'That is not the way we are': Tan Chuan-Jin on how Budget 2019 was not an 'election Budget'
SINGAPORE: In this year's Budget, the Government chose to spend money on building the country rather than on goodies to make the people happy, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin highlighted at the close of the Committee of Supply debates on Friday (Mar 8).
He pointed out that there are systems in the world that run from "pillar to post", from one election cycle to another, "because the preoccupation is the present, just to get elected".
Long-term investments in public infrastructure are not always made because "you do not reap the political dividends of these efforts", he said.
Instead, in corrupt countries, money is spent on initiatives that push people to vote in a certain way and there are many of these projects because then officials can "cream off the kickbacks", making what they can because they do not know how long they will be in that position, he said.
In contrast, Singapore's Budget was built upon "what has been said by many of you in the years past and also based on input surfaced by our fellow Singaporeans in many, many different forums", said Mr Tan in Parliament.
"Budgets are built upon Budgets of years gone by. There is always a context and there is always a system in place," he added.
He also said that for those who feel that they are not directly benefiting from this year’s Budget, it is useful to remember that many different groups were “honoured” through the Budget and looking back, “it is clear that we have also benefited in certain ways”.
Mr Tan was echoing what Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat had said in his round-up speech for this year’s Budget debate.
Mr Heng had said: “Even if there’s nothing new for you this year, you and your family have certainly benefited from every one of our budgets.”
Mr Tan also addressed questions over whether this year’s Budget goodies were part of a "cynical election scheme".
“Honestly, if this was an election Budget, you will not see us budgeting for the Merdeka Generation Package here. We will shift the burden to the future,” he said. “That’s what most governments do because the monies can be spent to make all of us happier in so many different ways.
“A politically astute government will use this dominance and wherewithal to justify even more spending, rather than still talk about prudence, about balance, about trade-offs (and) possible future GST increases in the next term.
“It is actually incredibly politically naïve to do so! Which government in the world would embark on this when they have funds and reserves to do so many more things to keep the electorate happy?” he added.
Mr Heng had earlier tackled this question, saying the Budget is a strategic plan to ensure Singapore’s long-term success and is not based on election cycles.
The Speaker also commended those in the Parliament who were not members of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).
“I’d also like to highlight that the opposition, at least this opposition presently in the house (and) our NMPs over the years, in spite of occasional differences and disagreements over the details – they support this approach and do not just seek wanton political largesse and populism,” Mr Tan said.
He added that the Government can only take this approach if Singaporeans support it. They, in turn, can only support this if they understand the issues that are debated in Parliament and have the same sense of perspective.
"So if we as a Parliament can remain relevant, trusted and respected, our people will afford us that space and mandate to lead and chart the way forward," the Speaker said.
Mr Tan’s speech closed nearly two weeks of Budget and Committee of Supply debates.