In an article posted online on Tuesday (Nov 22), Senior Minister of State for Finance Chee Hong Tat wrote that the recent debate over the increase in the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in Parliament reveals the “fundamental differences” between the ruling People’s Action Party and The Workers’ Party, which drew a response from WP MP Leon Perera.

On Wednesday morning (Nov 23), WP MP Leon Perera weighed in on the matter, sharing a link to Mr Chee’s piece and writing in a Facebook post that “The government’s decision to press ahead with the GST hike at this time does not embody the political courage that Singapore needs.”

A rebuttal from WP MP Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) was published in Zaobao in response to a letter from a person who wrote that WP’s proposals would “raid” the country’s reserves and leave the next generation of Singaporeans “impoverished and indebted.” On Nov 21, Senior Minister of State for Finance Chee Hong Tat offered a rebuttal to Assoc Prof Lim’s rebuttal, with another piece published in Zaobao as well as a Facebook post and an article on the day after.

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Mr Chee had written in his piece that considering the differences between the PAP and WP is important, “especially since the WP has grown in strength over the years and is now positioning itself as the government-in-waiting.”

“The PAP government believes that we should spend within our means – if expenditure increases, so must tax revenue.  We also believe that every generation must do its part to safeguard Singapore’s hard-earned reserves, to ensure it can continue to generate resources for the future and to provide a rainy-day fund for subsequent future generations to tackle any emergencies.

The WP believes that we should avoid unpopular broad-based taxes like the GST and fund our higher expenditure by taking more from the reserves, thereby leaving future generations of Singaporeans with less money and a weakened financial position,” he added.

Mr Perera, however, reiterated what the WP has been saying all along that economic conditions are different today than when the GST hike was first discussed a few years ago. He added that raising the GST when the rates of inflation are so high adds to the risk that inflation will get even higher. “It is irresponsible to press ahead with this GST hike when inflation has not even been tame,” he wrote.

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Mr Perera also denied the assertion that WP’s proposals mean “raiding” Singapore’s reserves. And while some of the proposals would entail slowing the rate of growth of reserves, he added, noting that in spite of the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic “it would appear from our questioning in Parliament that our reserves grew during this period.”

Mr Perera ended his post with a note about political courage. “Political courage means recognizing that the facts and assumptions that supported an earlier decision have changed, as is the case with the current inflationary pressures. Political courage means being able to recognise that contrary arguments have merit, even if those arguments come from one’s political opponents.” /TISG

Round 3: Chee Hong Tat rebuts Jamus Lim’s rebuttal to Zaobao letter writer about SG reserves