms Indranee Rajah said.

Given the economic fallout from the coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, measures will also be put in place to help businesses and Singaporeans tide over this difficult period.

"(Singapore has) a sound position and strong fundamentals. We can withstand this, but have to make some adjustments to make sure companies and workers are supported," said the Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Finance on Thursday (Feb 6).

In an interview with Singapore Press Holdings radio station Money FM 89.3, she said the Government had started off the year expecting steady growth. "But the new coronavirus situation will have a global impact, and this is something we have to take into account," she said.

Last Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat said that a relief package is in the works, to help the transport and tourism sectors hardest hit by the epidemic.

But Singapore has been through such a crisis before, and there is room to turn crisis into opportunity, said Ms Indranee, adding that companies can take advantage of the slower pace of activity to build their capabilities.

Recalling measures taken during the Sars period in 2003, she noted the Government had come up with a response package to help hotels and the tourism sector. Six years later during the global financial crisis, it used the slowdown to retrain workers.

Meanwhile, work must continue to not just address present needs, but also to position Singapore for the future, she said.

In this regard, businesses can look forward to targeted support and help with moving into new growth areas, she said.

"Many small and medium-sized enterprises know it's important to tap the digital economy, but they have to decide which products to choose and how to make sense of all the things in the market. So we want to look at packages that will help them make those choices," she said.

There will also be initiatives to help laid-off workers access new jobs, and smaller companies to scale up and hire people with the right skills. Related StoryCoronavirus: Get latest updates Related StoryInteractive: Places impacted by the coronavirus so far Related StoryCoronavirus: China's death toll jumps to 563 as more cases found on cruise ship off Japan

Citing the financial services sector as an example, Ms Indranee said there had been considerable success with the professional conversion programme, where those who lost their jobs were retrained and moved to other areas.

Companies will also have incentives to employ older workers, as well as to give them flexible working hours.

"Singaporeans are living longer and healthier for longer periods. Not all want to work full-time, but people want to be active and do something fulfilling. And the option should be there.

"They may choose to work or volunteer... but we want to have the right conditions for people to choose what they want to do in their retirement. Retirement from work is not retirement from life," she said, reiterating her announcement in January that there will be initiatives in the Budget to promote volunteerism.

From the social sector, there have been calls to better support the vulnerable, disadvantaged and retired.

"We know that families would like to have greater support with the cost of living. Families looking after younger children and older parents feel the crunch a bit more," she added.

While she did not provide details, she said that climate change, too, would be addressed in the Budget. Related StoryRelief measures expected amid coronavirus crisis Related StoryBudget 2020: GST hike, climate change, help for seniors, workers and families are top concerns

Addressing concerns that not every group or individual will benefit from the upcoming announcements, she stressed that every Budget builds on previous ones.

"We have many programmes already in place. But every year we look at what the emerging needs are, and the things that have to be addressed."

Singapore Press Holdings Limited