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FY2023 MOF Committee of Supply Debate Speech by Second Minister for Finance Ms Indranee Rajah

24 Feb 2023

1. Mr Chairman, I will be responding to the cuts filed by Mr Leon Perera and Mr Leong Mun Wai. 

2. Mr Leon Perera asked about the processes for obtaining the President’s recommendation to move a Bill, or amendments to a Bill, tabled in Parliament. 

3. Mr Speaker, under Art 59(2) of the Constitution, Bills or amendments with financial implications cannot be introduced or moved in this House, without the President’s recommendation. 

4. This mechanism ensures that the Government of the day has the sole right and responsibility to initiate financial legislation, and therefore, financial legislation cannot proceed without the Government’s support.

5. It is very important to understand in this context that for the purposes of Art 59(2), when the President gives his or her recommendation, it is upon advice of the Government, and not at the discretion of the President.

6. If the recommendation is provided, it shows that the legislation or amendment has the Government’s support.

7. And this is different from the other provisions of the Constitution where the President acts upon his or her discretion, for example, in relation to draws on Past Reserves, or the appointment of certain key appointment holders.

8. Where the requirement in Art 59(2) is triggered and the Government does not support the Bill or amendment, there is no need to seek, or to advise the President not to provide the recommendation. It is sufficient to inform the House that the Bill or amendment does not have the President’s recommendation, in accordance with the Standing Orders. 

9. Where the Government supports the Bill or the amendment, the Government will seek the recommendation of the President and formally advise the President to provide such recommendation.  

10. This requirement for government support before financial legislation can be passed, is a standard arrangement of many Commonwealth parliamentary democracies, although the mechanisms may vary.

11. In Singapore, it is done through the mechanism of the President’s recommendation, as I have explained. 

12. In New Zealand, where a Bill or amendment “would have more than a minor impact on the Government’s fiscal aggregates if it becomes law”, the Government may issue a “Financial Veto certificate” to state that it does not concur with the Bill or amendment, in which event, such Bill or amendment cannot be passed. 

13. In Canada, this is done by requiring the royal recommendation, which may only be
obtained by a Minister, to be conveyed to Parliament. 

14. While the mechanisms may vary from country to country, the principle underpinning them is the same – that is to say, a Bill or an amendment with financial implications cannot be passed if the Government of the day does not support it, in recognition of the principle that the responsibility for financial matters lies with the government.

15. So earlier when Mr Leon Perera talked about deeming, there is no deeming involved. If the Government does not support the Bill or the amendment, the Government will not even need to put it to the President. But if the Government supports it, then the Government will put it to the President with the requisite advice and the recommendation would be signified in Parliament. 

16. And hence the Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) is also not be engaged because this is not the discretionary function of the President. The President may consult the CPA for the discretionary functions [under Art 37IA(2)]. 

17. So for a Government Bill falling within the scope of Art 59(2), the Minister giving notice of the introduction of the Bill must indicate whether the President’s recommendation is required, and when introducing the Bill at first reading, must signify whether the recommendation has been obtained. This is provided for in SO 67(1) and members may recall that a few days ago I introduced the Supply Bill and I signified to the chambers that I had the President’s recommendation.

18. And in the case of a private member’s Bill, the Minister for Finance has to inform the Speaker whether the President’s recommendation is required under Art 59(2).

19. If the Minister for Finance informs the Speaker that the President’s recommendation is in fact required, then, before the Member can be called upon to move the motion seeking leave to introduce this Bill under SO 66(1), a Cabinet Minister must signify to Parliament whether the President’s recommendation has been obtained.

20. If no such recommendation has been obtained, the Speaker shall not allow the motion for leave to introduce the Bill to be moved. The same procedure applies to amendments proposed to Bills, and that is under SO 74(3)(c). 

21. One more thing I should add which is that if a Member intends to propose a Bill or amendments to a Bill, which make provision, directly or indirectly, for the list of financial matters listed in Art 59(2), he or she should inform the Ministry or Minister with oversight of matters in the Bill or amendment as soon as possible, and ideally no later than the time of filing the relevant notices with Parliament, so that the relevant assessments and steps can be taken. 

22. If the Member is not sure whether the matters in the Bill or amendment are caught by the provisions of Art 59(2), then all the more so, it would be advisable to inform the relevant Ministry or Minister early. 

23. I’ve dealt with Mr Perera’s cuts. I move on to Mr Leong Mun Wai’s cut. Sir, Mr Leong Mun Wai had a series of five cuts. 

24. Mr Leong did not provide the indication of these cuts beforehand, nor did he in the gist to the Budget cuts. Members are asked to provide the gist and I also do send out the notice generally to ask people to provide the gist of their cuts, because it will then enable us to respond in a more considered or fuller manner. So, with respect to the five questions which were basically given on the spot, I will give such replies as I can, and if the Member has other questions, that would have to be taken up separately. But let me just run through very quickly.

25. He had a question, I think the first question was on termination of the Sports Hub [public-private partnership]. The reason for the termination was addressed in MCCY’s Ministerial Statement in Aug 2022. The reasons for the urgency and the use of the Contingency Fund was first, the transaction was market sensitive, and second, it was an opportune time to develop the Kallang Alive Precinct, as the sports sector recovered from COVID-19. The termination sum will be paid in this Financial Year.

26. For his second question, on the SPH Media Trust, that is from MCI’s annual budget, from FY22 to FY26. However, no money has been disbursed as Minister Josephine Teo had said in Parliament.

27. For his third question, disbursement figures from the Government statutory funds are in the Government Financial Statements. The disbursement figures for the funds under the Statutory Boards are included in their financial statements.

28. And for his fourth question, the audit of the full $72.3 billion will be completed by the end of FY2024. This was answered earlier this month by SMS Chee in response to a Parliamentary Question.

29. And for the fifth question [where to find the assets of the Government as at 31 Mar 2022, and the Net Investment Returns Contribution], I think the answers can be found in the Budget Book. 

30. Then with regards to his last point about what is the definition of raiding the reserves, Mr Chairman, it’s not a term of art. But essentially, we have a framework. We have a framework on how the reserves are to be used when the principal amount is taken, drawn down or where land is alienated and if it is not made good or put back, that is a draw on the reserves. It is a simple principle that we adhere to. The framework is clear. It is not necessary for me to go into a definitional argument. And the reasons and the rationale of when you can have a draw on the reserves are clear. A pandemic would be a good reason, when you are facing potential catastrophe and you have to save the economy and save people. I mean, that’s something that’s been built into the current framework. And the reserves can only be used with the agreement of the President.