Several Singaporeans have criticised Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin’s claim that Budget 2019 is not an ‘election budget’.
As many Singaporeans expected, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat revealed details of the Merdeka Generation Package and unveiled a Bicentennial Bonus that includes a one-off cash sum for Singaporeans, as he delivered his annual budget speech last month.
The ‘goodies’ that were announced in Budget 2019 led many to call the budget an ‘election budget,’ especially given widespread speculation that the next General Election may be held as early as this year.
Concluding the Committee of Supply debates on Friday (8 Mar), Tan Chuan-Jin refuted the claims that this year’s Budget goodies were part of a “cynical election scheme”.
Curiously asserting that the Merdeka Generation Package would not have been announced in Budget 2019 if it was an election budget, Tan exclaimed that the Government’s approach to the budget is instead “actually incredibly politically naïve”. He said:
“Honestly, if this was an election Budget, you will not see us budgeting for the Merdeka Generation Package here. We will shift the burden to the future. That’s what most governments do because the monies can be spent to make all of us happier in so many different ways.
“A politically astute government will use this dominance and wherewithal to justify even more spending, rather than still talk about prudence, about balance, about trade-offs (and) possible future GST increases in the next term.
“It is actually incredibly politically naïve to do so! Which government in the world would embark on this when they have funds and reserves to do so many more things to keep the electorate happy?”
Tan also asserted that Budget 2019 shows that the Government chose to spend money on building the country rather than on goodies to make the people happy, before he compared Singapore’s budget to the budgets in corrupt countries.
Asserting that money in corrupt countries is spent on programmes to lead people to vote a certain way, Tan said that these systems run from “pillar to post” from one election cycle to another “because the preoccupation is the present, just to get elected”.
He added that long-term investments in public infrastructure are not always prioritised in some Government systems around the world because “you do not reap the political dividends of these efforts.”
Asserting that Singapore’s budget stands in contrast as it was built upon “what has been said by many of you in the years past and also based on input surfaced by our fellow Singaporeans in many, many different forums,” Tan added:
“Budgets are built upon Budgets of years gone by. There is always a context and there is always a system in place.”
Commending the opposition in Parliament for supporting the Government’s approach to the budget “in spite of occasional differences and disagreements over the details,” Tan noted that many different groups were “honoured” through Budget 2019.
Calling Singaporeans who feel that they have not benefitted from this year’s budget to be mindful of this, Tan said that looking back, “it is clear that we have also benefited in certain ways”.
Tan’s views echo Heng Swee Keat’s advice to Singaporeans as he wrapped up the Budget debate. Heng had said: “Even if there’s nothing new for you this year, you and your family have certainly benefited from every one of our budgets.”
Concluding his speech, Tan said that the Government can only take the approach it takes to the Budget if Singaporeans support it. Noting that the people can only support the Government’s approach if they understand issues raised in parliamentary debates and have the same sense of perspective, Tan said:
“So if we as a Parliament can remain relevant, trusted and respected, our people will afford us that space and mandate to lead and chart the way forward.”
Singaporeans responding to Tan’s speech online, however, largely remained unconviced by Tan’s claims that Budget 2019 is not an election budget and asserted that they no longer believe such claims: