SINGAPORE: Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat issued a statement on Friday (Mar 2), asking if Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim was ready to apologise to the House and withdraw her allegation that the Government had floated "test balloons" about raising the goods and services tax (GST).
In Parliament on Thursday, Ms Lim 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 said: “We do note that in the run-up to the Budget discussion 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 a testy 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 Mr Heng had on Thursday asked Ms Lim with withdraw her comments.
In his statement on Friday, Mr Heng repeated that call, saying: “Ms Lim was in effect accusing the Government of being untruthful when it says that it had planned ahead, and that its proposal to raise the GST between 2021 and 2025 was the result of such planning.”
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Mr Heng pointed out that the need for a tax increase was first mentioned by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his 2013 National Day Rally speech.
He added: “The Government had consistently said it has enough money for its current term of office, but beyond that, it needed to provide for increased expenditure, especially on healthcare, with increased taxes.”
Mr Heng noted that the issue of needing to increase taxes was also mentioned in his 2017 Budget statement, and last November, the Prime Minister had raised it at a People’s Action Party convention.
“Taking all these statements together, two things are clear: One that there is no need to raise taxes for the current term. But two, there is a need to raise taxes for the future. There were no test balloons,” said Mr Heng on Friday.
The timeline and facts of the matter were presented to Ms Lim in Parliament, noted Mr Heng.
After Mr Shanmugam’s rebuttal, in particular, Ms Lim had said she acted honestly and was stating her belief.
“ The basis for my statement was that it is my belief that the announcements by the Government earlier on, that they had enough revenues for this term of Government had now tied their hands as to when the GST increase can kick in,” said Ms Lim.
“As to the chronology of events that the minister recited, I do not have them on hand. I have to go back and check, to be fair to him. But this is my honest belief.”
On Friday, Mr Heng said: “Now that Ms Lim has had an opportunity to check the record, will she withdraw her allegation, as an honourable MP should, and apologise to the House? Or does she still hold she has carte blanche to raise any and every suspicion, rumour or falsehood in Parliament, and continue to insist on them regardless of the facts?
“MPs are entitled to raise suspicions in Parliament, if they honestly believe them – 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 the allegations had insinuated lack of candour or wrongdoing on the part of the Government.”