SPEECH BY ER DR LEE BEE WAH, MP FOR NEE SOON GRC FOR FORTITUDE BUDGET STATEMENT RESPONSE 2020 IN PARLIAMENT
Mr Speaker, Sir,
I would like to record my appreciation to our Finance Minister and his team, who have worked tirelessly to produce our fourth Budget in less than 4 months. With Covid-19 nobody really knows when things will
start to brighten up. But we can take heart that our government is determined to make things right. Businesses and individuals must make the best use of resources provided by the government and put our best foot forward.
It is heart-warming to hear about the businesses who returned the benefits from the JSS to the government. Then there are others, some food and beverage businesses, who are cooking and distributing food to the needy. And, those who helped free up commercial resources for mass-production of surgical masks or pooling together resources to sew reusable masks. Many of my residents and supporters donated masks, face shields, sanitisers and vitamins. Some of them even donated their $600 which they received from the Government.
This is truly a display of our nation’s fortitude.
But in the meantime, some challenges remain which requires attention.
2. More help for home grown large companies with a localised workforce
The focus of our four Budgets is to preserve lives and livelihoods, saving and creating jobs. It benefits almost most all our SMEs. How about our bigger home grown companies whose sales turnover are more than $100 mil like Charles & Keith, Breadtalk and many others? Do we give them sufficient support? They hire many Singaporeans; they ventured and expand overseas. Now that the global economy is doing poorly, they are also struggling to keep above water. Will they be given rental rebates too, for their shops in Singapore?
It takes decades for some of these made-in-Singapore brands to achieve the regional and global recognition. Does the government have a strategy to reach out to them and see what help these local companies require? I am glad that Temasek came in to help SIA so that we do not lose our national carrier.
3. Construction Sector
Before I proceed further, I would like to declare my interest as a professional engineer and my involvement in property development and construction.
At first, when Government announced that the construction sector can start work in phase 1, all contractors are very happy. Afterall, all businesses who can start in phase 1 are very happy.
But their happiness turned to frustration soon, when they found out the number of approvals required before they start work.
I received many complaints from them. They were very confused, they were very unhappy.
Why? They face many challenges. Let me share with the house.
First, More stringent dormitory requirement from MOM, which is expected, because of the recent COVID-19 spread in dorms.
But suddenly MOM said no double-decker beds, each worker must have 6 m², instead of 4, etc. So, all the current dormitories do not comply. Don’t have dormitories to comply, no approvals for safe dormitories, cannot start work.
How to comply with new requirements within short period? Normally such requiremtns, the approval process from various Government agencies will take at least a few months.
Medical experts have been saying that as long as people live together, they are likely to infect each other, since COVID-19 is very contagious. So, is the 6
m² requirement much safer than the current provision?
For those who are currently staying in factory-converted dormitory (FCD) or Construction Temporary Quarters (CTQ) where all workers are healthy, can we let them maintain the status quo for now, quickly arrange swab test for the workers so that they can start work without shifting them and without further delay?
Now, every contractor is scratching their head, how to meet the new MOM requirement? Where to house their workers? Can MOM be more flexible on the existing CTQ and FCD? Otherwise, how to start work?
Next challenge is the compulsory swab tests: what is our swabbing capacity? Why such long queue? Why are those S pass holders who are not living in dormitory unable to register for swab test? Those who are housed in their own factory dormitory, well taken care of for last 2 months, just because they are not swab tested, they cannot start work.
Contractor said: “等 来等去,swab 来 swab 去,天都亮了。”
This compulsory swab test exercise can easily stretch till August or September. So how to start work?
Next challenge, compulsory SMO, SDO – Safe Management Officer, Safe Distancing Officer.
For contractors to start work, they must have SMO, SDO. There is long queue too for training of SMO and SDO. Last I checked, the next available session is 5 July. This is online course. Why is this not conducted during CB? Can we have more sessions so that this does not become bottleneck? So, no SMO, no SDO, no start work.
An uproar came on last Sunday (24/5): I received many text messages and phone calls, Why? Contractors have to give consent to MOM to deploy their workers who have recovered from COVID-19, otherwise they will not get the levy waiver: The consent must be given by 10 June. Isn’t this very high handed? Why doesn’t MOM just return the workers to the rightful employers? Why force people to give up their workers? For
some sub-contractors, they only have 2-3 charge hands, which means important staff. They say if MOM were to take them away, they cannot function when their works can restart. For those who are forced to take in workers, also not happy. They said it is very difficult to use other people’s workers in your team. Perhaps, it works only for housekeeping and general works only. Why not leave it to them to handle their own
This pandemic further illustrates the need to have multi agencies working together, not in silos: BCA, MOM, MOH and Fast Team are all working very hard. But they need to work together and also get industry input and not force their way through, need to have more communication so that the intent is well understood.
