SINGAPORE: The Workers' Party could have used its "test balloons" allegation on the timing of the Goods-and-Services Tax (GST) "to great effect for political attacks", if the Government had not challenged it in Parliament, Senior Minister of State Chee Hong Tat has said.
"Had the Government not pursued the matter in Parliament, most people would have overlooked Ms Lim’s 'test balloon' comment. However, the WP could later use it to great effect for political attacks, including during the next general election," he wrote in a letter addressed to all Singaporeans published on the People's Action Party (PAP) website on Saturday (Mar 10).
Mr Chee signed the letter as Member of Parliament (MP) for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.
This comes after Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law Indranee Rajah on Friday issued clarifications on the exchange in Parliament on Thursday (Mar 8) in which WP chairman Sylvia Lim refused to apologise for making comments about the upcoming GST hike.
Ms Lim had said on Mar 1 that there were some "test balloons being floated about the fact that the Government needs to raise revenue". She added that the public wondered if this was a contradiction given that leaders had earlier said the Government had "enough money for the decade".
"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," Ms Lim had said.
Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu all called on Ms Lim to retract her statement. As House Leader, Ms Fu also asked Ms Lim to apologise in Parliament.
While Ms Lim admitted that her earlier suspicion "may not have been correct", she maintained that she had a right to raise it in Parliament, and did not apologise. She also said that she had not alleged that the Government was being dishonest.
However, Mr Chee said in his letter that her allegation was "false and vicious" and "goes to the heart of the Government's integrity".
"The underlying sting of that allegation was that the Government was being dishonest with the people," he wrote.
The WP could then repeat the allegation at election rallies and claim that since the Government did not rebut it in Parliament, "it must be true", he said.
He added: "The WP can now no longer rely on this falsehood to attack the Government’s credibility and trustworthiness. This will make for a more honest debate, in Parliament and outside."
On Friday, Ms Indranee said in a post on Facebook that Ms Lim should have apologised in Parliament and reiterated Ms Fu's charge that the WP MP's conduct was not "honourable".
She wrote: "Ms Lim may originally have been under a mistaken impression. Fair enough. But after the facts have been made clear by four ministers, after it had been shown that her suspicion was wrong, after she herself admitted that she may have been wrong, and after her own leader Mr Low said it is clear now the Government had no intention to raise GST immediately, shouldn’t she have withdrawn the allegation and apologised?
"Yet Ms Lim did neither. That is why the Leader of the House said this was not the honourable conduct expected of MPs."