SINGAPORE: The Government is prepared to take legislative action when necessary to ensure that the property tax rebates granted to commercial landlords are passed on to their tenants during the COVID-19 outbreak, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Wednesday (Apr 1).

“I want to urge the landlords to not only pass on these rebates but to take care of the tenants,” he said, reiterating a point that he and other ministers have made in recent months.

Adding that there is a “long-term relationship” between both parties, he said: “It’s important that tenants which are viable should be taken care of.”

READ: Landlords and tenants need to see each other as long-term partners, share both pain and benefits: Chan Chun Sing

As part of the record S$48 billion Resilience Budget announced last week, qualifying commercial properties that have been badly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic will not have to pay property tax this year.

This is a major step-up from the initial 15 to 30 per cent property tax rebate announced in Budget 2020 in February.

The expanded property tax relief will cover hotels, serviced apartments, tourist attractions, shops and restaurants.

In his speech last week, Mr Heng repeated his call for landlords to pass on these rebates “fully” by reducing rentals so as to ease the cash flow and cost pressures faced by tenants.

However, many tenants have criticised landlords for dragging their feet on this.

Business groups, such as the Restaurant Association of Singapore and the Singapore Retailers Association, have also in recent days called on landlords to translate these savings into lower rentals “urgently” as stricter safe distancing rules have put a further squeeze on retailers and F&B operators.

READ: Events postponed, restaurants ‘near empty’: F&B industry on the chopping block as COVID-19 measures bite

READ: ‘If this goes on, I might quit’: Mall tenants want rental rebates soon to counter COVID-19 hit

In response to a question from CNA on whether the Government might make it mandatory for landlords to pass on these tax rebates, Mr Heng said: “Indeed we are looking into this.”

He added: “Just as our package is to help viable companies to stay afloat, to make sure we protect jobs for our workers … So in the same way, we have to do this together.

“I’ll be looking at what landlords are doing and if there’s a need for us to take legislative action, we are prepared to do that.”

Mr Heng was speaking to reporters after touring aquaculture facilities at a local farm to understand how farmers in Singapore deploy sustainable farming technologies.

The COVID-19 outbreak has underscored the importance of resilience, which is why the second support package dedicated resources to ramping up resilience in the Singapore economy and society, he said.

Food resilience is a key part of this, Mr Heng added, and one way to strengthen this is to “accelerate” ongoing work on domestic production.

Noting that Singapore has already set a target of producing 30 per cent of the country’s nutritional needs by 2030, he said: “We will need to accelerate this work and see how best we can enhance our R&D (research and development), enhance our master plan to make sure that we can bring all the different parties together.”

The Government will also look into how it can help resolve issues that businesses in this industry are facing, be it in land use, financing of operations and manpower, he added.

Asked whether it is feasible to ramp up production in Singapore, Mr Heng said that this may be possible for projects that are already under way. But in newer areas, this “may take a bit more time”.

“But we are certainly seeking to quicken the pace of our work,” he told reporters.

Other measures to boost food resilience include ensuring that the country’s stockpile remains adequate.

However, this is a “stop-gap” measure and will need to be complemented with longer-term strategies, such as enhancing cooperation and building networks with countries around the world, he said.

READ: Singapore aims to produce 30% of its nutritional needs by 2030, up from less than 10%

READ: Singapore, 6 other countries committed to maintaining open supply chains: Joint statement

Mr Heng cited the joint ministerial statement issued by Singapore and six other countries last week, which highlighted the commitment by these countries to maintain open supply chains amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ministers also said they would “work closely” to identify and address trade disruptions and barriers that could impact the flow of necessary goods.

Expecting “several more countries” to join in the coming months, Mr Heng said: “This is a way in which we can assure one another of our supply chain activity, and that is one way we can continue to have a security of supply.”

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