By Asha Popatlal
SINGAPORE: While dealing with jobs and the credit crunch may be the central elements of Singapore’s Budget, doing more to help households was what many MPs called for in Parliament on Day 2 of the debate.
MP for Hong Kah GRC and Chairman of REACH, Dr Amy Khor, said: “A quick poll by REACH indicated that only 28 per cent of the 885 respondents felt that the direct assistance measures to help families cope were adequate.”
Measures proposed by the MPs included reducing the Goods & Services Tax temporarily to stimulate spending – the way the UK reduced its Value Added Tax last December – or increase the amount of GST credits given out.
MP for West Coast GRC, Ho Geok Choo, said: “Doubling GST credits is too timid. Maybe we should look at quadrupling the GST credits or slashing the GST by half to 3.5 per cent.
“In times like these, do we need to spend so much on traditional defence? FY2009 defence spending is projected to be S$11.4 billion or 26 per cent of the Budget. It is better to employ some of that money to build up economic defence.”
There were also calls for more to be done for the retrenched and that they should undergo a means test to prevent abuse of any of the assistance schemes.
Non-Constituency MP, Sylvia Lim, said: “To reinforce work ethic, an applicant will qualify only if actively looking for work and hasn’t unreasonably rejected work offers.”
MP for Jalan Besar GRC, Denise Phua said: “We cannot afford to be too blunt in the way we design help and a form of means testing may be necessary.”
More help for the most vulnerable in society was what MPs like Lim Biow Chuan and Sam Tan were concerned about, especially those on Public Assistance (PA).
Mr Tan said: “Sir, I want to ask for more money for the very poor because as I speak to these people on PA and I can smell their fear from their breath. They are afraid that the kindness of donors from temples and VWOs may dry up in the next month, especially in a major economic crisis like now.”
But while help should be given where it is needed, MPs also warned of the need to manage expectations as well.
MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, Hri Kumar, said: “My concern is that some, despite losing their jobs, will not see the need to get back quickly into the market, preferring to wait for work which is similar or equivalent to the one they lost.
“We have to send a strong message that we cannot afford the luxury of being selective, especially not in these times.”
The Finance Minister is expected to respond on Thursday to the points brought up by the MPs. – CNA/vm