Military big winner in Singapore budget

Singapore’s budget will increase spending on health care for its ageing population, offer tax rebates and tighten restrictions on foreign employees ahead of a possible election this year.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat set aside S$6.1 billion (US$4.5 billion) to support around 500,000 citizens aged between 60 and 69.

The package included concessions for government-built sports centres alongside health care and insurance subsidies.

Heng said the investment was “a gesture of our nation’s gratitude for their contributions and a way to show care for them in their silver years”.

He said the authorities were projecting an overall budget deficit of 0.7 per cent of GDP in the year preceding March 2020, compared with a revised surplus of 0.4 per cent in the current financial year.

The budget comes amid a generally weakening economy, with growth being hit by global trade disputes between China and the US.

Around 1.4 million lower-income citizens, more than a quarter of the population, will receive up to S$300 each in vouchers to help with living costs.

“Singapore must always be pre-emptive,” said Barnabas Gan of United Overseas Bank in Singapore. “We are a small nation and also there’s this urgent demand for greater expenditure for health care in light of the ageing population.”

Heng, 57, was promoted to finance minister last year within the People’s Action Party, putting him on course to become the next prime minister.

About S$22.7 billion (US$16.7 billion) or 28.3 per cent of the S$80.3 billion total expenditure is set aside for the Defence, Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs ministries. The government is focusing on computer vulnerabilities, with the specialist Cyber Security Agency to boost protection.

“In particular, foreign actors will try to influence our domestic affairs and politics. This is not new, but new technologies have made it easier for others to mount attacks with greater ease and intensity, and with more sophisticated tactics.

“Everyone has a role to play to keep Singapore safe and secure. Let us continue to stay united in defending our home and way of life,” said Heng.

Defence expenditure is expected to increase by 4.8 per cent to S$15.5 billion. The capability of the Singapore Armed Forces lend weight to diplomatic efforts and ensure that negotiations with the city-state are taken seriously, Heng told parliament.

“Should diplomacy fail, we must stand ready to safeguard our interests and defend ourselves,” he said.

The finance chief claimed the threat of terrorism remained high, with Singapore continuing to detect radicalised individuals and cells.

Like many societies, Singapore faces an ageing population. Picture credit: Wikimedia