7 things the multi-hatting Dr Koh Poh Koon said about Budget 2020, economy and jobs

By March 2, 2020Current

TL;DR – Betcha didn’t know about some of these seven things!

Some of us Singaporeans pride ourselves on being effectively bilingual. But I have to say I have been increasingly disappointed with the bi-linguistic skills of fellow Singaporeans, after having met so too many who cannot even read basic Chinese despite going through at least a decade of Chinese lessons in school. It’s bewildering to me that one can pick up this little in 10 years.

So it’s always a very pleasant surprise to come across people who show that they’ve pretty much mastered both English and Chinese.

Like Dr Koh Poh Koon.

Truth be told, I don’t know all that much about this doctor-turned-politician. Whatever I knew of him were snapshots of some poor PR moves in his early days as a politician.

Then I came across this Facebook post and saw the Chinese part.

It captured the essence of what Budget 2020 is trying to achieve really well, and I remember thinking it’s really useful in helping me understand the budget.

2020 财政预算案:

1 个主题:

2 个考量:

3个重点 :

(3)GST 援助配套


But wait, do you even know who Dr Koh Poh Koon is?

For the uninitiated, Dr Koh Poh Koon was elected as a Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC in September 2015.

He is currently Senior Minister of State at the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and assumed the role of Deputy Secretary-General at the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) in April 2018.

NTUC’s Deputy Secretary-General Dr Koh Poh Koon giving away Care Packs to healthcare workers at Tan Tock Seng Hospital as part of HSEU’s initiative (via)

Know what?

His dual role at MTI and also the labour movement is actually a stroke of genius as this unique position means he is clued in on the various ITMs, giving him foresight on where economic growth is headed and also have the ability to galvanise workers to upgrade and remain competitive.

Dr Koh Poh Koon’s pretty impressive at the UFM100.3 post-Budget dialogue!

So when I saw UFM100.3’s Facebook post of Dr Koh Poh Koon at a post-Budget dialogue, I checked it out. I was quite curious if his command of the Chinese language is really so good, or perhaps someone drafted the Chinese text for him for the Facebook post above.

I was just planning to listen to five, ten minutes of the dialogue. But oops, I actually sat through the hour-long dialogue. He articulated the thinking behind the budget and explained the measures really well! And when taking on questions, he was very clear too.

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Suffice to say I was impressed by his command of the language. I was not expecting him to be this fluent and able to express himself so eloquently in Mandarin.


The dialogue was quite a gem in the sense that he shed clarity on why Budget 2020 was structured like this, what the four packages were for.

It was about an hour long and let me translate and share some of the more important or interesting questions that were asked.

1) Can you summarise Budget 2020 for us?

Dr Koh had repeated the 1-2-3-4 summary which made for easy understanding and retention. Basically, Budget 2020 is about one theme, two considerations, three focus and four special packages, hence, 1-2-3-4.

1 Theme:This is a unity budget, and it’s about Singapore advancing as one.

2 Considerations:
(1)Tackle immediate challenges and concerns
(2)Continue to invest for our future

3 Focus:
(1)Strengthen our economy, deepen transformation of our businesses/enterprises
(2)Support the needs of every Singaporean at different life-stages and also to develop and groom Singaporeans
(3)Collectively plan for sustainable foundation building to meet future challenges

4 Special Packages: (First two are to boost our economy and the latter two are to support Singaporeans)
(1)Stabilisation and Support Package
(2)Transformation and Growth Package
(3)GST Assurance Package
(4)Care and Support Package

2) Why are we spending so much of our Budget to tackle COVID-19 compared to SARS?

Dr Koh explained that we’re now spending more to counter COVID-19 as compared to SARS because China is now a far bigger economy than it was 17 years ago during the SARS outbreak. In fact, it is now the second largest economy in the world and its GDP is, in fact, four times compared to 17 years ago.

As such, its impact on the global economy, including Singapore, is more wide-reaching now.

3) How would Singaporeans know what we’re entitled to?

