The Art of Adding Insult to Injury

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By Augustine Low

Forgo the GST hike and Singaporeans could end up finding imported goods and holidays less affordable. This was the warning given by Chan Chun Sing at a Lunar New Year dinner.

The pain of having to contend with price hikes and tax hikes is bad enough. But politicians like Chan have the habit of making it worse by giving excuses and rationale which shows a disregard for Singaporeans’ common sense and intelligence.

Defending the GST hike, Chan Chun Sing somehow managed to turn it into something which simply had to be done, otherwise Singaporeans would lose their privilege to continue enjoying imported goods and cheaper holidays.

How he got from GST hike to imported goods and cheaper holidays is a classic case of taking the argument to the extreme in order to convince Singaporeans that a GST hike is the only way out because the alternative is far worse.

To sum up Chan’s argument: without the GST hike, the government would have to draw from reserves and the world would surmise that Singapore has a weak fiscal policy. Forces at large would therefore collude to weaken and destabilise the Sing dollar, and after the Sing dollar comes under attack, Singaporeans’ savings and spending would be negatively impacted. The result: less money for imported goods and holidays.

Wow! And just like that, Singaporeans are supposed to buy into his argument that a GST hike is preferable to none?

Of course, Chan conveniently forgot to mention the most crucial part which would have killed off his rationale straightaway: Singapore’s reserves are already very high, far exceeding the reserve limit recommended by the International Monetary Fund for countries to keep in order to ward off currency attacks.

It’s the same tactic Chan used when it came to defending the steep water price hike last year. Chan said its was to “socialise our people to the challenges that we are facing on the water front” and that water is an existential issue.  We do not have the time and space to go into his argument on the existentialism of water. But right on cue, MPs also rose up in Parliament to rationalise that Singaporeans would treasure water more as a precious resource. In the words of MP Lee Bee Wah, the 30% water price hike “is just to bring up the awareness of the importance of water.”

It is better for them to just get on with it than to give Singaporeans lessons on how bitter medicine is supposed to be good for Singaporeans. Adding insult to injury only makes delayed pain like the GST hike more agonising than it should be.