Budget 2018: A big sorry non-debate

Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah

Illustration: Sonny Liew


What exactly has been the net gain for Singapore out of the debate on Sylvia Lim’s suspicions that the Government had backtracked on the GST? Zero. I would go further and say we actually ended up with a ridiculous net loss – being sidetracked from a serious, fruitful and much needed discussion on whether there is a need to raise the Goods and Services Tax.

Ridiculous because the GST affects everyone, especially the poor. Ridiculous because such a tax hike should not even be entertained without a full and robust debate – in public and in Parliament itself. All the facts, research and implications must be laid out in the open.

The Workers Party MP claimed that the Government had backpedalled from earlier plans to raise immediately the GST after adverse public reactions to alleged trial balloon statements.

Five ministers went after her for her comments. Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, Law Minister K. Shanmugam, Senior Minister of State for Law Indranee Rajah, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, in her capacity as Leader of the House, and Senior Minister of State (Health and Communications and Information) Chee Hong Tat. Basically, they clarified that the Government had been consistent and clear in saying there would be a GST hike. Ms Fu asked Ms Lim to apologise, slamming her for falling short of “the standards of integrity and honourable conduct expected of all members”.

And on Saturday (March 10) Chee went further than the dishonourable conduct accusation. He wrote in the PAP website: “Had the Government not pursued the matter in Parliament, most people would have overlooked Ms Lim’s ‘test balloon’ comment.  The WP could later use it to great effect for political attacks, including during the next general election.”

Ms Lim has admitted her “suspicions may have been wrong “ but she refused to apologise because “I believe I was doing my duty as an MP to convey ground concerns, reactions and confusion”.  Rightly.

From here on, the Leader of the House could possibly go the whole nine yards, depending on the circumstances. The “case” will have to be referred to the Committee of Privileges which will then decide what to do with Ms Lim.

Ms Fu: “I must put the member on notice that if she repeats such dishonourable conduct and abuse parliamentary privilege, I will refer the matter to the Committee of Privileges.”

Censure, fine, suspend, jail? Whoa. I hope not.

Are we still in the knuckle duster days of cornering an adversary in a cul de sac to teach him or her a lesson? By no stretch of imagination can I visualise the usually measured Sylvia Lim as a rabble-rousing Red Book-quoting disorderly MP out to bring the House down – who should be taught a lesson. She was just doing her job.

As the two longest-serving Opposition MPs, Low  and Ms Lim can more than hold their own against Government leaders in Parliamentary debate. Younger Opposition MPs led by Pritam Singh must step up their act and show they can also take on punches and give back just as vigorously.

They are in Parliament to serve Singaporeans – to seek answers and offer views and solutions – and not get sidetracked into another agenda not of their making or of immediate relevance. Nor have they been elected into Parliament to make the Government unchallenged and happy.

Why are we getting mired in a primary school game of you-cross-the-line-and-I-will-whack-you? The real substantive issue is the proposed GST hike. Is it necessary?

Budget 2018 has come and gone. We are none the wiser whether the hike is justified, never mind the Government throwing it at us as a fait accompli and as inevitable as death. Never mind also that the 2 percentage points hike will come between 2021 and 2025. Chee was stating the obvious. Yes, the WP has hinted through Low that it will make it an election issue.

And we should. That is not only the right but also the honourable thing to do. Don’t sneak it past poor Singaporeans.

Danny Quah, Acting Dean, LKY School of Public Policy

I just noticed that someone has been filling the shoes of Kishore Mahbubani, the founding Dean of the LKY School of Public Policy. Danny Quah is now Acting Dean and Li Ka Shing Professor in Economics at the School. Kishore has joined the NUS as Senior Advisor (University & Global Relations) and Professor in the Practice of Public Policy.

Quah, born in Penang, has a PhD in Economics from Harvard and an AB from Princeton University. I quote from the school’s own website:

“His research interests include income inequality, economic growth and international economic relations.

“His blog is regularly named one of the top 100 Economics blogs in the world. Quah’s research has been supported by the Khazanah Research Institute, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the British Academy, the UK’s Economic and Research Council, and the Andrew Mellon Foundation.”

Sense And Nonsense is a weekly series. Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.




