Straits Times: Budget estimate off the mark: So what is the real issue?

BUDGET DEBATE – DAY 3

Sembawang GRC MP Lim Wee Kiak and opposition MP for Hougang Low Thia Khiang locked horns over the Government’s faulty Budget estimate for last year. Mr Low rose after Dr Lim’s speech to make two clarifications


SPIRITED DEBATE: Sembawang GRC MP Lim Wee Kiak suggested that questioning the discrepancy in the Budget estimate was to miss the point and that the key concern was how to look forward.

Mr Low: First clarification, the member in his speech said why should we quarrel with the discrepancy in the estimates because we are in a happy situation where we have a huge surplus instead of a deficit.

Does he agree that he misses the point? The point is not so much whether we end up with a huge deficit or huge surplus, the question is: why is the Budget estimate so far off the mark?

Second clarification: He says that if our estimate is off the mark, Hong Kong is even worse than us because they are off the mark much more than Singapore’s estimates.

I’m afraid that if this is the attitude of the People’s Action Party, we are going down a slippery slope. We are not so good in estimates, he says, but never mind, there are people who are worse than us.

So in Mandarin, this is exactly what we call “Ah Q jing shen” (mentality)*.

Dr Lim: In fact when I did my block visit last night, a resident asked me the same question: why does the Government have such a huge surplus? Did something go wrong in the estimate?

Looking at the papers this morning, when Hong Kong reported a huge surplus – four times above the estimate – the main reason given was it was an unprecedented year, property prices went up, they had huge transactions in the stock market. A similar phenomenon was seen in Singapore as well.

I told the resident: At the end of the day, I think the key question for this House is how do we look forward?

When the family breadwinner came back and said: “I’ve struck lottery”, you shouldn’t be asking, “Why did you strike lottery?”

You should be asking: how are we going to use the lottery money? So I think we should not miss the point. The real issue now is: What can we do now to make sure that there will be less and less need for all these social welfare programmes in the future. Look forward and not backward.

*Ah Q is a famous character in Chinese literature, known for his foolishness and optimism.

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