F. Building A Resilient Nation
- 146. In a world characterised by greater uncertainties and volatility, we need to build a more resilient Singapore.
- 147. We have kept an eye on resilience throughout our nation-building journey. But we are entering a new era where disruptions will likely happen more frequently. So we will have to consider additional redundancies and safety buffers that we can fall back on during a crisis. Having such buffers does not mean that we will not suffer damage when hit by a shock. But it will enhance our ability to absorb the shock, rebound from the crisis, and emerge stronger from it.
- 148. At the same time, we should recognise that building resilience comes at a price.
- a. For example, diversification means buying from multiple sources. But this also makes things more expensive, because we are no longer buying only from the cheapest source.
- b. The stockpiles of food and essential items will require space and will need to be maintained. Even if a crisis does not materialise or is less severe than expected, such costs still need to be funded.
- 149. The Government will spend more on resilience, but we also need to be judicious in how we use public monies to secure effective and enduring improvements in our national resilience.
Building Organisational Capabilities
- 150. One key strategy is to build strong organisational capabilities to respond quickly and effectively during crises. For example, learning from the experience in SARS, we set up the National Public Health Laboratory and the National Centre for Infectious Diseases. These new capabilities proved critical in treating, managing, and fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
- 151. During this pandemic, the outbreak in the migrant worker dormitories was a major challenge. We had to draw on resources from the SAF, the Home Team, and other Government agencies. Learning from this, we have set up the Assurance, Care and Engagement Group, or the ACE Group, under MOM, and we have built up its capabilities to monitor the situation in our migrant worker dormitories and provide better care and support for our migrant workers. This is just one example of how we continue to build up organisational capabilities within the public service to deal with crises and emergencies.
- 152. But there are also limits to how much we can grow headcount in the public service, especially with slower growth in our resident labour force.
- a. And that is why we will continue to adjust our resources and manpower – to do less in some existing areas where the needs have come down, and to re-allocate the funds and headcount to new priority areas.
- b. During the pandemic, we also had to mobilise and cross-deploy public servants for various crisis roles, for example, to help with contact tracing or the manning of call centres. We are therefore looking at how we can put in place a more comprehensive system for such training and cross-deployment, based on the expertise and skillsets of our officers.
- 153. Beyond the public service, we will need to tap on the capabilities of the private and people sectors.
- 154. Indeed, we saw many excellent examples of such partnerships in our fight against COVID-19. In healthcare, we were able to leverage the capabilities of our private hospitals and private GP clinics. Outside of healthcare, our companies, and NGO groups stepped up in many different ways – housing and taking care of migrant workers, setting up and manning the community care facilities at Changi Expo and Changi Exhibition Centre, ensuring continued access to vital supply chains, and facilitating our crucial nationwide vaccine operations.
- 155. We will learn from these experiences and put in place structures that will enable us to better harness our resources more effectively, and strengthen the complementary roles that the public, private, and people sectors can play during peacetime and in crisis.
Ensuring Economic and Infrastructure Resilience
- 156. Another important aspect of resilience is in our economy and supply chains. For some time now, we have been diversifying import sources, stockpiling food and essential items, and where possible, building up local production, like our “30 by 30” plan to produce 30% of our nutritional needs locally by 2030.
- 157. These efforts have enabled us to weather through the disruptions of the last three years. We quickly stood up a Standby LNG Facility when the world scrambled for gas after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We had ample stock of frozen chicken when Malaysia banned the export of live chickens. We will continue to review our stockpiling strategies and improve the diversification of critical supplies. We will weigh the costs of such insurance carefully, and ensure that the benefits we reap in terms of greater resilience are worth the additional costs.
- 158. Likewise, we have built resilience in our infrastructure. We have designed our buildings to serve both peacetime and crisis functions where possible, given our land scarcity.
- a. For example, our MRT stations are designed to function as public shelters and provide protection during wartime emergencies.
- b. In this pandemic, we had to convert at short notice several existing spaces – vacant schools were used to house recovering migrant workers; community centres became vaccination centres; hotels became quarantine facilities; and exhibition halls became additional healthcare facilities to augment hospital bed capacity.
- 159. All this reinforces the importance of having adaptable, multi-use facilities. We will therefore study how we can further enhance the resilience of our infrastructure, especially for major new projects like the Tuas Mega Port and Changi Airport Terminal 5.