Many contractors I spoke to say, let those workers who are healthy, swap tested to start work first. No need to follow BCA tiers. Currently, all the projects are given tiers by BCA: tier A, B, C, D, and the contractors do not know their project in which tier. Let more projects start but gradually. For those who do not have enough workers to start, contractors will know how to work out among themselves.
With all these challenges, many will not be able to start work for at least another 3 months, perhaps September. And the income will only come in another 2-3 months later, at the end of the year..
Meanwhile, operating costs are running every day! Operating costs are going up due to more stringent requirements while productivity is going down. I am afraid many firms will go bust.
One contractor put it: All these administrative road blocks are turning phase 1 restart into an extended CB for the construction industry.
I wish to appeal for more support for the construction industry.
Thanks to Government for the JSS. But contractors have many other bills to pay, such as machineries rental, dormitory, loans, etc.
They have been having zero income since April. Definitely they need more help. May I appeal to DPM for his understanding.
Proposed additional help:
1) Can Government absorb the swab testing cost beyond August? Currently it’s free only up to August. But after August, every worker needs to be sent for swab test every 14 days, and they did not price in all these costs. Or perhaps, by then, we remove the test.
2) Can Government extend 100% workers levy waiver and $750 rebates till August since most of them will not be able to work until September or later? Currently they are given 100% for June only.
3) The industry feedback that it seems like there is not much help given by JTC. Can Government extend the 30% property tax rebate to all industrial buildings (most contractors occupy industrial buildings) and waive the land rental till August.
4) Another group of people serving the construction industry, i.e. consultants (engineers and architect): will they get similar support that Government gives to contractors, especially JSS? They are very worried about the staff costs. Will Resident Engineers and Resident Technical Officers be similarly supported? The industry is confused, and not sure.
4. Opening of sports facilities
My last major topic in this speech – opening of sports facilities.
I have always been a huge advocate of active living. With this pandemic, sport has taken a huge hit. A resident, Josephine, told me that she had vertigo 20 years ago and it went away because of sport. With the CB, her vertigo came back with a vengeance.
I urge the government to consider allowing the commencement of non-contact sports during Phase 1. A study was done by the Italian Ministry of Sport and Italian Olympic Committee to evaluate the risk of contracting Covid-19 for various sports. The risk was found to be non-existent or weak for individual non-contact sports like athletics, sailing, open water swimming, golf, and tennis.
In fact, many other countries allow some sports in their first phase of restart with some measures e.g. Malaysia allows 2 golfers per flight, but cannot share buggy, swimmers are back in the pools in Australia, Netherlands, Japan, China etc, with safe distancing measures, such as one swimmer per lane, some started without the opening of changing room.
Can’t we open up our stadiums with safe entry, crowd size control, designated lane usage etc? I am sure it can be much safer than some of the park connectors which are so congested.
In fact, many associations such as the Singapore Swimming Association, some clubs already have thought about this. They would like more guidance and to resume their activities. Will the government work with SportsSG to determine the sports suitable to make a return for Phase 1 with relevant safety guidelines? And I hope whatever measures that we want to put in place, the training can commence now, otherwise it may have bottleneck, like what happened to construction industry. So many people feel so stressed when they cannot do their favourite sports.
Also, there are many freelance coaches who can no longer survive without income.
Sir, Chinese please.
有些居民告诉我，这次坚毅向前预算案给企业的援助比较多，给家庭的援助比较少。大家在家办公的额外水电费，可能已经超过 100 元的补助。
Sir, we may have to live with Covid-19 for a long time.
We must support everyone in our society to adapt to this new normal. So, we must help local businesses and contractors stay afloat. Our businesses first and foremost want to get back to work, to stand on their own two feet. Therefore, they hope government can be flexible in its requirements and listen more to their feedback. We must also
look after the physical and mental wellbeing of our people.
Singapore has pulled through many crises in the past. Each time, we have not just survived, but emerged stronger. This time let us again pull together and help every Singaporean get through this. We are SGUnited.
I support the Budget.
Watch the speech here