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Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Second Minister for Finance and National Development, at the Singapore Together Emerging Stronger Conversation (Pre-Budget 2021), on 2 Dec 2020

02 Dec 2020

1. Hi everyone, it’s great to see all of you and thank you all for making the time to join us for this session, because it's really important. 

2. Budget for the nation is not so very different from budget from the household, in the sense that what we have to do is to make sure that the whole Singapore family is provided for. But we also have to look at what is our income. And we have to decide, with that income or that revenue, how are we going to apportion it to make sure that it does the most good. 

3. As you saw from the presentation just now, this year was really something we've never encountered before. We dedicated nearly $100 billion to combat COVID-19. That's an amount we've never ever spent before, and out of this, $52 billion was a draw on the past reserves. We are this year, something like $74 billion in deficit, which if you think about it, is worth something like 20 years of past budget surpluses. 

4. But it was necessary. It's something that had to be done, because we wanted to make sure that people were kept home, that people were kept safe, that despite the fact that the economy took such a battering, jobs were saved. And that we were able to keep our heads above water and the country on even keel, even though growth plummeted. The main thing was that health and safety was a priority. 

5. Now we have to think of what we are going to do for next year. The pandemic has forced us in many ways to do things differently. I think everybody has a newfound appreciation for health, and newfound appreciation for family. In fact, newfound appreciation for, sometimes, going back to work and being in the office. 

6. But at the same time it has also shown us that we can do things differently. Today's meeting for example – all the previous REACH pre-budget sessions have been physical meetings, but we've seen how we can use Zoom or we can have virtual connections, and in the past, never realised that you could actually do so much, just online. 

7. So that's going to change the way we work that's going to change the way we interact with each other, is going to change how businesses think about how much office space they need. It's going to revolutionise the workplace. 

8. These are things that we have to take into account going forward, and how do we use the revenue that we have for next year in the most targeted and useful way forward. So, in previous years, when we might have had budget surpluses, you could think in terms of goodies. But next year, I think it's not so much thinking in terms of goodies, it's more in terms of with the resources we have, how do we use it in the most careful and prudent way such that we get the most out of the limited resources. And what are our goals and ambitions with Budget 2021. 

9. First we want to emerge stronger – that's for sure. We want to emerge stronger as an economy. We want to emerge stronger as a workforce. We want to emerge stronger as a society, and as a community. And we also want to make sure that Singapore remains green, sustainable – not just remains, but actually becomes in the forefront of a sustainable city.

10. We want to do this together with you, and that's what makes Singapore unique. It is the fact that we draw on everybody's ideas. Each budget has been contributed to, or will be contributed to, with your thoughts and your ideas, and this is the whole part of what SG Together is about. SG Together is about the fact that not one single person, not one single entity, and certainly not Government alone has the monopoly and the best ideas. 

11. We are stronger when we act together. That's in everything that we do. Budget, given that is so far reaching and that will affect lives, actually is our financial plan for the nation. Budget, even more so than other things, really needs input from all of you. So we look forward to the discussion tonight and hearing your thoughts of how we are going to chart our future together for Budget 2021. Thank you very much.