Proposed $33 billion Fortitude Budget for funding Covid-19 aid to be debated in Parliament on Thursday

SINGAPORE – A $33 billion supplementary budget to fund Covid-19 support measures will be debated on Thursday (June 4), when Parliament sits.

Several Cabinet ministers will speak on the proposed budget, which Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat has dubbed the Fortitude Budget when he unveiled it in Parliament on May 26.

Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran will highlight what his ministry will do to create job opportunities, transform businesses and build an inclusive digital society.

National Trades Union Congress secretary-general Ng Chee Meng as well as labour MPs will share their strategies to secure the livelihoods of workers in various industries.

MPs have also submitted a slew of questions on the pandemic, according to the agenda on the sitting issued by the Clerk of Parliament on Wednesday.

The proposed Fortitude Budget is aimed at helping workers and businesses tide over the Covid-19 crisis and the bleak economic outlook ahead.

It requires a draw of $31 billion from past reserves, for which President Halimah Yacob has given in-principle support.

It has set aside $2.9 billion for job protection, including enhancements to the Job Support Scheme (JSS) which co-pays salaries to help firms retain workers.

Households with at least one Singapore citizen will also get a one-off $100 Solidarity Credit to offset their utility bills, among other payments.

The Fortitude Budget also provides $3.8 billion to fund measures announced earlier to tide Singaporeans over the four-week extension of the circuit breaker.

The circuit breaker began on April 7, with all schools and most workplaces shut down. It was to have ended on May 4 but was extended to June 1.

With Singapore’s exit from the circuit breaker, MPs want to know the measures in place as the country entered into the first phase of its reopening on Tuesday.

Mr Chong Kee Hiong (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) will ask the Health Minister which countries or cities that have begun easing their restriction are Singapore modelling itself after.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) told The Straits Times he wants the Government to consider letting food and beverage (F&B) outlets open for business in the first phase, on condition that they implement safe distancing and put a reasonable cap on the number of diners at each table.

“The concern is that many restaurants are struggling. They can do takeaways which, however, is not the same as going into full operations. Takeaways is still a small portion of the whole income,” he said. “My fear is if we keep saying ‘no’, then some will not recover.”

He added: “Safety is still important. When the hawker centres were operational, we marked out one seat, and left the next one empty. We could allow F&B outlets to do the same.”

Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC) will ask the Government for a temporary reduction of Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions by both employee and employer until the economy recovers from the crisis.

On the TraceTogether app, Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) wants to know if it will be made mandatory to download it, while the question from Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok) is about the steps taken by the Government to ensure the personal data collected for contact tracing purposes is not misused.

Mr Nair told The Straits Times that a few people had asked him on different occasions: “Why shouldn’t we make it mandatory to download?”

With more people out and about following the end of the circuit breaker, it would make sense to make it mandatory, he added. “It’s similar to wearing a mask. If you make it mandatory, then people will follow, and in this case, people will take the effort to download the app.”

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