Channel NewsAsia: Budget 2015: More opportunities, greater assurance for Singaporeans

The Government is making fundamental policy shifts to give Singaporeans more opportunities and greater assurance at each stage of their lives, in measures announced by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Monday (Feb 23).

SINGAPORE: The Government of Singapore has unveiled a Budget that is centred on strengthening social security and building for the future.

Measures announced by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Monday (Feb 23) include the SkillsFuture initiative which provides learning options for Singaporeans at every age, as well as a Silver Support Scheme to help defray living expenses for needy elderly.

All in – including infrastructure investments – the Government expects to post an overall budget deficit of S$6.7 billion for the 2015 Financial Year.

ECONOMY MUST REACH ITS NEXT FRONTIER: DPM

As Singapore comes together to celebrate 50 years of independence this year, the Government is building on what has been done in the past.

Said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam: "We build on the transformation we achieved in our first fifty years as a nation. Decade by decade, we competed for our place in the world against much larger and more advanced countries, and raised the quality of life for all Singaporeans.”

“We must reach our next frontier as an economy, with firms driven by innovation, and higher incomes coming from deep skills and expertise in every job. We must ensure a society that is fair and just, where everyone has a chance to move up and do well regardless of where they start,” he added.

STUDENTS TO RECEIVE CAREER GUIDANCE IN SCHOOL UNDER SKILLSFUTURE INITIATIVE

A key plank of this year's budget is the SkillsFuture initiative – which Mr Tharman calls a "major new phase of investment in our people, throughout life".

It starts in school where students receive career guidance and improved internship programmes at Institutes of Higher Learning. Once in the workforce, there are a range of subsidies and programmes to help them deepen their skills.

Among them, a new SkillsFuture Credit - where every Singaporean aged 25 and over will receive an initial credit of S$500, which can be used to pay for work-skills related courses.

Course subsidies for mid-career Singaporeans aged 40 and above will also be increased.

With the implementation of the SkillsFuture measures, the Government projects that spending on continuing education and training will average over S$1 billion a year from now till 2020 – up from about S$600 million per year over the last five years.

SILVER SUPPORT SCHEME TO PROVIDE CASH SUPPLEMENT FOR NEEDY SINGAPOREANS

Several measures to strengthen the country's social security system and to address the issue of retirement adequacy were also announced. They will complement existing schemes like the Workfare Income Supplement and the Pioneer Generation package announced in the last budget.

One such measure is the Silver Support Scheme, which provides cash supplement for needy Singaporeans aged 65 and above.

Key changes will also be made to the Central Provident Fund (CPF) – Singapore's national savings scheme. The enhancements will help Singaporeans build up savings while they work and strengthen income in retirement.

COMPANIES TO GET SUPPORT FOR INNOVATION AND OVERSEAS EXPANSION

Companies will also get more grant support for innovation, expansion overseas as well as mergers and acquisitions.

Another first – the Government will pilot a venture debt risk-sharing programme to provide high growth companies with an alternative to equity financing and traditional bank loans. It will see the Government taking on a 50 per cent risk sharing with selected financial institutions over two years.

FOREIGN WORKER LEVIES TO BE RECALIBRATED

The Government will also recalibrate foreign worker levies to give firms more time to adapt to a tight labour market. It will defer this year’s round of announced levy increases for S-Pass and Work Permit Holders in every sector.

However, Mr Tharman stressed that while the Government is adjusting the pace of its foreign worker measures, it is not changing direction – and it remains crucial for Singapore to restructure towards reducing reliance on manpower, and find new and more innovative ways to do business.

BUDGET 2015: ONE FOR SINGAPORE'S FUTURE

Said Mr Tharman: "Budget 2015 takes us into our future. Our aspirations are attainable. We can build a future that keeps social mobility alive in each new generation. A future that meets the aspirations of young and middle-aged Singaporeans, and enables us to realise the best in ourselves. And a future that provides greater assurance as we grow old.”

“We must go forward with the blend of imagination and practicality that brought Singapore this far in 50 years. With hard heads, but warm hearts too, so that we all move up together,” he said.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also said Singapore's Jubilee Budget focuses on the future. In a note on Facebook on Monday, Mr Lee said: "We will invest continuously in every citizen, and empower you to learn throughout your life, so that you can become expert in your chosen field of work.

"We will invest heavily in infrastructure to create a highly liveable home with quality healthcare. We will provide additional support to Singaporean families for your costs of living and your retirement."

Mr Lee said the Government is making sure it has enough revenues for the increased spending. One way it is doing so, is by raising personal income taxes for the top five per cent of income earners.

He added that more details will be shared during the Committee of Supply debates in Parliament, starting from Mar 3.

- CNA/dl