VIRUS OUTBREAK

Solidarity Budget to help tide through 'circuit-breaker' period: DPM Heng

Unprecedented third round of measures to be unveiled on Monday comes after two earlier support packages

Singapore

DETAILS of another major support package - called the Solidarity Budget - will be announced in Parliament on Monday at 2pm by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in a ministerial statement.

In a first for the country, this will be the third round of measures that the government has introduced in the past seven weeks, after the S$6.4 billion Unity Budget in February and the historic S$48.4 billion Resilience Budget last month.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, Mr Heng said the Solidarity Budget will contain additional support measures for workers, businesses and households to help tide through the four-week "circuit-breaker" period, when all schools and the majority of workplaces will be shut until May 4.

"We are living in extraordinary times. This is the first time in our history that we will be closing all schools and most workplaces across the island for a month - a painful but necessary 'circuit-breaker' to stem the tide of Covid-19 cases," he said.

"The Covid-19 situation has taken a very sharp turn, both globally and locally. Strong measures have to be taken to protect lives, but the economy has taken a hit as a result," he added.

The previous two support packages - worth nearly S$55 billion in total, or 11 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product - have been labelled by some economists as a "fiscal bazooka". The Resilience Budget was funded by S$17 billion from past reserves.

That additional measures are already in the pipeline even before the previous tranche gets passed in Parliament is perhaps the clearest indication that the Singapore economy is already in uncharted waters and the government is sparing no effort to keep it afloat.

The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global economy, with border closures and national lockdowns taking place around the world.

The impact of this global economic deepfreeze is palpable in Singapore, with authorities bracing for a full-year recession in 2020, notwithstanding the various rescue packages dished out by the government.

In the Resilience Budget, about S$20 billion will go towards loan capital, alongside enhancements to financing schemes for firms, while S$15.1 billion will be spent on the Jobs Support Scheme to co-fund wages and help companies keep some 1.9 million people employed.

Low-income workers will get a larger cash payout than what was previously announced in the February Budget. And in a rare move, self-employed individuals and the unemployed will also get payouts to tide over the crisis.

More help will be given to the worst-hit sectors, and property tax rebates will be extended further.

This week in Parliament, new legislation will be introduced to ensure that landlords pass on property tax rebates in full to their tenants.

A new Bill will also be passed to grant temporary relief for six months to those who cannot fulfill contractual obligations - such as paying rent or carrying on with planned events - because of Covid-19.

On Monday, Members of Parliament will debate the Resilience Budget, with Mr Heng giving a round-up speech on Tuesday.

In his Facebook post on Sunday, Mr Heng stressed that Singaporeans must remain steadfast in the face of crisis, and stand in solidarity with one another during these difficult times.

The values of unity, resilience and solidarity will one day define who Singaporeans are as a people, he added.

"The bonds that bind us together will be forged and renewed in this crisis, much as how the turbulent years of independence brought our founding generation together," he said.

"This is a defining chapter of our generation. Together, we will pull through and emerge stronger. When the storm eventually subsides, as our storms do, I am confident that as a stronger society, we can build an even better future for our children and our grandchildren."

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