SINGAPORE: The national Budget system is designed such that every term of Government has to earn its keep, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing on Wednesday (Mar 1) in response to comments by opposition politicians on Budget 2017.
A day earlier, the Workers’ Party’s (WP) Leon Perera said the timing of various price hikes seemed “more synchronised to the political cycle than to the economic cycle”. “People have three years to forget them before the next General Election," he said.
“Some say this is a political Budget; that we spend less so we can time the political cycle,” said Mr Chan. “Guess what … At the start of every term of Government, PAP (People’s Action Party) or otherwise … We precisely designed the system such that no Government will come in and promise to spend before it has earned its keep.”
“This is unlike other countries. This is the reason why we have been able to get one dollar out of every five to support our Budget,” he continued.
“So we rather err on the side of caution. This is why our forefathers have put in this system and this generation will continue to uphold this system.”
Mr Chan also responded to suggestions - voiced by WP members - that the Government was ignoring the short-term pains of the economy.
“Is that so? If this is so, why did (Finance) Minister Heng Swee Keat announce targeted measures to help specific sectors like offshore and marine? Like the S$700 million we pushed into the construction sector?” he asked.
“If this is so, why spend all that we spent for that increase in U-Save rebates, to make sure that even though prices may increase on average, we will take care of the lower-income first?”
“If we adopt such a cynical attitude to budgeting, would we have done this? If indeed this is a cynical Government, then we shouldn’t be giving anything at all,” Mr Chan pointed out.
“No, this is not a cynical Government and it would be wrong for us to impute our own perverse motives.”
“(The Budget) is targeted to help, and precisely because we feel the pain for our people.”
“JOBS, JOBS AND JOBS”
Mr Chan also warned that managing an economy was “not like turning a thermostat in an aircon room”.
“If this Government is not concerned with the short term, and if the economy goes down south, who can guarantee that in two years' time, when we want turn it up, it will go up?”
“We don’t have to look too far. The competition across the world is intense. Some countries lose their footing, get into a downward spiral and never recover,” he said.
“Our job is to keep ourselves on a steady path, making sure we address short-term pains while establishing conditions for long-term success. It’s never either/or, it’s always both.”
Mr Chan, who is also secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), gave emphasis to what he called the labour movement’s three priorities for 2017: “Jobs, jobs and jobs. Jobs for those displaced today; jobs for those who might be displaced tomorrow.”
“But let’s be frank with ourselves. Grants and subsidies alone won’t create jobs, especially sustainable jobs,” he said. “Grants and subsidies enable and help but the crux must come from our businesses, our access to markets and our innovation.”
Added Mr Chan: “When we look at our Budget, this is what we see - MTI, MOM, MOE and other agencies all focused on these four basic fundamental issues to support our businesses: enable innovation, internationalisation, SkillsFuture and a more progressive regulatory environment for start-ups.”
“WHAT IS A RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT?”
Wrapping up his speech, Mr Chan, who is the Government Whip, talked about what it meant to be a responsible Government.
“One that not only takes care of short-term needs of the people, but also the future. One that prices essentials properly and does not distort the market, leading to more subsidies that will burden future generations.”
“A responsible Government is not one that will raise prices and not take especially greater care for the poor. It is not one that pretends it will make difficult decisions but no one will have to bear a greater part of the responsibility to help those with less.”
“A responsible Government is someone who knows what is not sustainable, and will put a stop to it now.”
“This is not a ‘wait-and-see’ Budget,” Mr Chan added, in reference to WP member Daniel Goh’s remarks. “If this is a ‘wait-and-see’ Budget, we wouldn’t have to put in place mechanisms for carbon pricing, or talk about diesel taxes or water taxes.”
“If this is a political Budget, we don’t have to talk about any of those.”
“So I submit to the House that this is a Government that has the heart of its people at its core,” he concluded. “We know the long-term challenges facing the country and we will do what is right and necessary to leave behind a better state for future generations to build on.”