Straits Times: Low Thia Khiang praises Workfare, slams GST hike

BY LYNN LEE

OPPOSITION MP Low Thia Khiang (Hougang) did the unexpected in Parliament yesterday. He supported a government policy.

He praised its decision to make Workfare, an income supplement for older low-wage workers, a permanent scheme.

But true to his credentials, he trained his fire on another government move: the hike in the goods and services tax (GST).

Accusing the Government of fleecing the people, he dismissed its reasoning that the hike could pay for more help schemes and make Singapore competitive. There was no need for the hike, he said. The nub of his argument: the Government had enough in its coffers to help the low-wage workers.

He also questioned the timing, as the hike was being effected soon after last year’s General Election. ‘The first step you have taken is to hurriedly…increase GST and at the same time, raise the banner of helping the poor.

“I’d like to point out whether the Government is fleecing the people,” he said in Mandarin.

Mr Low began his speech by giving kudos to Workfare: “This permanent feature to help the lower-income as a part of our safety net scheme has my support. It will help to reduce the income gap with globalisation and help them to meet the cost of living.”

Still, he wondered why workers, especially those with irregular incomes, had to contribute to the Medisave account before they could receive any Workfare. “(This) is not so attractive and in some way shows a lack of sincerity of the Government,” he said.

Turning his sights then on the GST hike, he said the Government’s suggestion that the extra funds raised could be used for help schemes for the needy was a “convenient excuse”.

“I believe that for this Workfare income scheme, even without an increase of GST, the Government should be able to afford it,” he said.

After all, low-wage workers had always been receiving help, such as the cash handouts and rebates in last year’s Progress Package.

Then, there was the GST offset package to cushion its impact. But it would not need to spend on such offsets if it did not raise the GST, he argued. It was also “not clear” how raising GST would give Singapore an economic advantage.

As it was, Singapore’s strong economic performance meant more funds could be reaped from corporate tax, he said. And he had read that the GST could be a turn-off for companies, he added.

He also felt that with two casinos due to open here, the Government would get “an endless and constant stream of income”.

The People’s Action Party (PAP) side was quick to return fire, as the next speaker, Mr Hri Kumar (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC), chastised Mr Low for asking for fiscal policy to be based on such “speculative future income”.

“Mr Low is getting a head start because he is truly gambling with our future,” he said.

On Mr Low’s point that lower corporate tax alone would not attract businesses here, the PAP MP said that this was not the only strategy involved. Mr Low, he said, had ignored the other measures, such as the investment in infrastructure, and upgrading workers’ skills. “These require spending by the Government,” said Mr Kumar.

On Mr Low’s point that there was no need to raise GST during good times, he dismissed it as “illogical”, as it implied that taxes should be raised when the economy was plummeting.

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