Maruah, a Singapore based NGO released a statement today ahead of the national budget. They have outlined four areas of concerns, chief of which is the growing social inequalities in Singapore.
Muruah has also raised an issue with the way surpluses are measured and transferred to the Trusts and Endowment funds. According to Maruah, this is not in line with the guidelines specified by IMF Fiscal Reporting Guidelines.
We reproduce the statement in full below:
MARUAH would like to state its concerns in four main areas. We ask that the concerns be noted and we hope that the recommendations we make will be taken into account, during the Committee of Supply discussions in Parliament, as we need to balance the use of our finances for the benefit of the people.
Firstly, we are disturbed by the distribution of the Budget amongst the Ministries. There are both global and national complexities, trends that clearly show rising inequalities, rising healthcare costs, accessibility to public housing for everyone and social protection for sustainability of individuals in need. We refer to the Budget allocation in the National Budget 2017. These can be lauded if as expressed in 2017’s COS Parliamentary sessions – that more revenue needs to be allocated to healthcare and social welfare, in the light that with our ongoing fiscal policies – that from a cashflow perspective, may mean that we have not been spending any money on healthcare, pensions (CPF) and public housing (HDB).
More people are struggling to pay for medical treatment in the spectrum of services that are now available. A look at the Agency for Integrated Care shows the availability of many services to help people who are growing older and for their caregivers. Treatment needs good coordination and medical care. More people are growing older. We need to make good on providing the budget for the allocation of quality services in a growing area of need. Yet it is also known that there are still not enough human resources to deliver well in these services. We have seen the data on lower-income workers, the homeless, those seeking aid through social services, Community Development Councils (CDCs), ComCare etc. These numbers are growing. MARUAH believes that there needs to be a stronger responsibility from the government, relative to the assistance from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and foundations. The Budget allocation decides how much each Ministry decides to invest in meeting people’s needs. MARUAH believes that an appropriate budget should mean that people’s needs are met and they do not have to shuttle among many Ministries and NGOs, despite all the good intentions of “ComCare” policies and eligibility criteria.
MARUAH asks that there be better coordination and allocation of more human resources to meet the people’s needs, as well as comprehensive and sustainable financial assistance schemes that are well managed, to ensure that the people’s dignity is maintained and enhanced.
Secondly we are particularly concerned over the Central Provident Fund (CPF). CPF contributions exceed total CPF withdrawals annually, and an undisclosed difference between the annualised returns derived from our CPF funds and the interest rates on CPF accounts, have been kept by the Government.
This is unique in the fiscal policies of all the developed countries in the world.
In 2016, total CPF contributions exceeded withdrawals by $17.3 billion. It is difficult to understand the charging of land prices at market rates even for public housing under the HDB. This is also unique in the public housing policies of all the developed countries in the world.
We ask what is the governance then in this area, and is the Budget looking into supporting governance and sustainability reporting measures in a more open and transparent manner?
Total annual Medisave contributions plus the annual interest on total Medisave accounts’ balances exceed total annual government spending on healthcare and withdrawals for medical expenses and insurance premiums.
This is also unique in the healthcare financing policies of all the developed countries in the world.
In 2016, Medisave contributions ($10 billion) plus the interest on Medisave accounts” balances ($3.3 billion), was in excess of government healthcare expenditure ($9.8 billion) and withdrawals for medical expenses and premiums ($3 billion.
We ask for a larger share from the government to help the people meet their housing, medical and retirement needs, when workers and their employers are already contributors to the CPF system, at up to 37 per cent of income, which is the highest pension contribution rate in the world.
Thirdly, MARUAH states its concerns on Singapore’s fiscal policies which have resulted in the highest Budget surpluses per capita among all the developed countries in the world. The total net Budget surpluses from 1997 to 2016 was $31.1 billion..
As these figures include Transfers to Trust and Endowment Funds which under IMF fiscal reporting guidelines should not be charged as one-time expenditures in the Budget – the Budget surpluses may actually be much higher.
For example, if we add back the Trust and Endowment Funds of $3.6 billion – the Budget surplus would rise from $5.2 billion to $8.8 billion in FY2016.
According to the Department of Statistics’ Monthly Digest of Statistics – the total Budget Cash Surplus/Deficit (M130611 – Government Finance, Annual) from 2005 to 2015 was $201 billion .
MARUAH is asking questions here for clarification and an elaboration. We ask for transparency – if we follow the full IMF fiscal reporting guidelines, does it mean that our Budget Cash Surpluses from 2005 to 2015 could be at an astronomical amount of $201 billion?
We ask the Minister of Finance that in the course of the COS debates, that recommendations be made to become more transparent in sharing information with the people, that the people’s access to healthcare and financial assistance are put on a sustainable drive with more resources and better organizational coordination; and that CPF be re-examined so that the people’s money is used by them and not diminished by, arguably, the profit-focus that is prevalent in our public institutions and policies.