By: Li Xiaolong (BSocSc Class of 2020)
I had the privilege of attending the Singapore Budget 2019 Speech live at the Parliament House on 18 February 2019, alongside students from different secondary schools, junior colleges, Institutes of Technical Education, polytechnics and other universities.
As a program organized by the Education arm of the Parliament, we attended a slew of activities aimed at improving our understanding of the Budget process. Contrary to popular belief, the Budget speech is only one of the many components of the annual budgeting exercise. Other components include the parliamentary debates on the Budget that comes after the speech which examines the proposed plans for each ministry. This event reminded me the importance that the Government places on accountability. Indeed, upon reflection, this idea of accountability is a constant feature in every aspect of every iteration of the Singapore Budget.
As a student of politics, what is peculiar (and impressive) is how the Singapore Government plans its Budget according to a very strict sense of accountability, as it strives to be accountable not just to the present generations of Singaporeans, but also the future generations of Singaporeans – who are necessarily not around to voice their concerns. For example, while the largest revenue source of the Budget comes from the Net Investment Returns Contribution (NIRC), the Government uses only up to 50% of that amount. This is intended to balance the spending needs of both the present and future generations. From a political science perspective, why would the present-day government consider the interests of those who are not-yet born (and hence would not ‘vote’ for it)?
Further, from a comparative perspective, the Singapore Government’s Budget is one of the most fiscally conservative in the world. Many sources of revenue for other governments’ budgets are not found in Singapore’s. One oft-cited example is land sales, which is a key source of revenue for governments such as Hong Kong’s. While Singapore’s Government also receives significant proceeds from land sales, it is not a direct source of revenue for the Budget as it avoids a situation where the Government would sell land to meet the needs of the present, at the expense of the future generations. Rather, revenue from land sales are invested as part of the NIRC – which (as mentioned) is used in a way that benefits both the present and the future generations. In this sense, Singapore’s policymaking process is a very distinctive one as it is more bureaucratic than it is political. In other countries, elected governments are often tempted to spend for present concerns, regardless of the cost to future generations. In fact, this is what most political analysts would expect the typical elected government would do.
The Budget process is clearly an important annual affair for Singapore’s political and policy scene, as it lays out the Government’s priorities for the coming year and introduces the specific policies that would be introduced. As a Political Science and Public Policy student, the opportunity to attend the Budget speech as it was delivered live was hence a very valuable and memorable opportunity.
 Expected long-term real returns on assets invested by the Government Investment Corporation, Temasek and Monetary Authority of Singapore.
Last updated on 26 Feb 2019 .