The Singapore Government has slashed its official growth forecast for this year to between 0.5 and 1.5 per cent and announced a S$2 billion (about HK$9.21 billion) package to cut business costs and stimulate the economy. The package will result in an S$800 million budget deficit this year - the first in over a decade - but was still criticised by some economists for its parsimony. Finance Minister Richard Hu Tsu Tau said growth would be 'very weak and possibly even negative' in the second half of the year. In an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post published today, Deputy Prime Minister and monetary policy chief Lee Hsien Loong has warned it could be five years before high growth returns to Singapore. 'The region is going to be limping along for five years and we are not going to get high growth for five years,' Mr Lee said. 'If countries like Indonesia do the right things, they may begin to recover in four to five years. But the situation is complicated and you will have to watch how the scenario unfolds. 'Before the crisis happened, we thought we could achieve 6 to 8 per cent [annual economic growth] for five years and then decelerate after that. Perhaps we have now shifted gear earlier than expected.' Singapore's move comes a week after Hong Kong revealed a HK$44 billion package to shore up its economy. To help Singapore businesses bear the pain, commercial and industrial rentals on government properties will be slashed and rebates offered. Telephone, power and port costs will also be cut, but a planned substantial increase in water rates will still go ahead tomorrow. To prop up the property market, government land sales will be frozen for two years for private luxury executive condominiums and commercial developments. However, sites along Singapore's new mass transit railway line will be exempt. Developers will also be able to apply to extend completion dates without penalty. Previously, the government charged a 5 per cent premium on the site's value. To help the construction industry, S$1.9 billion worth of new infrastructure projects have been approved, of which S$670 million will be disbursed this year. Stamp duty will also be suspended on share transactions for a year. Mr Hu said the measures were necessary because of 'turmoil and uncertainty' in Asia, with Japan in recession, Indonesia in deep trouble and a gloomy outlook for Singapore's electronics sector which normally contributes more than half the country's non-oil exports. Preliminary figures show growth tumbling to just 1.9 per cent in the second quarter, compared with 5.9 per cent in the first quarter and a robust 7.8 per cent for last year as a whole. Mr Lee conceded Singapore could start entering a technical recession as early as the third quarter. Compared with his annual budget in February Mr Hu has been generous, but still not enough in many people's eyes given that fiscal reserves are rumoured to stand at over S$200 billion. Eddie Lee, economist at Vickers Ballas, said: 'There is more they could have done. 'Not very much has been put back into the pocket of the consumer. I'm still worried about the economy.' There have been calls for corporate tax cuts and increased personal tax rebates to help soften the blow and help spur consumer spending. Liew Yin Sze, economist at Sassoon Securities, said the government might be saving some measures for future use.