Parliament: Sharing surpluses is part of the social compact, says Liang Eng Hwa

The Government has also used surpluses from each term of government to top up endowment funds, said Mr Liang Eng Hwa, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Trade and Industry.
The Government has also used surpluses from each term of government to top up endowment funds, said Mr Liang Eng Hwa, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Trade and Industry.ST PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

SINGAPORE - The Government should continue using future Budget surpluses to redistribute wealth among the less well-off in Singapore.

This would give Singaporeans a sense that everyone has a stake in this country, said Mr Liang Eng Hwa, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Trade and Industry, in Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 27).

Mr Liang, who gave the first speech in the Budget debate, which will take place over the next two days, noted that the Government already has a practice of redistributing Budget surpluses.

For example, this year's Budget, which included a $9.7 billion surplus, featured a $2 billion top-up to the GST Voucher fund, which supports low- and middle-income families, as well as a one-off SG Bonus of between $100 and $300 for all adult Singaporeans.

"I hope the Finance Minister can affirm this surplus re-distribution arrangement as part of our social compact," said Mr Liang (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC).

"Besides helping to mitigate the impact of GST (Goods and Services Tax) and rising costs, it can also to help manage the income disparity that we see widening in our society."

The Government has also used surpluses from each term of government to top up endowment funds such as Comcare and the Pioneer Generation Package, Mr Liang noted.

 
 

Surpluses cannot be guaranteed in the years ahead, he said.

"However, in years where the country has done well, we should be targeted in distributing the surpluses to low- to middle income groups. This would give Singaporeans a sense that everyone has a stake in this country and we are all aligned to work for the betterment of Singapore."

Noting that Singapore should continue to grow its reserves, Mr Liang said: "Overall, Budget 2018 exhibits traits of what makes Singapore exceptional: always plan and act for the long-term good of Singapore."

Speaking after Mr Liang, Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) suggested that the Government consider reviewing taxes on liquor and gambling, now at between 5 and 15 per cent.

These could be brought in line with Macau's rate of 39 per cent or Australia's rate of up to 45 per cent, which would bring in tax revenues close to $3 billion - the amount intended to be drawn from a 2 percentage point GST hike.

She also suggested introducing a sugar tax in light of growing concerns over diabetes, a capital gains tax or an increase in property tax for non-resident property owners, as imposed by countries such as Britain, Australia and New Zealand.