Straits Times: Low Thia Khiang: Govt rebates utterly inadequate measures


Richard Hu: S’poreans could still cope with fee increases

GOVERNMENT rebates paled into insignificance when compared to the many taxes and levies it collects from Singaporeans, opposition MP Low Thia Khiang (Hougang) said yesterday.

They are “utterly inadequate measures”, like trying to “pour a cup of water on a burning truckload of wood,” he said in Mandarin during the Budget debate.

Rebates came to just $398 million last year, while levies collected increased by “leaps and bounds”, he added.

Licence fees and permits contributed $3,178 million to government coffers, vehicle-related charges $2,197 million, and the goods and services tax $1,860 million, he cited from the Budget Book.

Contrary to what People’s Action Party MPs claimed, the Government was far from sharing the fruits of success with the people, he said.

He noted that Singaporeans were being hit by higher charges in many areas this year, even as the National Wages Council urged workers to accept wage restraint.

Examples included increases in bus and MRT fares, waste disposal charges, university tuition fees, water tariffs and the impending electronic road pricing scheme.

“If charges keep going up while wages don’t, people will not be able to survive,” he said.

Rebutting Mr Low during his summing up later in the afternoon, Finance Minister Richard Hu said the real issue was whether Singaporeans could cope with these increases while still enjoying better living standards.

The answer was yes, he said. “Even after factoring in the various fee and charge increases cited by Mr Low, the expected inflation will still be below the wage increase this year.”

He said that comparing revenues and rebates was simplistic, as what the people got back from the Government was far more than monetary rebates.

Government revenue was used to fund essential programmes in education, defence, infrastructure, public housing and health, which were enjoyed by all Singaporeans, he pointed out.

Noting that only about 30 per cent of Singaporeans paid income tax, he said: “It is these taxes which contribute substantially to the Government’s tax revenues which provide the funding for a host of Government programmes designed to help the middle- and lower-income groups.”

These included HDB upgrading programmes, Edusave, Medisave, CPF top-up schemes and a variety of grants to voluntary organisations and self-help groups.

For those living in one-, two- and three-room HDB flats, rebates in service and conservancy charges more than offset utility rate increases, he said.

“Even the cost of the 3 per cent GST has been fully offset for the lower income groups through a package of rebates on HDB S & C charges and flat rentals.”

Exchange between Low and Seng Han Thong

Where does the wool come from?

MR LOW Thia Khiang (Hougang) argued yesterday that the Government was jacking up the cost of living by collecting far more revenue from the people than it was giving back in rebates.

Replying, Mr Seng Han Thong (Ang Mo Kio GRC) said that, while prices had gone up, workers enjoyed a higher standard of living, bought better goods and went for overseas holidays.

This exchange then followed:

Mr Seng: “The wool must come from the sheep ultimately. Whether it is to pay for overseas studies, or holidays. A lot of our workers go for holidays overseas, at their own expense.”

Mr Low: “That’s right. The wool must come from the sheep. What is given to you will be taken away from you.”

Mr Seng: “The Government takes the wool from the fat sheep and gives to the thin sheep. It’s not to take from the thin to pay for the fat one.”

Mr Low: “In Singapore, the fattest sheep is the Government.”

Mr Seng: “The Government is the shepherd. It takes the wool from the fat to give to the thin.”

Sheep and wool were also mentioned during last year’s Budget Debate.

Then Singapore Democratic Party MP Ling How Doong had argued that what the Government was giving in tax cuts, rebates and incentives was but a strand of sheep’s wool.

To which Mr Leong Horn Kee (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) retorted that it must be a very long and thick strand indeed, to be worth millions of dollars. He added: “You can go round and round the world and make a lot of woollen clothing for Singaporeans as well.”