Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat had a lot to say about the Workers’ Party’s remarks on the impending Goods and Services Tax (GST) hike at the Budget debate.
First, the Minister took WP assistant secretary-general Pritam Singh to task for “adopting a wait-and-see posture” instead of “taking a principled stand”.
Singh had proclaimed at the Budget debate on Tuesday that his party does not support the GST hike and that the government should consider alternative approaches instead of raising taxes: “GST may well have to rise, but Singaporeans could be more likely to accept it if the Government considers the pros and cons of moving from the establishing orthodoxy, and consider new approaches that improve social protection thresholds for all.”
Noting that the Government has not clarified on what its projected expenditure will be in future when GST is slated to increase, Singh asserted that there is a “lack of clarity” on whether it is necessary to hike GST and added: “In view of the absence of such details, the Workers’ Party is unable to support the announcement of a GST hike at this moment in time.”
Instead of a GST hike, one new approach to raising revenue would be to use proceeds from land sales. Singh offered that this method would be “novel” and “relatively radical” in a 20-minute speech on the matter.
“Mr Pritam Singh cannot be serious” – Heng Swee Keat
Today, the Finance Minister rebuked Singh’s suggestion to use revenues from land sales and said. Using the same term that WP chief called the GST hike, Heng said that the options Singh presented are nonviable “distractions”:
“We deliberately introduced rules on land sales and the 50 per cent NIRC cap so that we do not succumb to the temptation to draw more from our reserves to fund current expenditure or eat into the principal sum.
“Any serious-minded person will appreciate that not one of these is a viable alternative to a GST increase. They are distractions. Mr Low Thia Khiang asked us not to be distracted. Instead of taking a principled stand, Mr Pritam Singh would rather withhold his support for the GST increase by adopting a ‘wait-and-see’ posture.
“It is easy to fall back on politically expedient options and pretend that they will solve our long-term challenges. But this is a dishonest and irresponsible approach.”
Heng further opined that future generations of Singaporeans could “easily end up in serious deficit” if the Government implemented such alternatives. He also noted that none of the WP parliamentarians who spoke during the budget debate asked the Government to cut back on spending for any specific item.
Pointing out that the WP, instead, asked the government to do more for the elderly and the disadvantaged, Heng said: “I think the Workers’ Party should come clean to the people. Does the WP want the Government to increase healthcare or social spending? If yes, how does the WP propose to pay for the increase?”
Heng also took issue with WP chief Low Thia Khiang’s comments on the timing of the GST hike announcement.
Low had clashed with PAP Minister Ng Chee Meng on the timing of the GST hike announcement, which he called a distraction, during the budget debate yesterday.
At the end of the exchange, Low had offered that the tax increase could be debated during the rallies at the next General Election – which must be called by 15 Jan 2021 – drawing laughs from the chamber.
Heng sharply berated the WP for such comments and said that he hopes the party does not use the GST hike to “distract people from the longer-term issues” during the next 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.”