Fresh war of words between PAP and WP over the opposition party's stance on GST and HDB affordability
- A fresh war of words has broken out between the ruling People’s Action Party and the opposition Workers’ Party
- The debate is over the opposition’s change in stance over the years over the Goods and Services Tax
- On Tuesday, PAP's Chee Hong Tat published a commentary saying that WP should make it clear publicly whenever it makes changes in its policy stance
- WP issued a statement replying to Mr Chee's points, and in turn asked why the ruling party had not sought clarification on the issue over the years
SINGAPORE: A fresh war of words has broken out between the People’s Action Party (PAP) and Workers’ Party over the opposition party's change in stance over the years in relation to the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
At the heart of the matter is whether a political party should make it clear publicly when changing its position on policy issues and what a responsible party should do in Singapore’s democracy.
This latest development comes almost a week after both parties locked horns in Parliament over the same issues, which led Senior Minister of State for Finance and Transport Chee Hong Tat to publish a commentary on Tuesday (Apr 25) on the ruling party’s blog, Petir.
In the post, Mr Chee said he was “surprised” to hear WP’s Member of Parliament (MP) Leon Perera saying in parliament that the party had accepted “the reality of GST at 7 per cent since 2018”. Mr Chee described it as a “major and welcome shift in its longstanding position”.
The opposition party issued a statement on Wednesday in reply to the post, saying that its stance has been clear all along, and that it was “surprised” that Mr Chee did not rise to debate in Parliament if it was unsatisfied with replies from WP members then.
CHANGE IN STANCE OVER GST
In the commentary, Mr Chee said that prior to the debate in Parliament last Thursday, WP had never said they accepted the GST.
He noted how the opposition party had opposed the introduction of the tax in 1994 and every increase ever since.
“They had consistently criticised the GST as a regressive tax, and ignored Singapore’s unique GST system, which couples the tax itself with permanent offsets for the lower income,” he wrote.
“I was therefore surprised to hear Mr (Leon) Perera say, in reply to Minister Ong (Ye Kung)’s question, that the WP has ‘accept[ed] the reality of GST at 7 per cent’ since 2018; and they now only oppose the 2 per cent increase.”
He then asked why WP had not announced a change in position all this time, and kept “silent and vague”.
“Who knows, perhaps a few years from now, we may hear from a future WP leader that a 9 per cent GST is acceptable too?” wrote Mr Chee, adding that a responsible opposition has to be honest and forthright about its views and positions.
In its statement on Wednesday, WP questioned why the Government chose to bring up the issue only now and not clarify the matter in Parliamentary debates in 2018 or anytime since, including the latest Budget, if the government had found WP’s stance vague or unclear.
“As Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh pointed out in Parliament, the Government’s raising the issue of the WP’s stance on the GST serves to distract the attention of Singaporeans,” said WP’s statement.
The opposition party said that its statements in Parliament in 2018 made clear that the party was not calling for the GST to be reduced to zero per cent, and that the party would have made the call “explicitly” if it had intended to do so.
WP said that “no response from PAP Members of Parliament was forthcoming” when Mr Perera asked in Parliament last week to cite evidence that members of the opposition party had called for GST to be reduced from 7 per cent to zero in 2018.
Responding to Mr Chee’s opinion on WP hypothetically changing its stance on a 9 per cent GST in the future, the opposition party said that future PAP governments may adopt policy positions advanced by the WP today, “much as former PAP governments implemented WP positions in the past”.
Mr Chee noted that on the issue of affordable housing, PAP’s Saktiandi Supaat had highlighted in Parliament that the WP’s Mr Louis Chua previously co-authored a report with his Credit Suisse colleagues in January 2023.
The report stated that public housing in Singapore is “affordable”, said Mr Chee.
“Yet just one month later, Mr Chua joined his fellow WP MPs in Parliament to criticise the government for not providing affordable public housing, and to call for HDB flat prices to be further reduced.”
Mr Chee said that Mr Chua was “not credible” for claiming that there was no contradiction between the report and his own statements in Parliament.
“The responsible and honest thing to do would have been for him to either stick to his original professional views or declare upfront that he had shifted his position and explain why,” wrote Mr Chee.
Replying to the issue, WP said that Mr Chua had made clear that the paper was written in his capacity as a commercial research analyst, and was intended to advise investors on where they can make profits in the housing market.
“His paper advised that HDB housing was affordable from the standpoint of prices not curbing sales transactions and not resulting in mass mortgage defaults, considerations relevant to investors when making commercial decisions,” said WP.
The party added that neither Mr Chee nor any other PAP MP rose in Parliament to express dissatisfaction with Mr Chua’s reply and ask him for clarifications.
KEEPING POLITICS "UPFRONT, RESPONSIBLE"
Mr Chee on Tuesday wrote that Singapore’s politics must always be kept “upfront, responsible, and honest”.
“There is no point for politicians to wring their hands about our becoming a ‘post-truth’ society, and then go on to say whatever they want to make a convenient political argument, or surreptitiously shift their positions without telling the public,” he said.
Doing so "would only land us with the kind of populist and irresponsible politics that has weakened so many established democracies,” he added.
WP in its statement on Wednesday said that if the ruling party wishes to resurrect the opposition’s positions from “15 to 20 years ago”, then the opposition could also do the same for debate today.
However, WP questioned if such a move would be constructive.
“Going forward, we hope Mr Chee is prepared to debate the Workers’ Party in Parliament when he disagrees with our positions,” the party wrote.
“This would not be an unreasonable expectation of any serious government, anywhere in the world.”
This story was originally published in TODAY.