Singapore Budget 2015: Govt not going for ‘Robin Hood’ strategy, says Tharman

SINGAPORE - Budget 2015 is not about taking from the rich to give to the poor, but about everyone sharing in the "collective responsibility" of building a better Singapore for the future, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Tuesday.

Among the highlights of Monday's Budget was a move to raise taxes for the highest income earners, partly to fund new social spending such as the Silver Support Scheme, which will give cash payouts to the poorest elderly folk.

But while it is "fair" that extra aid for the needy is paid for by those who can most afford it, the Government is not embarking on a "Robin Hood" strategy, Mr Tharman said in an hour-long "live" discussion aired on Channel 5 last night.

"We do need to spend more in the next five years, but in the common interest," he said, noting that the state will also set aside more funds to build a new airport terminal and other key infrastructure.

And everyone helps to pay for that spending through systems like the GST, although the rich pay more, he added.

Mr Tharman hopes to see this collective spirit in other areas. To train workers efficiently, for instance, he wants companies in the same industry to join forces .

This will allow smaller companies to break out of the "vicious cycle" where they have no resources to invest in their employees, who then leave because they do not see a future in the company, he said.

The Government must also work with employers to tackle the "quiet, unstated" issue of ageism in hiring here, where workers in their 50s are overlooked for jobs, he added.

Fielding questions on whether curbs on foreign workers can be eased if Singaporeans are not keen on certain jobs, he said firms must reduce their reliance on manpower as a whole, as production methods here are more labour-intensive than elsewhere.

On concerns about the rise in petrol duties, he noted that they have not been adjusted for 12 years and are needed to nudge Singaporeans away from heavy car reliance and towards a greener environment.

The hike will be cushioned by falling oil prices and will not raise business costs as most commercial vehicles use diesel, he added.

fiochan@sph.com.sg