S’pore to focus on health, infrastructure in budget

SINGAPORE • Singapore’s finance minister said next month’s budget will focus on infrastructure spending, healthcare for an ageing population and helping businesses transition to a digital economy.

“We want to be able to continue to invest in education, the healthcare of our people and in taking care of the growing number of seniors,” Heng Swee Keat said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Haslinda Amin on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos.

“We are not done building Singapore,” he said. “We have many major infrastructure projects to make Singapore a green, livable city.”

Heng, 57, is set to outline more details in his budget speech on Feb 18. Last year, he announced plans to increase the Goods and Services Tax to 9% from 7% sometime during 2021 to 2025 to help pay for growing health and infrastructure spending. The tax hike is still “very much in the plans”, Heng said in the interview.

The budget comes against the backdrop of US-China trade tensions and weaker global growth. Singapore’s export-reliant economy is forecast to expand 1.5% to 3.5% this year, according to the government, after holding above 3% for a second year in 2018.

The budget will also provide details of a special healthcare package for seniors who are part of the Merdeka Generation, a large cohort of the population who came of age during the city state’s independence era. The support was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally in August.

Heng is widely viewed as the most likely to succeed Lee after being named the first assistant secretary general of Singapore’s ruling political party in November. Lee has signalled that elections could be called as early as this year.

The finance minister said whichever leadership team is in place, the goals remain the same, “which is to keep Singapore strong, secure and stable; to continue to transform our economy so that our people can benefit from growth”.

Heng said he can tap a deeper pool of talent to support him.

“I have a team of very capable colleagues, and Singaporeans are, after so many years of independence, far better educated than the generation was when Lee Kuan Yew was the prime minister,” he said. “So, there’s a lot of scope to tap on the knowledge and expertise of our people in order to build Singapore together.” — Bloomberg