Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wife, Ho Ching, recently supported a suggestion that Singaporeans should support the impending 2 per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST) hike so that the elderly can be well taken care of.
Ho Ching, who also serves as chief executive of Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek, shared a post that made the suggestion on her Facebook page last week. The post, by pro-ruling party Facebook page Singapore Matters, took issue with an opposition party member’s post about how a visually handicapped elderly Singaporean was denied long-term social assistance despite being medically unfit for work.
Attempting to debunk the opposition member’s post, Singapore Matters asserted that the resident concerned already receives help from the establishment.
The group claimed that the 59-year-old resident’s rent is paid for by a Buddhist temple while the National Kidney Foundation sponsors his dialysis as well as taxi transport for dialysis sessions. The page further added that the resident’s medical treatment is fully subsidised and that he also receives sponsored daily meals and monthly food rations.
Defending that the resident does not really need monthly payouts from his Central Provident Fund (CPF) account since it would only go to “miscellaneous expenditure,” the group asked, “How much financial assistance should a person get? It also depends on the generosity of taxpayers.”
Asserting that Singaporeans should “put our money where our mouth is,” the page called on the people to “support the 2% GST hike that that our elderly population can be well taken care of.”
Ho Ching, a notable figure from the establishment, shared the pro-PAP page’s post on her own Facebook page, despite criticisms that revenue generated from GST increases does not appear to flow down to the poor.
“The Government has realised what a goldmine the GST is.”
In 2006, Ho Ching’s husband PM Lee said a GST hike will help the poor: “So when we implement the GST increase… it is a package which will fully offset the impact of the GST for these groups and begin to strengthen the social safety nets and tilt the balance in favour of the lower income Singaporeans.”
The next year, the Government hiked the 5 per cent GST to 7 per cent. Over a decade later, the Government collected $11.1 billion for the 2016-2017 financial year – a whopping $7 billion increase from 2005 when GST collections stood at around $3.7 billion.
The revenue generated from the last GST increase, however, does not match the aid that those living in poverty here received. According to the Ministry of Social and Family Development, the number of recipients on the Public Assistance scheme only rose by 15%, from 2,965 in 2005 to 3,421 in 2014.
At the same time, funds disbursed by Comcare climbed from $42 million in 2006 to $108.9 million a decade later in 2016. This amounts to less than 1 per cent of the increase in revenue generated by the last GST hike.
On top of these statistics, perceptions that the government overspends on certain extravagances has riled Singaporeans. One such extravagance is what many perceive to be overspending on frills for government offices.
In 2002, former Speaker of Parliament Tan Soo Khoon warned the government to be mindful of overspending on frills as he compared some new government offices to five-star hotels: “If you see many of them, you wonder if they look more like five-star hotels… I think there must be a competition among them to outdo one another to see which can look better than the Four Seasons Hotel.”
Urging the government to be thrifty instead of excessive, the now-retired politician called on the government sixteen years ago to resist increasing the GST and made an impassioned plea to the Government, backed with statistics, that a GST hike was unnecessary.
In what many recognise as his typical sharp manner, the ruling party member said, “The Government has always maintained that at 3 per cent, our GST rate is one of the lowest in the world and we lag behind the GST rates of other countries. This is one race where I do not think we are in a hurry to be No 1.”
Challenging the Government’s claims that the GST might be raised to cope with the reduction of income taxes, Tan pointed to the burgeoning income tax collection between 1993 and 2000 and asked, “So when we are told that the GST must be raised to make up for losses in the collection of income taxes, I must ask what losses is the Government talking about.”
He added boldly, “My conclusion after seeing all these figures is that the Government has realised what a goldmine the GST is.”
Commenting on the 2002 budget, Tan said:
“The only bold thing about this year’s Budget is the unashamed hurry to increase tax revenue under the guise of preparing for changing circumstances at a time when Singaporeans are reeling and recoiling from the effects of the recession, when unemployment is now hovering around a six-digit figure and when new entrants into the job market cannot even smell a job interview.
‘How do you justify a system that now says the rich, with their big fat salaries, pay less and who probably don’t feel the pinch, and the other 70 per cent, who could not or a along, have to start coughing up? Sure you can give the goodies or offsets but why break a man’s leg’s and then. give him crutches to wobble on?”
Concluding that “What’s done is done,” Tan urged the authorities to resist the urge to hike the GST and called on the Government to be more conscious of overspending.
In 2011, just about a decade after Tan’s impassioned plea, the Manpower Ministry spent almost $272,000 to buy 472 Herman Miller designer chairs for ministry staff.
Given the government’s habits, several netizens have questioned whether the revenue generated from another GST hike will really go towards aiding the elderly, like Ho Ching and company appear to feel it would.