(Image by cegoh on Pixabay)
As Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat shared in his Budget speech, which was delivered in Parliament on 18 February 2019, the key to our nation’s progress is in drawing “on our strengths, and our Singaporean DNA – openness, multi-culturalism, and self-determination”.
As this year also marks Singapore’s bicentennial, Minister Heng emphasised that it is important for us to “learn from our past, in order to chart our future”. This is embodied in three lessons that this year’s Budget is anchored upon.
1. Ensuring global relevance and connectivity
“For as long as we stay relevant and useful, Singapore and Singaporeans will have our place in the world… We strive to be a place where people and ideas congregate, at the frontier of global developments. We want to be a Global-Asia node of technology, innovation and enterprise.”
(Image by cegoh on Pixabay)
This year’s Budget looks to provide firms with funding and support for internationalisation and greater innovation, and further opportunities for locals back home – particularly those in the service sector – and those endeavouring to gain experience through overseas internships.
Small and medium businesses (SMEs) aimed at achieving high growth will have additional avenues to “identify and build new capabilities, to innovate, grow, and internationalise”, through programmes such as the new Scale-up SG programme and the pilot Innovation Agents programme. This is coupled with new and existing efforts to help firms remain competitive in the digital economy and continue deepening enterprise capabilities, such as additional productivity gains, and efficiencies and internationalization through extended schemes for larger organisations.
There will also be a continued focus on innovation and the use of advanced technology, particularly in areas that are critical to Singapore’s longevity, such as aquaculture, energy and food resilience.
To better prepare our people for better opportunities to come, initiatives such as the Global Ready Talent Programme will “support high-growth Singapore firms to send Singaporeans with up to three years of working experience, for postings in key markets such as Southeast Asia, China, and India”, and provide greater funding support for student interns posted to Singaporean companies overseas. There will also be adjustments made to the services sector’s workforce quota, to encourage companies to upgrade and reskill our local workers, to “enhance the complementarities of our local and foreign workers”.
In order to pave the way for global connectivity, there will also be an increase of our airport and sea port’s capabilities, which Minister Heng said will “benefit Singaporeans… [and] add to the connectivity and vibrancy in our region”. In all, these will further allow us to take advantage of the global economic weight shift towards Asia, and for Singapore to “strengthen our role as a key node within Asia and to the world”.
2. Adapting and thriving to changes
“Our people have shown time and again that we can take the long view, adapt with the times, and thrive.”
(Image by cegoh on Pixabay)
Comparing Singapore to a mousedeer that is “small but quick-witted”, Minister Heng pointed out that our advantage as a city-state is our adaptability and nimbleness. As part of our Singaporean DNA, he adds, we “must always respond to challenges with grit and determination”, just as our forefathers did in the early days.
With key thrusts in deepening worker and enterprise capabilities, Singaporeans need to have “the skills, knowledge, and attitude to adapt and thrive in this competitive and technology-intensive environment”. For example, professionals in existing sectors looking to make a career move into new and/or potential areas of growth, such as prefabrication and blockchain, can look forward to new professional conversion programmes (PCPs) in these areas.
3. Drawing strength from diversity and supporting each other
“Today, Singaporeans support one another, regardless of race, language, or religion… we draw strength from our diversity, by focusing on what we have in common.”
Our Merdeka Generation – Singaporeans born in the 1950s – made numerous past sacrifices to build the foundations for our present. As a gesture of gratitude to this generation, eligible Singaporeans will be able to qualify for the Merdeka Generation Package, which includes benefits such as a MediSave top up of $200 per year for 5 years, and additional outpatient care subsidies.
There are other ways that this year’s Budget uplifts Singaporeans from various walks of life, to “maximise… potential and [provide] access to opportunities through their stages of life”. For example, among the new initiatives to benefit seniors is the new Long-Term Care Support Fund will be established to “fund the CareShield Life subsidies and other long-term care support measures, such as ElderFund”. As for lower-income families, there will also be additional support through subsidies, top-ups and credits to aid them in areas like education, healthcare and basic costs of living.
Minister Heng also elaborated on the Bicentennial Bonus, which is one of two “special initiatives” in commemoration of Singapore’s bicentennial. This will be rolled out through a number of areas, including a 50% Personal Income Tax Rebate (with a $200 cap), a GST Voucher of up to $300 for lower-income Singaporeans, and a $150 top-up to the Edusave accounts of Singaporean primary and secondary school students.
To further strengthen our community spirit and the fabric of our multi-racial and multi-cultural heritage, Minister Heng encouraged Singaporeans to continue embodying the spirit of SG Cares, and to “build… on the movement” – something that can also be done wherever Singaporeans may be in the world.
With strategies laid out and financial resources allocated to propel us towards building a strong, united Singapore, Minister Heng notes that these alone will not be sufficient for the nation to achieve this vision. Rather, it is the concerted effort of Singaporeans “to… support one another to succeed in this endeavour”, as we move into a new decade of nation building.
“We build on our multi-cultural heritage, to foster a caring and inclusive society… 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. Together, in close partnership with all, in our public, people, and private sectors, we can, and will, continue to take Singapore forward.”