Four civil society players came together yesterday, at a forum organised by The Independent and human rights NGO Maruah, to discuss their beliefs on what the nation’s economic direction should be for the next year.
The panellists – The Independent’s publisher Kumaran Pillai, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chairman Dr Paul Tambyah, former presidential candidate Tan Kin Lian, and Maruah president Leong Sze Hian – shared their views on where the government should place economic emphasis, ahead of Budget 2018 which will be delivered by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat next week.
Tan Kin Lian touched on four main points, during the talk, that he feels the government should take note of as it structures the economy.
Tan feels that the government should be focused on improving the welfare of the people. A good indicator of whether the people are happy is the birth rate, according to Tan, as he feels a high birth rate is a good measure of the people’s quality of life.
In order to improve the people’s quality of life, the government must reduce the Goods and Services Tax (GST) instead of raising it. Tan advocated that the government scrap the GST altogether as he feels the government can afford to do without this tax, in the interest of improving the quality of Singaporeans’ lives and help alleviate some of their stress.
Tan added that slashing the GST to 0 per cent will improve the people’s quality of life by 9-10 per cent, since they will not only be exempt from paying the 7 per cent GST, but there since the costly implementation charges that is required to impose GST will be cut out.
Second, Tan said that the government should overhaul the healthcare system. He shared a story of a Singaporean woman who was hospitalised as she was suffering an ailment related to her heart. The woman though that she was covered by private shield but when her hospital bill came, the insurance company refused to cover it since the policy the woman took has a clause that there is no coverage for heart disorders.
The hospital bill was a whopping $700,000.
The insurance company entered arbitration with the patient. In an unfortunate turn of events, not only did the company win the arbitration but the woman was also ordered to bear the arbitration bill of $300,000, leaving her with a total $1 million bill.
Tan urged the authorities to look into such cases and overhaul the healthcare system to better benefit Singaporeans.
Third, Tan criticised the amount of money that is allocated to national defense each year. He questioned whether Singapore still needed to focus so much on national defense since we have “cooperative neighbours”.
The 2011 presidential candidate also spoke about the price men serving National Service pay since they have to ostensibly put their lives on hold for two years while they complete mandatory conscription. Tan believes that even after completing National Service, these men will have a price to pay since they will be at least two years behind their female and foreigner peers and face increased competition.
Finally, Tan criticised the amount of money the government spends on infrastructure. He said that the government spent $100 million on an MRT signalling system that keeps breaking down and now plans to spend $550 million to overhaul the ERP system. Tan questioned why so much money has to be spent revising this system which presently works well
Tan also pointed to new MRT lines that are being built as big ticket items that will play a part in future budgets and questioned whether the authorities have conducted adequate cost benefit analyses before implementing such plans.
He concluded that it remains to be seen whether the government will address these concerns during the Budget and indicated that he does not have very much hope that the authorities will do so.
Of the four panellists, statistician and socio-political activist Leong Sze Hian was perhaps the most pessimistic about the upcoming budget. His full comments are coming up shortly.