The government is trying to hijack the GST hike debate

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By Augustine Low

Create distraction and divert attention. Attack Sylvia Lim for speaking up and then demand an apology. Praise Low Thia Khiang for speaking up like a PAP MP.

Then Ministers take turns with their talking points which will be repeated ad nauseam, turning a deaf ear to the key issues at hand and the key points raised. It’s how the government intends to stick to its narrative and hijack the GST hike debate.

The government’s talking points were very much summed up by PM Lee Hsien Loong over the weekend: it has decided against tapping its reserves as they are Singapore’s “precious nest egg.” Once the reserves are depleted, there will be no money left “when the rain comes.”

But nobody is asking the government to use the reserves willy-nilly till depletion. That would be reckless and foolhardy. Are Singaporeans so thoughtless and self-centred?

What are the key issues the government has sidestepped? They were raised in a brilliant Budget Speech by Nominated Member of Parliament Kuik Shiao-yin.

Let’s recap three of the most cogent points from her speech which the government has not addressed and instead has resorted to distractions and diversions.

Kuik pointed out that the International Monetary Fund has said that Singapore is being “excessively prudent” in amassing so much reserves.  A country with Singapore’s GDP could make do with $113 billion in reserves, enough for rainy days and to ward off currency attacks.  But latest figures show Singapore is holding $369 billion in reserves, more than three times of that recommended by IMF. (There are those who estimate the reserves to be about $1 trillion!). Is the IMF therefore wrong with its assessment? Why does Singapore feel the need to go against IMF guidelines?

Kuik also asked a most reasonable question that the government has chosen to ignore: if $369 billion is still not enough, HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH THEN? “Otherwise it can seem like this story is just about growth of reserves for growth’s sake,” she said.

Unless the government comes up with a figure, we could be talking till the cows come home and we would still be hearing the refrain that the reserves are not to be tapped into for fear of depletion.

Another key point raised raised by Kuik: should the government spend more to help the people around today or store more to help the people of tomorrow?

The way the government is going about it, they would rather keep the money to help the unborn, to help future generations, than to help those alive today, many of whom could be suffering and in dire need of more support and assistance.

Where does such warped logic come from? Help future generations but keep the money single-mindedly and purposefully away from today’s generation?

Unless we have an open and honest debate, it would be a fruitless exercise. The die is cast and it’s the government way or the highway.