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Budget 2014 very generous by any measure: Khaw

SINGAPORE — While there was widespread approval for Budget 2014 at a dialogue session hosted yesterday by Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan, several grassroots leaders took the opportunity to ask whether more could be done in certain areas.

SINGAPORE — While there was widespread approval for Budget 2014 at a dialogue session hosted yesterday by Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan, several grassroots leaders took the opportunity to ask whether more could be done in certain areas.

Among the points raised were questions about whether additional benefits — such as enhanced reliefs for parents, or Goods and Services Tax (GST) vouchers for full-time National Servicemen — could have been distributed by the Government, and how the long list of additional financial support schemes announced in the Budget could be communicated to the people they are targeted at.

Mr Khaw, who hosted the one-and-a-half hour session at Fuchun Community Club, said this year’s Budget was “very generous … by any measure”, but he added that it was important to be prudent.

While more could always be done, Mr Khaw told the 200 Sembawang Group Representation Constituency (GRC) grassroots leaders present that Singaporeans should reflect on the very unique and happy situation the Republic is in, with a sufficiently big budget surplus to hand out significant additional benefits.

This is unlike the situation in countries such as Japan and the United States, said Mr Khaw, which are currently facing big debates about government funding.

In response to a question during the dialogue session about whether the increase in Central Provident Fund (CPF) employer contributions should go into the CPF Ordinary Account for home financing instead of into employees’ Medisave Accounts, Mr Khaw pointed out that housing affordability was not an issue, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong most recently debunking the misconception during the National Day Rally.

To help everyone become aware of the additional benefits that the Government has announced, Mr Khaw said dialogues on the Budget should be held in dialects at the grassroots level, similar to some national conversation dialogue sessions last year. Residents can also communicate the information to their neighbours, he added.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the event, Mr Khaw said the feedback he had received from residents on the Budget was very positive.

The overall package of measures would address concerns among seniors, in particular, that healthcare in Singapore is not affordable, he added.

“So with this Budget, where there is greater subsidy for healthcare, and on top of that, the package for the pioneers, we have definitively debunked this comment that healthcare is not affordable,” he said.

Mr Khaw said the move to set aside funding for the Pioneer Generation Package had reassured seniors that the Government would be able to honour its commitments to them, as well as calm concerns that the package would burden younger taxpayers.

In addition, the distribution of the package’s Medisave top-ups and MediShield Life subsidies on a yearly basis would mean that the “cliff effect does not feel so dramatic for those who get left out”, he added.

Mr Khaw also pointed out that while the Pioneer Generation Package would directly benefit the older generation, it would also help younger Singaporeans reduce their financial burden in supporting their parents’ medical bills.

In a separate event in Tampines, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday said that it was “right” that the Pioneer Generation Package did not have means testing. He noted that there are already a number of means-tested schemes to help pioneers and Singaporeans in general from the lower-income group.

Describing this year’s Budget as “forward-looking”, the minister said it ensures that opportunities are created for Singaporeans, and also addresses long-term challenges such as ageing.

Mr Heng said middle-income families could look forward to a “fairly substantial increase” in bursaries for their children. He said: “I think we are in the position of strength to be able to set aside our Budget surplus to fund these very important long-term programmes.

“And as long as we continue to be prudent in our spending, I think we can continue to build Singapore, to build a better society.” Additional reporting Channel NewsAsia

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