Singapore GE2020: Chee, Vivian spar over fiscal spending, SDP's proposed social policies

SDP chief Chee Soon Juan said the party's proposed social policies would amount to about $5 billion.
SDP chief Chee Soon Juan said the party's proposed social policies would amount to about $5 billion.

Some of the proposals put forth by the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) for the general election have "very big holes" in fiscal deficits, People's Action Party (PAP) candidate Vivian Balakrishnan said in a live TV debate yesterday.

Moderated by CNA Digital's chief editor Jamie Ho, the debate pitted Dr Balakrishnan against Singapore Democratic Party's (SDP) Chee Soon Juan, Workers' Party's (WP) Jamus Lim and Progress Singapore Party's (PSP) Francis Yuen.

Dr Balakrishnan and Dr Chee went head to head over a number of issues, with the second half of the hour-long session hotting up as they squared off on the cost of SDP's proposed social policies, among others.

Noting that both men "have had many disagreements in the past professionally", Dr Balakrishnan, 59, asked Dr Chee: "I think my voters want to know what the total size of the bill is, and who bears it."

The SDP's election campaign, Four Yes, One No, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, has called for the goods and services tax (GST) to be suspended until 2021, retrenchment benefits to be paid to workers laid off because of the pandemic, $500 monthly payments to be made to some retirees and for the PAP to put the people's interest as its top priority.

SDP has also called for a stop to the increase in Singapore's population and to the displacement of PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) with foreign ones.

In response to Dr Balakrishnan's question, Dr Chee, 57, who is SDP's secretary-general, said the annual cost would be about $5 billion. "Now, compare that to what you just signed off just this year, of nearly $100 billion. Even if the Government did not take in any more revenue, it would take us 20 years for us to spend all the budget that you have allocated for just the next year or so."

Pointing out that the SDP had been accused of being a "tax-and-spend party" which was compared to Greece "going down the road to ruin", Dr Chee said the PAP had raised prices and taxes after 2015.

He added: "That whole slew of taxes went into spending... the budget that you blew in the Youth Olympic Games way back in 2010 (Dr Balakrishnan was Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports at the time), and then the auditor-general came by and chided this Government for overspending and not practising financial prudence. This is where I think the tax-and-spend policy applies to the PAP, more than any."

Earlier in the debate, Dr Chee had also called the PAP's focus on jobs for Singaporeans "election jack jingle", pointing out that the Republic had the lowest economic growth in a decade of 0.7 per cent last year. Commercial rent should be controlled and the foreign workers' levy has hit small and medium-sized enterprises hard, he said.

In response, Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore's net productivity was negative "once out of 10 years".

He added: "This is the worst crisis of our lifetime, and it is not going to go away in one year. What have we done so far? We have had emergency infusions to save jobs. We have moved four Budgets to keep our businesses afloat, especially our SMEs, in order to keep jobs for our own Singaporeans. We have emergency measures to protect our public health in these measures. We are continuing to accelerate this necessary transformation that our economy has to undergo because of the digital revolution.

"I don't promise any quick and easy answers. The PAP offers honesty, complete transparency."

Low Lin Fhoong

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2020, with the headline Chee, Vivian spar over fiscal spending, SDP's proposed social policies. Subscribe