It is the time of the year when Singapore’s Parliament sets into motion the annual Budget debate.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam delivered the Budget speech on 23 February 2015 outlining the priorities for the nation in the coming years as Singapore celebrates its Golden Jubilee in 2015.
And beginning from 3rd March 2015 till 13 March 2015, Members of Parliament will analyse the financial policy of the government both in the main Budget and also during the Committee of Supply when MPs will scrutinise the budget allocations for the various Ministries and when Ministers helming these Ministries will give the House and Singaporeans a progress report on the slew of programmes which have been implemented or in the pipeline to make Singapore a better place for all live in.
The key announcements
Two broad themes front Budget 2015- Building Our Future, Strengthening Social Security and at the forefront of realising this vision- Singapore’s people.
Ensuring that citizens are well trained and educated and prepared to meet the future challenges of an evolving economy and at the same time making sure that citizens have peace of mind that they have enough lifetime savings to see them and their family through in the retirement.
And so came the announcements about the SkillsFuture Credit allowing Singaporeans to learn and upgrade at every age with the help of an initial credit of $500 to Singaporeans 25 and above for them to use the amount for skills related courses
And the slew of announcements related to the Central Provident Fund (CPF) to help Singaporeans save more while they are working.
There is also the Silver Support Scheme which provides a cash supplement of $300 to $750 every three months for the bottom 20 to 30 percent in the nation.
But as they say, the devil is in the details and it’s the details that Singaporeans want to know more about
A key task for policy makers, Members of Parliament and Ministers when it comes to new policy announcements is that of public education.
And this task gets even more challenging in Singapore with a growing number of elderly persons for whom understanding the policy implications and announcements which will affect or benefit them directly so that they can take full advantage of the schemes.
It is no surprise that even today, there are many in the older and pioneer generation amongst Singaporeans who still do not comprehend the benefits involved in the Pioneer Generation Package announced in last year’s Budget.
Thus a major task for MPs both in and out of Parliament during dialogue sessions is to ensure that policy announcements like the Silver Support Scheme and the slew of announcements surrounding the CPF contributions are well understood by Singaporeans.
Entrenching lifelong learning
A bold and major step taken in Budget 2015 is to further entrench the concept of lifelong learning amongst Singaporean workers through the SkillsFuture Credit.
Close to two million Singaporeans are expected to receive the credit amount in 2016 and the government will notify them in due course.
But some questions loom large.
Will Singaporeans really take the effort to make use of the credit to upgrade themselves, move up the skills ladder and strive to improve their personal well-being?
Will their employers encourage their workers or even take the lead to improve the skill sets of their workers and urge them to take full advantage of SkillsFuture Credit?
Would there be so much red tape in making use of the credited amount, shunning workers to make the effort?
Which are the types of courses for which the credit can be used and what sort of certification would the worker receive a the end of his course?
Over the next ten days, Parliament’s august Chamber would be swarmed with speeches from MPs and there is no doubt that many of them will certainly express quite a bit of sentiments shared with them by their residents at post Budget dialogue sessions.
We already see some of these feelings and sentiments being expressed on the social media and in reports in the mainstream media and many of them are just asking for more clarity and simplified information about the schemes announced by the Finance Minister.