  1. To put it plainly this is the most f up government in the history of SG. Never before have we seen so many putrid minds gathered in one place. This country is doomed if LHL and his feeble-minded sycophants remain in power! Singaporeans had better wake up from their stupor or suffer the same fate!

  2. They are only so confrontational because of their supermajority. If they didn’t have that they would behave like the lambs that they are in front of their superiors.

    Half of them probably lost their balls sometime during their civil service careers or soon after they signed up to be PAP MPs.

  3. Get ready for them to waste more time by tabling a motion to label Sylvia Lim’s statement as political manoeuvring – sounds familiar? Happened during NCMP scheme debate.

    When confronted by the inconvenient truth that the scheme looks suspiciously like a ploy to dissuade voters from voting in full fledge MPs, they decided that they must define the truth to keep their own narrow world views intact.

    Actually, their behaviours are exactly like Trump, if Trump were in total control.

    Always right and never admit mistake – check

    When confronted with inconsistencies, lash out and attack – check

  4. Dr Toh Chin Chye will shake his head to witness our kindergarten standard of parliament debates on demanding apologies!
    The world politicians are laughing at the stupidity of the white barking dogs barking in gang to demand for apologies!
    Wasting our taxpayers money on debates with no answers!
    Time for the 69.9% to wake up and vote for oppositions by GE2019

  5. What the debate has exposed is the lack of “numbers people” in the WP. This is manifest in the virtual absence of any worthwhile contribution by the opposition. Pitram Singh tried but only exposed his ignorance with his comment on land sale. WP has too many “words people”, ie. lawyers, and so they concentrate on words. Hence Sylvia Lim – a combination of words and a suspicious mind. Because of her trying to lay a verbal trap for the government we got diverted. Sad.

  6. The key to a meaningful finance budget debate requires what is the actual amount of national reserves (balance sheet) and the actual cash inflows & outflows (operational P&L).
    This will answer whether the elected government is hoarding excessive money and over-taxing its citizens.
    Based on revealed official information: MAS is $360bln, Temasek is $280bln, GIC is north of US$100bln.
    GIC figure is the big elephant missing. Analysts estimate in various foreign media is about $500bln to $800bln.
    Given the conservatism of the ruling party and secrecy, the number is more likely to be higher than lower especially with so many big number deals done by the GIC Real Estate, just one of its arms.
    If that be the case we are talking of $$1.2 trln to $1.6 trln of national reserves in these 3 firms alone.
    Operational cash flows had been very strong through much tax receipts & land costing on HDB & land sales.

  7. Understanding Singapore’s Political System

    Amidst all the recriminations after the Sylvia Lim “test balloon” saga, let all parties take one step back and listen to what the late great LKY said on 12 April 2006 in a CNA special forum “Why My Vote Matters – A Dialogue With Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew”. In it, I want everyone to take note of 2 important points:

    Continue at:

  8. Well till todate our fellow Singaporean must realise that the Govt. is not just Hijacking this debate but to divert and justified the REAL facts that our New Leader are NOT sure how to generate income to sustain NOT the Country Singapore BUT to FEED the Huge machinery which consist of:

    1. President/PM/Top Minister Pay Package
    2. Ministers & MP of the PAP Pay Check
    3. The TOP Civil Servants
    4. The Civil Services people
    5. The Huge Projects which for their Benefits or shall I call it “Diverting of Funds/Money” to these ppl pocket
    6. Funds require to maintain Current Past Projects/Maintenance of such project.
    BUT the main Purpose of the GST increase was NEVER the Low Income nor Middle Income class but their New Pay Revision to the PAP Ministers/MPs as well as Senior MPs.

    OR ELSE they (PAP) will then shift their NEXT excuses “We cannot get Good People/Citizen to serve as MP/Minister because of Low pay comparing with the Standard of Living today and the so called

    “Complexity of our Economy” TRUST me the VICIOUS Cycle of the Excuses from the PAP never CHANGE but the Stupity of Singaporean is the Undermining FACTOR.

    To make matter WORST if they are more Well-Educated then our Fore-Father from pre-wars to the 1970’s/80’s Generation which is much lowly Educated…….Damn STUPID at time I see my Fellow Sin-gaporean with no GUTS but just Empty Vassel make the Most NOISE