SINGAPORE: The Workers’ Party is "unable" to support the announcement of an increase in the goods and service tax (GST) at present, said its assistant secretary-general Pritam Singh during the debate on the Budget in Parliament on Tuesday (27 Feb).
Mr Singh, who was the first opposition MP to speak in the debate, said that the party’s stand on the Government’s plan to raise GST from 7 per cent to 9 per cent some time between 2021 and 2025 was due to an "absence" of details in certain areas. In addition, Mr Singh said there was a "lack of clarity surrounding projected expenditure when the Government raises GST in future" and a "relative lack of information on whether there is scope for the reserves to better support Singaporeans".
The opposition MP said that there was "an inconsistency in the treatment of some additional taxes that will no doubt add to the Government’s coffers" before the planned rise in GST.
"For example, the Government was able to confirm that the imposition of the carbon tax would bring an additional S$1 billion a year of revenue after implementation. However, no estimates were provided on the likely additional revenue that would be added to the Government’s income with the inclusion of GST on imported services," he said.
Furthermore, Singapore is likely to become more efficient in tax collection as the country continues its journey to become a smart nation, Mr Singh suggested. He said the move to become a cashless society could have an impact on sectors which have traditionally been thought to under-declare their income such as the self-employed, hawkers and taxi drivers.
"This prospect will become less probable with the advent of more electronic transactions and in turn, is likely to have a positive effect on tax revenues," Mr Singh said.
In addition, "with borrowing backed by a Government guarantees proposed for large infrastructure projects, more spending for such projects can potentially be allocated elsewhere for recurrent spending".
In a speech in which he also addressed the need to better prepare students for the future economy, Mr Singh spoke about social protection, especially for the elderly, and the need for more conversations about inter-generational equity.
He said there are two ways of framing the conversation on where the money will come from to support Singaporeans. The first he said, is to look at proposals that seek to improve social protection as “tantamount to raiding the reserves”.
“The other is to take a strategic perspective of our reserves position, something only the Government can holistically do in view of the significant information asymmetries, look at how quickly the world is changing and always assess how Singaporeans can be better protected ahead of time,” Mr Singh said.
For example, he reiterated an earlier point on using a portion of the revenue from land sales for budgetary spending, and said allowing this will not stop the reserves from growing. Currently, the Government does not tap on land sales revenue for budgetary spending.
Mr Singh said exploring the use of land sales revenue will also give the Government of the day more flexibility in ensuring that the needs of its current generation of elderly Singaporeans in areas such as healthcare are “adequately budgeted for”.
Mr Singh also compared technological disruptions to globalisation, which in the past rendered many unable to cope with changing times. He said people who cannot be retrained and the elderly will need better social protection.
In rounding off his speech, Mr Singh said the Government has made significant investments in placing Singapore to take advantage of initiatives like China's One Belt One Road initiative and tapping on the potential of the ASEAN region.
"These are necessary investments to keep the Singapore economy humming along," he said.
"However, the people who keep it humming must be equipped to succeed in tomorrow’s economy," Mr Singh added.
MORE SUPPORT FOR CAREGIVERS, ADDRESS GENDER GAP
Non-constituency MP (NCMP) Daniel Goh focused on three main issues in his speech – namely the gender income gap, issues with supporting caregivers, as well as the economic and health security of seniors.
Mr Goh highlighted that more should be done by the government, especially in looking into the problems of the "elderly working poor", especially women.
Mr Goh cited a study which revealed that a majority of the elderly who work past their retirement age did so out of necessity rather than choice.
“One study showed that 26 per cent of those aged 55 years and above in 2011 reported they perceived occasional or regular financial inadequacy, with more women reporting this than men,” said Mr Goh.
“Another study estimated that the relative poverty rate among the working elderly had jumped from 13 per cent in 1995 to 41 per cent in 2011."
"This means that among the working elderly, 41 per cent had income from work, family members and state assistance amounting to less than 40 per cent of the median income in the workforce,” added Mr Goh.
“This suggests that many seniors are working past retirement age not just because they want to, but because they had to, and many in this category are women.”
Although he acknowledged how Budget 2018 "marks a significant progress from a wait-and-see posture to strategic and integrated planning", Mr Goh said that gender, too, is a factor to consider when tackling ageing-based issues.
"There are ... gender inequalities we need to tackle if we are to meet the challenges and opportunities of ageing successfully."
"Our policies targeted at ageing must factor in the gender differences for them to be effective," he emphasised.
Added Mr Goh: "I would like to call on the Government to study this issue of the elderly working poor, especially involving women, more closely and adopt urgent measures to tackle the issue."
"One possible line of attack would be to look at how social service and community development agencies helping to place the elderly in jobs could also help the elderly draw up favourable contracts for service and provide advice and retraining opportunities to improve their income prospects," he suggested.