Upholding fiscal discipline 'is key'
THE debate over this year's Budget statement kicked off yesterday, with MPs praising new measures to help the elderly poor and struggling workers, but also raising concerns over Singapore's fiscal sustainability and lagging productivity gains.
Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa opened the debate by approvingly describing Budget 2015 as "a further shift to the left". Among the initiatives unveiled by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in his Budget speech last month were the Silver Support Scheme, which gives cash payouts to low-income retirees for life.
But Mr Liang also asked for more details about how the scheme would be funded, noting that it is key for the Government to uphold fiscal discipline.
He suggested a regular review of fiscal sustainability, with particular oversight for spending schemes planned to last more than 10 years.
Marine Parade GRC MP Tin Pei Ling is also worried about Singaporeans taking the contributions from the nation's reserves for granted.
Temasek Holdings is expected to contribute another $4 billion to $5 billion annually to Singapore's yearly takings, after steps were taken in last month's Budget to include it in the Net Investment Returns framework.
Ms Tin said she was concerned that "Singaporeans will become over-reliant on this source of revenue, and lose the drive to save and invest, and leave something for future generations".
Noting that countries with abundant natural resources often see their population lose the sense of urgency to work hard, she added that Singapore "must take care that our financial reserves can also have the same corrupting effect on our drive and resilience".
Meanwhile, Mr Liang and labour MP Heng Chee How (Whampoa) expressed worries about the slow improvements in Singapore's labour productivity.
Mr Heng, who is also Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, noted that productivity has declined in three of the last four years.
He proposed continuing to invest in the capabilities of mature workers and create "ageless jobs", while Mr Liang asked for more data to be made available to help companies make better decisions and avoid waste.