Workers’ Party Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang clashed with Minister for Education (Schools) and Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng on Wednesday after he questioned the timing of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) hike announcement, which was announced as part of Budget 2018 last week.
While Low praised the Budget for being a forward-looking one, he asked why the GST hike had to be announced as part of the budget for 2018-2019 since the 2 per cent tax increase is only set to go into effect from 2021.
Low’s comments prompted Ng – who apparently did not intend to speak – to respond. Claiming that he was “increasingly baffled,” Ng engaged in a back-and-forth with Low over why the tax hike was announced during Budget 2018.
At one point, Ng brings up remarks Low had made during the Committee of Supply debate last year: “I quote ‘I hope he – meaning the Minister of Finance – can be upfront with Singaporeans now so that they are not blindsided by the Government as they were with the sudden 30 per cent increase in water prices’.”
He then quips, “You can’t have your cake and eat it,” drawing laughs from the chamber – most notably, from Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who are seated together.
A video of the exchange shows that Ng is reading Low’s quote from an iPad or an electronic tablet of some sort. Interestingly, after he reads Low’s quote, Ng hands the iPad over to PM Lee, without being prompted to do so. This raises the question if the iPad Ng was reading from was, in fact, the Prime Minister’s as Ng seems to be returning the iPad to him.
As Low responds, WP chairman Sylvia Lim can be seen behind him smiling, with what appears to be disbelief, before she can be seen shaking her head (see 1:35 onwards):
This is not the only time parliamentarians can be seen laughing at Low during the exchange. Chan Chun Sing can be noticed, uproariously laughing and gesticulating with both hands towards Low:
Low – who responded to Ng that the hike should be announced early but the question is whether it should be announced together with the budget – perhaps prompted the most laughs when he offered, tongue in cheek, that the GST hike could be debated during the rallies at the next General Election.
Some netizens have questioned why the parliamentarians were laughing so uproariously when all the opposition politician was doing was seeking clarification:
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat later berated Low and the WP for suggesting that they could debate the GST hike at the next General Election:
“I was puzzled that he characterised the GST debate as a distraction, and that he would rather debate this at election rallies.
“The Workers’ Party MPs have been elected into Parliament. You are sitting in Parliament. Parliament is exactly the place to debate serious issues affecting our nation’s future.
“So I really hope that the Workers’ Party MPs, having run on a slogan of a First World Parliament, is not just using attractive election slogans, with no real intent to take your Parliamentary responsibilities seriously.
“I hope that when the elections come around, the Workers’ Party will not turn around and use the GST to distract people from the longer-term issues that we face. These are serious long-term challenges that we should do our best to address and not take this as electioneering or as political play. We owe it to Singaporeans to do right thing.”
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