SINGAPORE: The People's Action Party (PAP) does not hide from “difficult truths”, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on Sunday (Nov 10) at the PAP Convention, a gathering of party members and activists.
Speaking as his party’s first assistant secretary-general, Mr Heng was speaking about an announcement he made two years ago to raise the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
News of the hike was met with some unhappiness.
Mr Heng, who is also the Finance Minister, said he knows the move is unpopular, and many people have asked him not to talk about it anymore.
“But if I don’t bring it up, the opposition parties definitely will, so it’s better that you hear it from me,” said Mr Heng, as the deadline for the next General Election looms near.
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The Government could have waited for the elections to be over before announcing the increase, but “that would not be the honest thing to do”, Mr Heng added. The next General Election must be called by April 2021.
“The responsible thing to do is to be upfront, and tell people that it will happen. This is what integrity means. We don’t hide from difficult truths,” Mr Heng said.
He reiterated the need for the GST hike.
“Our needs are growing on many fronts, such as in healthcare and preschool education. The world is also becoming more uncertain, and it is wise to be prepared,” he said.
“SUPPORT PACKAGE FOR GST INCREASE”
Mr Heng also announced that the Government will “cushion the impact” of the increase for all Singaporean households.
“We have had such support packages each time we raised GST, but this time we are announcing it in advance,” he said.
He will provide more details at next year's Budget, but more will be given to those with less, because “this is fair”, he said.
However, he acknowledged that “some unhappiness” will remain even with the support package.
He said that the support package is not an “election goodie”, as it will only be given when the GST is increased in the next term.
READ: GST in Singapore to be raised to 9% between 2021 and 2025
Mr Heng also took a swing at the opposition.
“We know that Singaporeans are concerned given the current economic outlook, so we want to assure you that there will be help during the transition, so that Singaporeans need not worry, or be riled up by the opposition who want to find something to get people to be angry,” he said.
EFFORTS BY 4G TEAM
He harked back to 2011 when many of the 4G leaders entered politics, when the PAP lost Aljunied GRC.
The new PAP MPs had to win back the trust of the people at a time when there was anger on the ground. They worked hard to do that he said, through initiatives like Our Singapore Conversation, which involved them talking to Singaporeans and listening to their view and concerns.
The PAP also renewed the party’s organisation, membership and communications internally.
“Seeing the passion, creativity and can-do spirit of our people up close strengthened my conviction that our future depends on the people and Government working even closer together than before,” he said.
This is why he launched the Singapore Together movement in June, and since then, the 4G leaders have been engaging Singaporeans on what "we want to achieve for our country and our people", he said.
"We have presented our plans for the future, listened to feedback and taken in new ideas. We are also exploring new ways to tap on the expertise and passion of our people," he said.
The PAP will not leave anyone behind, he said.
“Our commitment to Singaporeans is that even as we create new opportunities, we will tackle inequality,” he said.
4G COMMITTED TO WORKING WITH SINGAPOREANS
While there is no word on when the next General Election will be, Mr Heng drummed up anticipation by saying that Sunday’s event may be the last party gathering before the next General Election.
The 4G leadership is ready to win the trust of Singaporeans, he said.
However, Singaporeans must trust that the members of the PAP, the 4G leadership especially, are men and women of integrity so the PAP can earn the privilege to lead, he said.
“We serve for the good of Singapore, and not for ourselves. We will always uphold and defend the high standards of integrity and trust that have underpinned Singapore’s success,” he said.
It is because of this that he moved a motion in Parliament on the governance of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, he said.
The motion called for the Workers’ Party’s Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim to recuse themselves from the town council's financial matters after a High Court judge found them liable in a landmark case investigating the misuse of town council funds.
“Some supporters felt that we should not move this motion as it could be misunderstood. But in this case, we were convinced that it would be wrong for us to keep silent,” he said.
READ: Parliament passes motion calling for WP's Sylvia Lim, Low Thia Khiang to be recused from AHTC's financial affairs
The issues were “very serious”, and called into question the integrity of elected officials, he said.
“As the party in power, it is our responsibility to ensure the integrity of the system in Singapore. We must, and have taken a clear stand on this matter of principle,” he added.
At the event, where PAP gave awards to activists, former Cabinet minister Ong Pang Boon was on the recipients' list for the highest honour – the Distinguished Service Medal – for his contributions to Singapore and the party.
Mr Heng thanked Mr Ong for more than 30 years of dedicated service. Mr Ong and other seniors have built a better life for Singaporeans, he said.
He added: “My generation of leaders and PAP activists will build on the foundations you have laid. We will strive to build a better life for all Singaporeans, and continue to strengthen the bonds with our people.”