Acknowledgement to the Chair, Budget 2023 — Speech by Leader of the House, Minister Indranee Rajah
Transcript of speech by Leader of the House, Minister Indranee Rajah, at the conclusion of the Committee of Supply debates for Budget 2023 on 6 March 2023.
A Budget to Move Forward in a New Era
Mr Speaker, we have come to the end of the Committee of Supply (COS). It has been a long two weeks for Members, and not least for yourself, having somewhat less liberty than Members to move in and out of the Chamber.
Over the last two weeks, we had close to 70 hours of debate. 58 Members spoke over the two and a half days of the Budget debate. And we covered 661 cuts over seven days of Committee of Supply.
With the approval of the Government’s fiscal policy for FY2023 and the estimates of expenditure in the Committee of Supply, and the passing of the Supply Bills a few minutes ago, this Parliament has taken an important step forward in positioning Singapore well for the post-pandemic future. The policies and strategies that we have debated and approved will help us navigate a world that is vastly different to the one we knew before the pandemic. A world that is much more complicated and unpredictable, characterised by slower growth, higher inflation, greater geopolitical contestations, fragmentation in the global economy, and a looming climate crisis.
Budget 2023 will enable us to adapt more nimbly to this changed world and to secure our future, anchored by a fair, sound and sustainable fiscal plan. Let me do a quick recap.
Against the backdrop of geopolitical tensions and an evolving world order, we reaffirmed the need to uphold international law and rules-based multilateralism while maintaining a strong defence to safeguard our sovereignty and security. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine serves as a continuing reminder that Singapore’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity must never be taken for granted.
In the face of a looming climate crisis, this Budget builds on previous budgets, and reinforces our commitment to sustainability and strengthens Singapore’s climate resilience. In Budget 2021, we unveiled the Singapore Green Plan 2030. In Budget 2022, we took bold steps to raise our national climate ambitions at a time when many countries are struggling to stay the course, including increasing the carbon tax. Budget 2023 continues our efforts to work with our businesses, communities, and individuals, with a view to achieving net zero by 2050.
Apart from climate resilience, we also discussed food resilience and how to diversify food imports, produce our own food, and keep food affordable in the HDB heartlands.
Developing our businesses
Members also spoke about the need for companies and workers to adjust to major structural shifts, including an accelerated green transition, digitalisation, greater economic nationalism and protectionism. This brings about both opportunities and challenges. This Budget focuses our efforts on helping businesses and workers ride the winds of change, while helping them tide through this period of weaker growth and higher inflation.
On the economic front, we endorsed our approach of:
a. Attracting high-quality investments and developing new growth sectors such as sustainability in the tourism and transport sectors,
b. Strengthening global and regional cooperation by forging new cross-border agreements with like-minded partners in overlapping areas of interest such as the digital economy and sustainability, to enhance market access and create new opportunities for our businesses,
c. And encouraging economy-wide innovation and extending the necessary bespoke support to help our SMEs grow into globally leading companies through various measures, including the Enterprise Innovation Scheme, SME Co-Investment Fund, and Singapore Global Enterprises initiative.
Supporting our workers
We recognised – as we always have – that the end goal of economic growth is to provide Singaporeans with good employment opportunities and wages.To that end, we supported the appointment of Jobs-Skills Integrators to better translate skills training into employment outcomes. To ensure no workers are left behind, we supported the Uplifting Employment Credit, the enhanced Enabling Employment Credit and Progressive Wage Credit Scheme. And we agreed to protect all our workers by keeping the workplaces safe and inclusive, and to safeguard their future by enhancing retirement adequacy.
In this Budget, we also rightly acknowledged the cooperation, hard work and sacrifices of everyone in our long fight against COVID-19, especially our healthcare workers who soldiered at the frontline of our pandemic response. We considered how to protect and better support our healthcare workers in their careers. We will apply the valuable lessons learnt to transform the Public Service and our healthcare system to serve Singaporeans better.
Strengthening our social compact
We approved additional support measures under the Assurance Package and enhanced the permanent GST Voucher scheme, with most support extended to the lower-income families. We also topped up the ComCare Endowment Fund to provide additional support to the lower-income families. Through our endorsement of these moves, we signaled to Singaporeans that they can be assured we will see them through this challenging period of rising inflation and cost of living pressures.
Families, marriage and parenthood took centre stage in this Budget, and aptly so, given that the Budget Statement was delivered on Valentine’s Day. We increased the financial support for the early years of raising a child. We doubled Unpaid Infant Care Leave and Government-paid Paternity Leave, sending a strong signal to fathers of the need for paternal involvement when a child is born and to encourage greater shared parenting responsibilities. We would also better support parents in balancing their work and family commitments through Flexible Work Arrangements.
As Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office helping oversee marriage and parenthood measures, I also want to add that these measures are just the beginning of an important shift, where the whole of society moves to become one that values family well-being and supports caregiving both for the young and the old, and acts accordingly.
We reaffirmed the critical role that early childhood education plays in a child’s holistic development and agreed to close the gap in preschool enrolment rates. KidSTART will be scaled up nationwide and Government-supported preschool places will be expanded. We will strengthen the multiple progression pathways in our education system and in our society.
From babies and children, we looked to the other end of the age spectrum, and committed to refresh our approach to aged care, anchored on preventive care, to help our seniors age gracefully by staying healthy, active and engaged in their communities. We also topped up the ElderCare Fund and MediFund to provide targeted assistance for seniors with long-term care and healthcare needs.
Every year, there will be one ministry that receives intense interest and the highest number of cuts. This year was no exception. And this year, the distinction went to MND, not surprising with the high interest in housing issues. The Minister for National Development assured Singaporeans that we will continue to make public housing affordable and accessible, and that we will redouble efforts to deliver keys to those who have been waiting for their BTO flats. We will increase the supply of BTO flats and give additional priority to younger married couples and families who are trying to buy their first home.
Being a nature-loving nation, no animal was left behind either. From flats, we moved on to animated debate on rats, cats and cockerels. This year did not see the appearance of otters or wild boars but no doubt they will find their way into future budgets!
Mr Speaker as you can see, we have covered much ground in the last two weeks. Now it remains to put all our plans into action.
On this note, I would like to thank Members for their active participation and strong support over the past two weeks.
Mr Speaker, on behalf of this House, I would also like to express our appreciation to you and your deputies for presiding over the proceedings in a fair and even-handed manner, and ensuring the Standing Orders were observed. We are extremely grateful to the Clerk of Parliament, Deputy Clerk and the other Clerks of Parliament, the Parliament Secretariat and staff, interpreters, and translators all of whom have been working long hours and tirelessly over the past fortnight to ensure that the proceedings went smoothly.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
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