Announcement of GST poorly timed

The timing of the announcement of the impending GST hike leaves much to be desired.

It comes amid years of budget surpluses with likely even more to come in the next few years with the recovering Singapore and world economies.

It would have been understandable had it been announced during a period of dwindling surpluses or projected small deficits. Perhaps, the announcement some months ago was a "floater" to gauge electorate sentiment.

Possibly, the Government was taken aback by the backlash. If so, it was quick to modify the planned GST hike to make it more palatable. Still, many, if not most Singaporeans, are still not convinced that our country needs a GST hike in the future, despite the efforts of the Government to set out its case.

The bonus of $700 million for Singaporeans above 21 years old is sizeable, but only amounts to a not very big $100, $200 or $300 for eligible individuals.

It is safe to say that most Singaporeans will not be jumping for joy at this hongbao from the Government, except maybe the lowest income group. Even then, their joy will be short-lived, for this is only a one-off bonus.

Far better for the Finance Minister to set this sum aside in a specially created account called "Money to offset GST hike".

In future years, if Singapore does well, and more bonuses are considered, then these sums should be channelled to this account.

Further, why wasn't our long-term projected needs analysed earlier? We could then have trimmed the Pioneer Generation package of $8 billion dollars to a smaller sum. It's not too late to revisit it.

The Auditor-General's Office, with its access to government projects, should be consulted for input as to where cost-cutting measures can be implemented, without affecting the efficiency and efficacy of projects.

Some readers have suggested ways to trim our expenditure. They include cutting down the duration of the fireworks display during celebrations and less extravagant Chingay processions. Every little bit adds up and, more importantly, sends the message that, as a tiny nation with no natural resources, we have to watch our expenditure while trying to increase our income.

Matthew Chang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 24, 2018, with the headline 'Announcement of GST poorly timed'. Print Edition | Subscribe