SINGAPORE - Despite the dark clouds overhead, about 120 people gathered at Hong Lim Park on Saturday (March 3) for a protest against the planned hike in the goods and services tax (GST) announced in this year's Budget.
The protest was organised after Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said last month that the GST will go up from 7 per cent to 9 per cent some time between 2021 and 2025, to pay for increased spending in the next decade in areas such as healthcare and infrastructure.
The six who made speeches said alternatives to the GST rise should be considered instead - including taxes on the wealthy, using revenue from land sales, and tapping a larger share of the investment returns from Singapore's past reserves.
Several speakers also said they thought basic necessities such as rice, milk powder and water should be exempt from GST, which they said was a regressive tax.
"For a poor person, almost his entire income is going to be spent on the necessities of life," said former National Solidarity Party secretary-general Lim Tean.
The Government has said that exempting basic goods from GST is difficult to administer - it has chosen instead to give out GST vouchers to lower-income households.
Another speaker, Mr Prabu Ramachandran, who works in business, suggested that inheritance tax, estate tax and property tax be used instead if government revenues need to be increased.
"There is big income disparity and what are we doing? Instead of taxing the rich to help the poor, we are taxing everyone else to give tax breaks to the corporations and (those with) high net worth," he said.
Umbrellas were raised midway through the protest, but the drizzle soon abated and the event proceeded as planned. The turnout was about the same as a similar protest on the water price hike last year but smaller than one on the reserved presidential election.
Other speakers at the three-hour afternoon event were People's Power Party secretary-general Goh Meng Seng, Singapore Democratic Party politician Damanhuri Abas, former Reform Party candidate and business owner Osman Sulaiman and former presidential candidate Tan Kin Lian.
The current government should not tell the next government how much to raise taxes by, said Mr Goh, speaking from a stage which had a banner that read "Angbao is one-time, GST is forever" - a reference to the $100 to $300 one-time bonus for Singaporeans also announced in the Budget.
The GST hike was debated in Parliament over the past week, with the Workers' Party voting against the Budget statement for the first time since 1986, after it said it did not have enough information to support the tax increase.
The protest event, organised by career counsellor and activist Gilbert Goh, drew Speakers' Corner regulars as well as curious onlookers.
Some of those who attended said they turned up because the GST hike was an issue that affected their lives.
Mr Mike Lim, 42, who worked in manufacturing and is currently unemployed, said the GST issue is a bread and butter issue. He read about the event online and went to hear what the speakers had to say.
"Raising taxes is definitely a burden to the people," he said, adding that after listening to Mr Tan and Mr Lim he felt that what they spoke about would make sense to many in the lower- and middle-income groups.
Another attendee said he wanted to hear an alternative view on the Budget.
Giving his name as Mr Yong, the 31-year-old who is in between jobs, said: "I can't really say everything they say is correct because I believe the Government has their own reasons as to why they have to spend on certain things. If you think really long term, a GST increase might be helpful."