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Government 'ready' with stimulus package if global economy takes a sharp downturn: DPM Heng

SINGAPORE — The Government is ready to roll out a package to help businesses and workers should the global economy worsen, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat has said.

Government 'ready' with stimulus package if global economy takes a sharp downturn: DPM Heng

Mr Heng Swee Keat taking questions from eight Malaysian journalists from different publications at the 14th Malaysian Journalists Visit Programme held at Our Tampines Hub.

SINGAPORE — The Government is ready to roll out a package to help businesses and workers should the global economy worsen, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said. 

Figures released earlier this month showed that Singapore’s economy grew a disappointing 0.1 per cent year-on-year in the second quarter, amid worsening global conditions.

With the recent slowdown, Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, said that he, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and other ministers had been discussing the situation.

In a wide-ranging interview with Malaysian journalists on Saturday (July 27), he said: “We are ready with a package to help our businesses and help our workers should the global economy take a sharp downturn. We always have to be prepared. In the same way, our financial regulators are also watching the global financial markets very closely.” 

Global investors were “a lot more jittery than before”, he added.

The last time Singapore announced a fiscal stimulus package aimed at alleviating weak economic conditions was in 2009, when the Government pushed out a S$20.5 billion resilience package to help Singaporeans weather the global financial crisis.

“We can all do our best to take the right course of action, to advocate the right course of action. But if things turn bad, then we have to be prepared to respond,” he said, adding that he hopes good sense would prevail, as the trade tensions between the United States and China are not easing soon.

Taking questions from eight Malaysian journalists from different publications at the 14th Malaysian Journalists Visit Programme held at Our Tampines Hub, Mr Heng spoke about a range of topics, such as the state of Singapore-Malaysia relations and the upcoming General Election in Singapore, which must be held by April 2021. The transcript was made available to the Singapore media.

A reporter asked Mr Heng for his thoughts on being the prime-minister-in-waiting. Mr Heng responded that he is focused on delivering on policies and improving the lives of people during the current term of government, which runs until April 2021.

“As to how the political landscape will look like, (that) depends critically on the General Election. I hope that Singaporeans will continue to support us strongly, so that we can form the Government and then we can form our new Cabinet.”

He added that Mr Lee Hsien Loong will remain as the prime minister "for a while, for him to look at our new Cabinet and for us to work out the agenda for the future". Mr Lee previously said he hopes to hand over the reins after the next election and by the time he turns 70, which would be in 2022. 

SHOULD SINGAPORE HAVE ADVERSARIAL POLITICS?

Another reporter asked whether Singapore should have a more politically adversarial system with more “team rivalry” within the same party. Mr Heng said he believed this would not be good for Singapore.

“Even across the world, the systems which have operated well in delivering a better life for their people have been systems in which people are prepared to deal with differences, but not in an adversarial way,” he said.

What Singapore needs is a “certain political maturity”, in which people are encouraged to have different ideas about how to do things and come to an agreement after debating the options, he said. This means finding areas of agreement, so that people who agree or disagree with each other can work together “to make the idea come alive, to achieve the results”.

“At the end of the day, the country cannot be going in 10 different directions, because then we go nowhere,” Mr Heng said, adding that he prefers solving problems constructively. “It is very important that our energy is not frittered with plenty of disagreements and (we are) going into an adversarial system.”

Later in the interview, he described an “ideal Singapore” as one where every Singaporean and resident feels able to fulfil their aspirations and reach their potential, citing as an example the improvements to Singapore’s education system over the years to allow different pathways for students to achieve their goals.

Job creation and economic transformation are important, too, as well as having an inclusive system and good health care for all Singaporean citizens, including the Pioneer and Merdeka Generations, he said.

“Of course, there is no one ideal, but I think these are aspirations that we strive for Singapore,” Mr Heng said.

SINGAPORE-MALAYSIA RELATIONS

The Malaysian media also quizzed Mr Heng about sensitive issues between the two countries, with one journalist stating that Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad “is normally quite aggressive” towards issues such as Pedra Branca and the water agreements.

Mr Heng said that there is an agreement between both sides to work on contentious issues, adding: “As long as we work on the basis of a win-win outcome and work on the basis that we abide by international rules and norms and regulations, I think we can find practical ways to resolve any differences.”

He noted that Dr Mahathir had affirmed this in the Nikkei Conference in Tokyo in May, in which he said he accepted the International Court of Justice’s ruling that Pedra Branca belongs to Singapore because Malaysia abides by the rule of law, despite being unhappy at the decision.

Mr Heng said he “very much endorses” what Dr Mahathir said on the importance of resolving differences through a proper process, adding that Singapore and Malaysia can then look forward to areas of constructive co-operation, including within the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) context.

Giving examples of areas where both sides can co-operate, Mr Heng said that Malaysia and Singapore, along with the other Asean member states, can work towards creating peace and stability given the global geopolitical situation, seize opportunities in the digital economy, and promote stronger people-to-people ties.

On the suspended Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) project between the two nations, he said that enhancing connectivity across the whole Asean region as well as Asia will be “a plus for all countries”.

Mr Heng added that there have been discussions between the transport ministries of both sides: “They are working through the details on how that will be taken forward.”

“Malaysia has requested (the HSR project) be reviewed, and we are waiting for proposals on how that review will take place.”

As for the suspended Johor Baru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS) link project, Mr Heng said that Singapore supports Malaysia’s request to review the project to make it more economically viable, and both sides are still discussing this closely to bring the RTS to fruition to benefit travellers.

“In fact, it is a reflection of the very close relationship that we have, that so many people are travelling, you know, day-in day-out with one another,” he said.

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Heng Swee Keat business economy Malaysia

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