SINGAPORE - The Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers and other political office-holders - as well as the President - will take a three-month pay cut to stand in solidarity with Singaporeans in this difficult time, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Thursday.
Mr Heng, who is also finance minister, said that political office-holders will take an additional two-month pay cut on top of the one-month pay cut announced last month, in light of the deteriorating situation caused by the coronavirus.
"The President, Speaker, and both Deputy Speakers have informed me that they will join in and take a similar three-month pay cut in total," said Mr Heng, as he delivered the supplementary budget.
"It is in times of crisis that the true character of a nation can be seen," he added. "We are all in this together, and we must all look after one another in these trying times."
Calling the Covid-19 situation an "unprecedented crisis" that has escalated very quickly, Mr Heng said it has prompted the government to take extraordinary measures and put together a landmark supplementary budget.
Delivering a ministerial statement that outlined the Government's thinking behind what he has called the Resilience Budget, Mr Heng said the coronavirus was a defining challenge for Singapore.
"It is a public health crisis, an economic shock, and a social test," he said. "It will challenge our resilience as individuals and as a society."
Mr Heng noted that just five weeks after he delivered his Budget speech on Feb 18, the world is now in a pandemic, with an estimated 410,000 people infected across 190 countries.
While Singapore acted early and decisively and managed to keep the number of cases at a manageable level during the first wave of infections, the world is now seeing successive waves and imported infections, prompting countries to take public health measures, said Mr Heng.
But measures on the medical front to contain the pandemic have made the economic battle more difficult, he added.
"As more countries implement their measures, the economic disruptions will be wider, deeper, and more prolonged," said Mr Heng. "The global economy is now facing both a supply and demand shock."
He noted how lockdowns have had knock-on effects given today's highly-integrated global supply chains, while people staying home mean that spending has fallen while business confidence is plunging in the face of growing uncertainties.
Global financial and stock markets are also in turmoil, while credit has tightened around the world, he added.
As an open economy that is highly integrated with the global economy, Singapore will be deeply impacted by these global shocks, said Mr Heng.
He noted that advance GDP estimates released on Thursday (Mar 26) showed that the economy contracted by 10.6 per cent in the first quarter of 2020, while the Ministry of Trade and Industry also downgraded the Republic's GDP growth forecast for the year to between -4.0 per cent and -1.0 per cent.
"In economic terms alone, this will likely be the worst economic contraction since independence," said Mr Heng.
The Resilience Budget, which will introduce over $48 billion in new and enhanced measures, is therefore focused on three areas: protecting jobs, helping enterprises with immediate challenges, and strengthening economic and social resilience so that Singapore can emerge intact and stronger.
"We cannot prevent an economic recession, as the external health and economic situation will evolve beyond our control," he said. "But it will help us to mitigate the extent of the downturn, and more importantly, help save jobs and protect livelihoods."
The Resilience Budget is also a reminder that the battle against Covid-19 is waged not just on the medical and economic fronts, but that the virus is also a test of Singapore's social cohesion and psychological resilience, said Mr Heng.
"This reflects our determination that Singapore and Singaporeans remain resilient in the face of these challenges," he said. "Come what may, no matter how daunting the challenge at hand, we will bounce back, stronger and more united than ever, as we weather this storm together."
Concluding, Mr Heng pledged that the Government will lead the way in the fight against Covid-19 by doing its best to anticipate and respond to developments, make decisions based on facts and evidence, and exercise judement when there are trade-offs.
"The Government and the political leadership are in this with Singaporeans," he said. "We share the worries and anxieties of Singaporeans, and we will do our best for them.
"We will walk with every Singaporean, through every up and down."
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This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.