Singapore unveils big-spending budget amid election talk

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat delivering the budget speech in Parliament. Video screengrab.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat delivering the budget speech in Parliament. Video screengrab.

Singapore announced extra healthcare spending for the elderly and a raft of other handouts in its annual budget on Monday amidst mounting speculation about elections possibly being held this year.

Polls must be held by 2021 but analysts suggest they could take place later this year, as the country’s founding family prepares to hand over leadership to a younger generation of leaders.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat set aside S$6.1 billion (US$4.5 billion) to support half a million citizens aged between 60 and 69.

The package included concessions for government-built sports facilities to keep healthy as well as healthcare and insurance subsidies.

Heng described the package as “a gesture of our nation’s gratitude for their contributions and a way to show care for them in their silver years”.

Another S$3.1 billion was earmarked for long-term care needs, including subsidies and payouts for severely disabled workers.

To mark the 200-year anniversary of Sir Stamford Raffles’s founding of modern Singapore, Heng unveiled further handouts of S$1.1 billion.

Around 1.4 million lower-income citizens — more than a quarter of the city-state’s population — will receive up to S$300 dollars each in vouchers to help them with living costs.

Others will get benefits in the form of pension fund top-ups, tax rebates and support for their children’s education.

Finance Minister Heng was last year named to a key post in the ruling People’s Action Party, putting him on course to become the country’s next prime minister.

The 57-year-old is expected to take over in the coming years from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the son of the late founding premier Lee Kuan Yew, who oversaw the country’s rapid economic development during three decades of sometimes authoritarian rule.

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