A Soothing Budget

A_Soothing_BudgetThis year's budget was called the "inclusive budget" by the Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, and he can take all the plaudits for having delivered one.

It is often mentioned that every budget delivered by a Finance Minister has a main focus; it targets one or two main areas in society to bring about positive changes that the government hopes and desires. This is not to say that the other areas of society are not of the government's concern, just that the prime concern of the day will be the areas outlined in the budget.  

The prime focus of the Singapore government this year seems to be the elderly, the disabled and the low income families.

Having said so, however, one can see from the range of benefits announced that Finance Minister Tharman has taken pains to offer something for everyone and chart a new course in the nation's history.

Also, for the first time in history, the Finance Minister and the Government have plumped in to help the privatised transport sector by setting aside $1.1billion for the purchase of 800 new buses over the next 5 years.

Still, let us first look at how he has promised sunshine to the lives of elderly and the underprivileged.

To begin, he has addressed the long standing problem of raising CPF contributions for the elderly as this is the group that will most need increased financial help for medical and personal expenses in their retirement years.

He has raised the contribution by 2.5% for those in 50-55 age group, 2.0% for those in 55-60 group and by .5% for those 60 and above. Similarly, earned income tax relief goes up from $3,000 to $6,000 for those between 55-59 and a generous $4,000 to $8,000 for those 60 and above. Older workers who are still hale and hearty can look forward to many more fruitful years of working life.

At a time when countries across Europe are  laying off workers to cut costs, Singapore is perhaps the only country that pays employers to save jobs of the elderly. Specifically, the government will be paying companies up to 8% of the wages of elderly workers earning up to $4,000 and, of course, the $20,000 silver housing bonus too.

There is no need to list out here everything that the Finance Minister has laid out as benefits, suffice to mention that he has sought to scatter light and sweetness around him.

This is in stark contrast to what is happening in countries like Greece and Italy. For example, places and countries where benefits people have long since grown accustomed to have been removed abruptly with the consequence that people are forced to reduce their living standards drastically.

What is more, the Minister has done all these and still produced a surplus budget. It's not something that many Finance Ministers in the world can boast of.

For those who are still not appreciative of the efforts of the government to spread the largesse around let them consider this: the European economy is very uncertain; no one knows how the situation will play out. The American economic recovery is feeble at best and if, as many predict, Israel wages war on Iran over the latter's nuclear programme, everything is going to take a tumble again with oil prices expected to shoot up to US$150 per barrel.

When and if that happens, the good thing is that Singapore will be in a position to weather the storm because of our prudent policies pursued over decades and the healthy reserves accumulated.

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