Safeguarding our Climate Resilience
- 160. The lessons from COVID-19 will also help us in strengthening our resilience against the larger existential threat of global warming and climate change.
- 161. We have started to prepare for this. We have accelerated the low-carbon transition for Singapore to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
- a. We are raising the carbon tax progressively over the next few years to provide a stronger price signal and impetus to reduce our carbon footprint.
- b. We are supporting our enterprises and households to become more energy efficient.
- c. We are greening our buildings and going for cleaner vehicles.
- d. We are harvesting solar energy, transiting to cleaner energy sources like hydrogen, and working with our neighbours to develop regional power grids.
- 162. In short, we are doing everything we can to fight climate change. But we also know that our efforts alone will not be enough. The rest of the world must also do their part. Unfortunately, in the short term, many countries are increasing their reliance on fossil fuels to prevent the lights from going out, and to provide for energy security. This means the world will have to redouble its efforts to get back on track with the plans to keep global temperatures from rising beyond a threshold that will result in irreversible damage.
- 163. While we will do our best to shape and drive this international agenda, we must also prepare for the worst. And that means taking steps to adapt to global warming, and especially to rising sea levels. We are now building a polder at Pulau Tekong – it is already more than halfway complete and is set to finish by end-2024. The experience gained from this project will give us more options to protect our coastline against rising sea levels.
- 164. We have also set up a Coastal and Flood Protection Fund with an initial injection of $5 billion to support the construction of coastal and drainage infrastructure. And since then, the teams have been conducting site-specific studies for drainage enhancements and coastal protection, starting with the stretch from the city to East Coast.
- 165. We expect climate-related spending to go up significantly in the medium term, and we will commit more resources as we progressively implement these extensive infrastructure plans.
Reserves as our Greatest Insurance
- 166. Be it a pandemic, an economic crisis, or rising sea levels, we have been systematically planning forward, to give ourselves more options and solutions to cope with future shocks.
- 167. But we will not be able to anticipate and cater for every scenario. Furthermore, no amount of buffers or redundancies in our system can mitigate the extreme scenarios of blockades, conflict, wars, or climate disasters. Just look at the extent of destruction and damage that has happened in Ukraine. The cost of rebuilding the country has been estimated at several hundreds of billions of dollars, and that figure is only expected to grow as the war continues.
- 168. So, our best safeguard in any crisis remains having access to the financial reserves we have accumulated over decades of prudent government.
- 169. Ultimately, our reserves are our greatest insurance. They allow us to respond quickly to immediate needs in an emergency, without compromising the focus on the longer term. They enable us to bounce back stronger, as has happened during the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 and most recently in this COVID-19 pandemic. And if we were ever to be hit by a bigger calamity or disaster, our reserves will provide us the resources to rebuild Singapore.
Our Resilience as a People
- 170. Aside from financial reserves, the most critical ingredient of national resilience is our people. When there is a high level of solidarity and trust amongst our citizens, and when Singaporeans feel a strong sense of collective ownership and responsibility for each other, we will be able to withstand any shocks together.
- 171. This is why we are continually reviewing and updating our policies to keep our social fabric strong and resilient. And we do so from a position of strength. Over decades of engagement and hard work, we have expanded the common stakes we have in each other. We have kept faith with each other and avoided the fissures that have divided so many other countries. In the last three years of the pandemic, we have seen many ground-up initiatives by diverse groups, looking after the more vulnerable among us, regardless of race or religion.
- 172. Singaporeans have also donated generously. Despite the economic downturn due to COVID-19, the donations received through Giving.sg were about three times higher than pre-pandemic levels, and have remained at around $100 million in the last three years.
- 173. We must sustain this spirit of giving. The Government will continue to do our part to foster this.
- a. One way is through tax deductible donations to Institutions of a Public Character, or IPCs, and eligible institutions.
- b. Our tax deduction for donations at 250% is in fact already very high, compared to other jurisdictions.
- c. Nevertheless we will extend this tax deduction rate for another three years till end-2026, and we will review thereafter what would be a more sustainable level of tax deduction for the longer term. (See Annex F-1.)
- 174. We will also continue to encourage businesses to do their part in corporate giving. Many are already doing so, going beyond cash donations to skills-based volunteering and inclusive hiring.
- 175. We will enhance the existing Business and IPC Partnership Scheme into a broader Corporate Volunteer Scheme, which will be rolled out for three years.