Dr Koh assured that even if we’re not sure what we should be getting, our system is such that most of the benefits and entitlements are automatically calculated and credited to us in our different accounts. So we do not have to worry at all. But you can also check out the links of the different packages above.

Singaporean should also look beyond just the GST Assurance package and the Care and Support package, and take note that the first two packages are actually directed to help businesses tide through the current stormy weather and to transform so that when the COVID-19 storm blows over, we’re ready to bounce back faster and stronger.

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Before you go think that the Budget helps businesses more than it helps Singaporeans, the whole point of doing all these to support businesses is so that workers get to keep their jobs during this difficult period.

Epilogue to Min Chan Chun Sing’s leaked audio drama: #OurBengSteady and his two comrades

4) What about helping our tertiary students gain exposure?

Dr Koh also discussed the importance of exposure to overseas markets and the locals’ behaviour, and how this can be instrumental in helping Singaporean businesses expand overseas. Under Budget 2020, there are programmes to ensure that 70% of our tertiary students get to go overseas for exchanges, for exposure.

He further elaborated that 70% of these 70% of students (hehe, tongue twister there) will be sent to Southeast Asia, China and India for their immersion programmes.

Global dynamics are pointing to the shift of economic focus to Asia. Singapore, position as being the nucleus of Asia, as the financial hub of Asia, is well poised to take advantage of the rise of Asia. In order that we and our people remain competitive, it is important that Singaporeans acquire familiarity with these markets.

5) Other than the obvious sectors affected by COVID-19, will the Government also be helping other sectors?

Dr Koh said what the Government can do now is to help the sectors directly impacted by the virus outbreak, for instance, travel, hospitality, F&B sectors, as well as sectors that they can foresee will be affected. But the Government pay special attention to sectors that may feel the downstream ripple effects of Covid-19 if the situation is prolonged and render support if required.

He stressed that the Stabilisation and Support package and the Transform and Grow package are to give businesses help to relieve their cashflow situation which may have been impacted by COVID-19 outbreak. This is to help businesses with more liquidity and manage their cashflow better so that they do not have to resort to retrenchment. The help includes wage support, rental waivers, tax reliefs and bridging loans.

Yes, again, he stressed on ensuring that workers get their job.

6) How can businesses transform?

One panelist and one host also touched on how restaurants’ and eateries’ business have been affected by COVID-19, as more people have chosen to stay indoors. But although people are not dining out, they are using food delivery apps to order food. This is actually a good opportunity for F&B operators to hop onto the digitalisation bandwagon.

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For hawkers who may not be so digitally savvy, they can even use their SkillsFuture credits to attend some simple digitalisation courses to get them familiar with common apps for food delivery and payment, etc.

Dr Koh added that in coping with COVID-19, many companies have also implemented their Business Continuity Plans or BCPs. Many have split team arrangements, so teams now meet virtually over their smart phones or laptops. Companies can take this opportunity to help these workers transit and become more digitally confident, and at the same time, use this as impetus to accelerate the digital transformation of their business processes.

Through the use of technology and job redesign, flexi-work arrangements for certain job roles can indeed be a more permanent arrangement to save on operating costs like office rental and utilities while providing the opportunity for employees to remain productive and empowered to manage their time flexibly. This can also meet the needs of many working mothers to balance their needs of their childcare needs and career aspirations while contributing positively to our labour force.

So it is in a crisis where we must make full use of it, to transform even faster. He advocated to turn a crisis into an opportunity for transformation and training of workers.

7) What would Dr Koh use his SkillsFuture Credits on?

So far, 49% of Singporeans who have received the first tranch of $500 SkillsFuture credits have utilised it to go for courses. When asked, Dr Koh said he has not had time to use his yet. But he’s looking forward to the top-up, and if he can find the time, he would like to take up Russian!

In the area of trade and investment work under MTI, Dr Koh oversees the development of Singapore’s bilateral economic relations with China, the European Union, the Middle East and Russia & Central Asia. He shared that he travels to Russia 2-3 times a year to negotiate Free Trade Agreements for Singapore and he thinks it will be useful if he can understand the language.


(Featured image via)



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Qiqi Wong

Author Qiqi Wong

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