Singapore’s S$33 bil stimulus package focuses on saving jobs

A man walks towards commercial buildings in the central business district. (File pic)

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat delivered a fourth fiscal package of S$33 billion to counter the economic fallout of the coronavirus, providing specific support to saving jobs.

The latest measures will help businesses and workers affected by border closures and movement restrictions, Heng said in a Parliament session Tuesday. The steps will push this fiscal year’s budget deficit to 15.4% of gross domestic product, the largest gap in the country’s history.

“The central focus of this budget is jobs,” Heng said. “Large parts of the last three budgets were directed at protecting the livelihoods of our workers. In this budget, we will do even more.”

The new package takes Singapore’s total support to S$92.9 billion, or 19.2% of gross domestic product, Heng said.

The government is trying to cushion an economy potentially headed for its worst contraction since Singapore’s independence and will tap another S$31 billion in past reserves, bringing the total drawn from reserves this financial year to S$52 billion.

The local dollar, which gained earlier in the day on first-quarter GDP data that wasn’t as bad as feared, was up 0.41% at 1.419 per US dollar as of 4.52pm.

Singapore is starting to reopen its economy in three phases. Most businesses are expected to re-open by July, though sectors such as aviation and tourism could take longer, Heng said Tuesday.

Measures in the fourth stimulus package include:

  • Extension of foreign-worker levy waiver and rebate, for two months, for businesses employing migrant workers that had to suspend operations
  • Cash grant, totalling about S$2 billion, to offset rental costs for small- and medium-sized enterprises
  • S$500 million to help businesses in their digital transformations, including helping stall owners at hawker centres and wet markets to adopt e-payments systems
  • Pledge to create 15,000 public-sector jobs, and cooperate with private sector to create 25,000 openings
  • Expansion of a traineeship programme for local first-time job seekers
  • Targeted support for mid-career job seekers aged 40 and above, including coverage of 40% of eligible workers’ salaries over six months, to a maximum of S$12,000
  • Sets aside an additional S$13 billion in contingency funds for rapid response to virus-related developments

Singapore was among the first governments in the region to unveil stimulus measures in February to counter losses from the pandemic, with the bulk coming in March via a S$48 billion package that included wage subsidies and cash handouts.

Officials have expanded support since then as economic losses mount amid global restrictions on trade and travel.

Data earlier Tuesday showed the stimulus has been unable to thwart a severe downturn in the trade-reliant economy, with gross domestic product expected to contract 4%-7% this year, far more than previously expected. While recent monthly data like exports and manufacturing showed a surprise gain in April, that was mostly due to a jump in pharmaceuticals from a low base a year earlier.

President Halimah Yacob has already given in-principle support for the government to tap past reserves to help finance the latest stimulus package.

Heng addressed the risk of a second wave of virus cases as the economy reopens.

Singaporeans must “be psychologically prepared for setbacks, before we safely transition to a new normal and build a Covid-safe nation,” he said.

“The global economy is unlikely to recover quickly. We must be prepared for tough times in the months ahead.”