Budget 2016: Be prudent and accountable in spending even when giving more help, say MPs

SINGAPORE - Economic worries occupied the first day of the Budget debate on Monday (April 4), with MPs stressing the need for accountability in government spending and tracking investment outcomes, even as they asked for more help for firms and workers.

Prudence in spending

Overall fiscal prudence was one concern, with Mr Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir) among those who warned against calls for more liberal government spending.

Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) also hoped for prudence "in how society perceives the annual Budget", citing an email he received after this year's Budget speech that bemoaned the lack of goodies.

Accountability in outcomes

More specifically, MPs also wanted a detailed approach in ensuring that public funds are spent well. They suggested ways to improve accountability - whether at the level of industry, programme, or project.

Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) Daniel Goh called for a framework to measure and evaluate Singapore's return on investment in innovation and enterprise.

Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) asked what outcome-tracking measures were in place for big-ticket investments such as the $4.5 billion Industry Transformation Programme.

And Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong suggested that in industry-research collaborations, the side of industry should be the one specifying and evaluating research outcomes.

Helping SMEs help themselves

MPs stressed this need for efficiency even as they called for more help, with SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) and PMEs (professionals, managers and executives) as the focus of such wishlists.

Even as Dr Teo Ho Pin (Bukit Panjang) wanted more help for SMEs to identify opportunities, get productive and find talent, he noted not all firms which tapped the Government's Productivity and Innovation Credit scheme made genuine productivity improvements.

Nor should the Government take too large a role, said MPs such as Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) and NMP Randolph Tan. Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Sembawang GRC) cautioned against making firms too dependent, saying: "Let businesses learn to grapple with the crisis and come out stronger."

But there were also appeals to less tangible forms of value, with NMP Thomas Chua and Ms Foo wanting measures to preserve traditional or long-established homegrown firms.

Helping workers

As for workers, PMEs who might be left behind by economic transformation were the concern of MPs such as Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), who wanted the Government to study the feasibility of redundancy insurance, and labour MP Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC), who suggested a support network for unemployed and retrenched PMEs.

Four other labour MPs spoke up for a range of workers, from the elderly - championed by Mr Heng Chee How (Jalan Besar GRC) - to the young, with Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) suggesting incentives for firms to start apprenticeship schemes instead of internship programmes.

This article was first published on April 4, 2016.
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