- a. The scope of eligible activities for tax incentives under this Scheme will be expanded.
- b. And we will also double the qualifying per-IPC cap to $100,000 per calendar year to facilitate deeper partnerships between businesses and IPCs. (See Annex F-1.)
- 176. Our charities, social service agencies, or SSAs, and community organisations play critical roles in looking after the vulnerable, and mobilising Singaporeans to support those who are in greater need. We will continue to strengthen their capabilities and support their services.
- 177. We have completed a review of social service sector salary benchmarks, and will work with the SSAs to raise salaries so as to better attract and retain talent in the social service sector. The Minister for Social and Family Development will share more at the COS.
- 178. In this Budget, I will top up the Community Silver Trust by $1 billion to support our SSAs that deliver community care services for our seniors. The Community Silver Trust provides dollar-for-dollar donation matching grants for the SSAs, and will enable them to enhance the quality and accessibility of community care, especially for the more vulnerable seniors. Charities and SSAs can also continue to tap on the Charities Capability Fund and the Community Capability Trust to drive innovation and transform their operations.
- 179. I will also provide a $10 million top-up to the Self-Help Groups over the next three years. They are doing good work on the ground, and are well placed to provide assistance to members of their respective communities who need help.
- 180. Sir, tomorrow is Total Defence Day. We are reminded that every citizen and every sector of society has a part to play in ensuring Singapore’s security, and defending our way of life. Indeed, our efforts to strengthen our overall resilience must reflect the values that motivate us as a people and as a nation. We want a Singapore where we not only do the best for ourselves, but also help our fellow citizens succeed. And that is how we keep Singapore strong, resilient, and united.
- 181. Mr Speaker, with your permission, please allow me to say a few words in Mandarin.
- 182. 今年的财政预算案是在外部环境复杂多变的情况下出炉的。在这充满挑战的世界里，我们必须全力以赴，维持新加坡的稳定与繁荣。
- 183. 我理解国人对生活费上涨的担忧。因此，这次的财政预算案会提供更多援助，协助国人渡过难关。
- 184. 退休人士和低收入家庭将获得最多的援助。例如，一对住在三房式组屋的退休年长夫妇，今年可以得到 六千五百元的补助。这些援助足以让他们应付消费税上调和通胀导致的额外开销。
- 185. 中等收入家庭也将受惠，而大家庭会获得更多援助。例如，一户住在五房式组屋、家有两老，并有两个孩子的中等收入家庭，这一家六口今年总共能够获得 八千四百元的补助。中等收入家庭所获得的援助，也能抵消大部分消费税上调和通胀导致的额外开销。
- 186. 除了这些暂时性的援助措施，我也将加强永久性消费税补助券计划。这将确保大多数退休人士和低收入家庭不会受到消费税上调的影响。在我国的消费税制度下，比较富裕的消费者，以及外国人和游客，将比低收入的国人承担更多消费税。
- 187. 除了协助国人应付生活费上涨，我们还会协助企业和员工做好准备，在新时代抓住机遇。
- 188. 因此，我们将支持本地企业，尤其是中小企业，投资创新项目和领域。这样，我国企业能通过创新，拓展业务。我们也会进一步协助有潜力的中小企业走出国门，开拓海外市场，具备国际竞争力。我希望一些本地企业能够成为全球顶尖企业，在国际舞台上占有一席之地。
- 189. 此外，我们将加大力度协助员工提升和更新技能。我们也会加强对家长的援助，减轻他们生儿育女的负担，帮助他们更好地兼顾工作和家庭。
- 190. 今年适逢建国总理李光耀先生的百年冥诞。我们在缅怀李先生的同时，也应该继续秉持他毕生坚守的信念和价值观，要深谋远虑，未雨绸缪，并且掌握新加坡的命运，为一代代的国人打造美好的未来。
- 191. 新加坡的建国之路并不是一帆风顺的，而是经历了许多风风雨雨。我们在逆境中发挥坚韧、团结的精神，克服了一个又一个的严峻挑战，从而变得更加坚强。
- 192. 过去三年，国人携手对抗疫情的经历，也再次证明了这一点。这个兔年呢，将会是挑战和机遇并存的一年。我们不能守株待兔，而必须动如脱兔，积极做好准备，牢牢地抓住机遇，勇往直前。只要我们团结一心，携手前进，我相信我们一定能够建造一个更加繁荣、更加强韧的新加坡。