SINGAPORE: Singapore ranked 149 in an Oxfam index of 157 countries based on efforts to tackle the gap between the rich and poor.
The Commitment to Reducing Inequality (CRI) Index 2018 was released by the global developmental charity agency on Tuesday (Oct 9).
Singapore ranked ahead of eight countries, including Nigeria (157) and Bhutan (152), but below the likes of Myanmar (138), Timor-Leste (132) and Vietnam (99).
Singapore ranked 86 in the agency’s 2017 CRI Index, with Oxfam partly attributing this year’s sharp drop to the introduction of a new indicator on "harmful tax practices". Singapore "has a number of these", it said, citing tax incentives such as those for the maritime and financial sectors and a global trader programme.
“It (Singapore) has increased its personal income tax (PIT) by 2 per cent, but the maximum rate remains very low at 22 per cent for the highest earners,” the report added.
Singapore’s low score is also due to a relatively low level of public social spending, Oxfam said, adding that only 39 per cent of the national budget goes to education, health and social protection.
This, it said, was “way behind South Korea and Thailand at 50 per cent”.
According to the agency, Singapore was among the countries that registered "some of the biggest decreases" in spending on education.
“On labour, it has no equal pay or non-discrimination laws for women; its laws on both rape and sexual harassment are inadequate; and there is no minimum wage, except for cleaners and security guards,” Oxfam said.
INDICATORS "IDEOLOGICALLY DRIVEN": SINGAPORE
Responding to the report, Singapore's Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee said that while the country's tax rate is low, Singaporeans benefit "more than proportionally from the high quality of infrastructure and social support the state provides".
"The report assumes that high taxation and high public expenditure reflects commitment to combatting inequality," he said in a media release on Tuesday evening. "We think it is more important to look at the outcomes achieved, instead. The report itself recognises this limitation."
He listed Singapore's achievements in providing housing, healthcare and education to citizens, such as achieving 90 per cent homeownership and having the lowest infant mortality rate in the world.
"That we achieved all of this with lower taxes and lower spending than most
countries is to Singapore’s credit rather than discredit," said Mr Lee. "We set out to
achieve real outcomes for our people – good health, education, jobs and
housing - rather than satisfy a collection of ideologically driven indicators."
DENMARK NO. 1, NIGERIA AT BOTTOM OF INDEX
Nigeria, where 10 per cent of children die before their fifth birthday, came bottom due to "shamefully low" social spending, poor tax collection and rising labour rights violations, Oxfam said.
It said tackling inequality did not depend on a country's wealth, but on political will.
Denmark led the index ahead of Germany, Finland and Austria. Japan was the highest-ranked Asian country at 11.
South Korea (56) and Indonesia (90) were among those praised for trying to reduce inequality through policies on social spending, tax and labour rights.
South Korea was also commended for bumping up its minimum wage by 16.4 per cent last year.
China (81) ranked way ahead of India (147), devoting more than twice as much of its national budget to health and almost four times as much to welfare spending, the agency said.
INEQUALITY AT CRISIS LEVELS
Oxfam said inequality had reached crisis levels, with the richest 1 per cent of the global population accounting for four-fifths of wealth created between mid-2016 and mid-2017, while the poorest half saw no increase in wealth.
The index is being released as finance ministers and central bank chiefs gather in Bali for the World Bank and International Monetary Fund annual meetings.
Oxfam warned that world leaders risked failing on their pledge to reduce inequality by 2030 and urged them to develop plans to close the gap which should be funded by progressive taxation and clamping down on tax dodging.
"We see children dying from preventable diseases because of a lack of healthcare funding while rich corporations and individuals dodge billions of dollars in tax," Oxfam boss Winnie Byanyima said.
"Governments often tell us they are committed to fighting poverty and inequality - this index shows whether their actions live up to their promises."