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Don't turn elections into auction of "goodies" says Minister Khaw Boon Wan

The National Development Minister says each election should not be turned into "a mere auction between political parties to give as much goodies as they can, with as little taxes they need to pay."

SINGAPORE: National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Monday (June 2) warned against turning elections into an auction between political parties promising voters as much "goodies" as they can, with as low taxes as possible.

He made this point during a dialogue at the joint World Cities Summit, Singapore International Water Week and CleanEnviro Summit. The topic of financing rapid urbanisation came up. Mr Angel Gurria, the Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development had raised that a common way of financing urban growth is through taxes such as consumption tax, property taxes, or green taxes. Mr Khaw said it is natural for people to want more, but not want to pay higher taxes for it. He said political parties should not take advantage of this.

"In all honesty, we must acknowledge most of our people would always want more, but would never want to pay more in taxes, and it's incumbent upon our part to be honest with our voters, because if every election is a mere auction between political parties to give as much goodies as they can with as little taxes they need to pay, I think democracy of that manner must lead to insolvency and eventually, political cynicism."

Mr Khaw added there is no shortage of money to finance the development of infrastructure - the problem is a lack of sustainable good ideas which will benefit all sectors in a country. He said, as long as projects are bankable, there will be no shortage of funding. However, it is inevitable that governments may need to help finance some projects in order to help the poorer segments of the population.

Mr Khaw also shared with delegates some lessons that Singapore has learnt. One is the importance of keeping the economy open. He stressed that protectionism has no place in Singapore. This is because in the case of Singapore, its domestic market is too small.

Still, some observers say being small may have its advantages.

Said CEO of Suez Environment Company, Mr Jean-Louis Chaussade: “Small cities are much easier to manage than very big cities where the problems are really complex due to the size. It's less in terms of technology; it's easier in terms of human resources, and human cooperation."

However, Singapore faces additional challenges because it is a city-state.

"Because the state consists of only one city, if the city fails, the country fails. So, for example, Detroit may be bankrupt but there are many other American cities can continue to prosper and America remains a major global power," explained Mr Khaw.

Mr Khaw added that as a small city state without a natural hinterland, Singapore will feel the impact of globalisation more acutely.

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