SINGAPORE: Leader of the House Grace Fu has asked Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim to withdraw her allegation that the Government had floated “test balloons” on the need to raise the Goods and Services Tax (GST), and apologise to the House before the end of Parliament’s sitting on Thursday (Mar 8).
She made this statement in Parliament before the resumption of the Committee of Supply debate on Tuesday (Mar 6).
On Mar 1, Ms Lim had said that the Government had floated “test balloons” before the Budget announcement, then possibly “backed down” on an immediate GST hike due to the negative public reaction.
She had said: “We do note that in the run-up to the Budget discussion that there were some test balloons being floated out about the fact that the Government needs to raise revenue. And immediately the public seized on the fact that DPM Tharman and perhaps other leaders had earlier said that the Government has enough money for the decade. So the public pointed out that ‘hey, you know, is this a contradiction?’
“And I rather suspect myself that the Government is stuck with that announcement, otherwise, you know, if their announcement had not been made, perhaps we would be debating a GST hike today.”
This sparked an exchange in Parliament with Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, who called Ms Lim’s comments “baseless suggestions” that were “hypocritical and dishonest”. Both Mr Shanmugam and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat asked on that same day that Ms Lim withdraw her comments.
Mr Heng also made a statement last Friday repeating that call, noting that Ms Lim was in effect accusing the Government of being untruthful when it says it had planned ahead, and that its proposal to raise the GST between 2021 and 2025 was the result of such planning.
SYLVIA LIM CANNOT CONTEND HER SUSPICION REMAINS REASONABLE AND HONESTLY HELD: GRACE FU
In her statement, Ms Fu added that both Mr Heng and Mr Shanmugam had already explained that there is no basis for Ms Lim’s allegations, and stressed that the Government has never floated test balloons on this matter, and that it has been “deliberate and consistent in all its statements since Aug 2013”.
She explained that the first mention of the need for the tax increase was in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s National Day Rally speech in 2013. It was then reiterated in Mr Heng’s Budget Statement in 2017, and again at a constituency function a few months later. Last November, Mr Lee had again spoken of the likelihood of a tax increase, she added, and expressly referred to the Finance Minister’s earlier statements.
Ms Fu noted that when presented with the facts, Ms Lim said her allegations were based on suspicion, not fact, and admitted that she was not certain of the facts herself, but would check on them later. But she added that Ms Lim did not withdraw her allegations, and did not answer to Mr Heng’s statement the following day.
“As the Minister of Finance said in this statement, MPs are entitled to raise suspicions in Parliament, if they honestly believe them,” she said. “But honest belief requires factual basis.”
“And when clear factual replies have been given, an honourable MP should either refute them with further facts, or acknowledge them and withdraw their allegations, especially if their allegations had insinuated a lack of candour or wrongdoing on the part of the Government.”
Ms Fu also added that Ms Lim "cannot contend that her suspicion remains reasonable and honestly held", with the clarification given to her by ministers in Parliament and elsewhere.
“Her allegations have been refuted, the facts she cited have been shown to be inaccurate, and she has not raised any further facts to substantiate her ‘suspicion’," she said.
“In her intervention in Parliament on 1 March, Ms Lim said there is such a thing as parliamentary privilege," added Ms Fu. "However, parliamentary privilege does not entitle MPs to knowingly maintain allegations that have been shown to have no factual basis.”
Ms Fu said a copy of her statement would be extended to Ms Lim who was not in Parliament at the time Ms Fu delivered the statement.