SINGAPORE - It is a fair arrangement to spend half of the returns on Singapore's invested reserves on the needs of the current generation, and set aside the rest for the next, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in a video posted on Facebook on Wednesday (July 8).
The People's Action Party's (PAP) incumbent anchor for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC was responding to a resident's question on what becomes of the 50 per cent of Net Investment Returns Contribution (NIRC) that cannot be used for government Budgets, and why it cannot be disbursed to Singaporeans.
Several opposition parties, such as the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), Progress Singapore Party (PSP) and Workers' Party (WP), have suggested raising the NIRC cap to fund social programmes and other proposals.
The SDP's plan includes suspending Singapore's goods and services tax until end-2021 - by spending $13.3 billion of the unused net balance investment income of $18.6 billion. The party said this entails using only the interest income from a fixed deposit without touching the principal sum, and pointed out that the reserves would continue to grow.
The WP has suggested increasing the NIRC spending cap to 60 per cent, while the PSP has not specified how much it should go up by.
Dr Balakrishnan, however, emphasised the need to save for a rainy day, citing the current Covid-19 pandemic that has forced the Government to dip into its reserves.
"We have significant reserves because the Pioneer Generation and Merdeka Generation operated on the basis of always spending less than what you earn," he said.
Sharing his personal take, Dr Balakrishnan recounted how his late mother had experienced hardship from a young age and spent her life squirreling money away instead of spending it.
"One of my enduring memories, because she knew she was going to pass away, was setting aside money for her grandchildren. As I saw her doing that and making arrangements, I knew this was money she did not spend on herself," he said, visibly emotional.
"So I feel very, very strongly about having savings, about preparing for a rainy day and trying our best to make sure that our children and grandchildren will have a legacy and a starting line that is more secure that the previous generation."
Dr Balakrishnan and the other three members of his Holland-Bukit Timah GRC team as well as the PAP's Bukit Panjang SMC candidate Liang Eng Hwa fielded a range of questions from residents and elaborated on plans for their constituencies during the 50-minute pre-recorded video.
Job support was top of the agenda. Mr Liang said increasing childcare capacity in Bukit Panjang is on the cards, and Mr Christopher De Souza spoke about solar panels and other green initiatives for residents of Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.
The five candidates are facing challenges from the SDP in both constituencies.
To a question on the opposition's stand that it is not seeking to replace the current Government but to add to the diversity of voices and provide a balance in Parliament, Dr Balakrishnan said that while the PAP welcomes robust debate, the ultimate forum for accountability is the general election, where the power is in the hands of voters.
"So let's never get distracted by the argument about diversity and so-called balance in Parliament for its own sake," he said.
The video was released a day after the PAP and SDP traded barbs and laid out their plans for residents of Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.
In a letter to residents from the PAP team on Tuesday, which drew a response from SDP on its Facebook page, the two parties sought to set themselves apart in values.
The SDP said it is committed to helping the marginalised and poor, while the PAP said it believes in hard work, savings, family responsibility and community support.