SINGAPORE - Leader of the House Grace Fu on Tuesday (March 6) joined the chorus of calls from government leaders for Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim to withdraw her comment on the timing of the goods and services tax (GST) hike, and apologise to Parliament.
Ms Fu requested that this be done by Thursday, before the end of the ongoing Parliament sitting.
Meanwhile, the WP told The Straits Times that Ms Lim has asked Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin for permission to make a statement on the matter.
As the House prepared to start on the debate over ministries' budgets on Tuesday, Ms Fu rose to speak on the issue, saying she wanted to put the facts on the record.
Ms Lim had said during last Thursday's Budget debate that it is her "suspicion" that the Government had intended to introduce a GST hike immediately but backed down after the "test balloons" it floated got a negative response.
She added that the Government was "stuck" when people noted Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and other leaders had previously said it had enough money till the end of the decade.
On Tuesday, Ms Fu, who is Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, noted that Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam had set out the facts surrounding the issue. On Monday night, Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah also wrote a Facebook post on the matter.
Ms Fu reiterated that the Government had been consistent on its position that it had enough to fund expenditure for the current term, but would need to raise revenue beyond that for growing spending. The first mention of the need for the tax increase was in the Prime Minister's National Day Rally speech in 2013.
"The Government never floated "test balloons" on this matter," she said. "It has been deliberate and consistent in all its statements since August 2013."
Noting that Ms Lim had said in Parliament that her comment was based on suspicion, Ms Fu asked Ms Lim to withdraw her comment now that the facts had been set out for her.
She added that Ms Lim's "allegations have been refuted, the facts she cited have been shown to be inaccurate, and she has not raised any further facts to substantiate her 'suspicion'".
"With the clarifications that have been given to her by ministers, both in this House and elsewhere, Ms Lim cannot contend that her 'suspicion' remains reasonable and honestly held," she said.
Ms Fu also reiterated that Parliamentary privilege does not entitle MPs to "knowingly maintain allegations that have been shown to have no factual basis", calling on Ms Lim to withdraw her statement.
"Now that Ms Lim has been apprised of the facts, I request that she withdraws her allegation that the Government had floated test balloons on the need to raise revenues within this term and had intended to raise the GST immediately, and apologise to this House, before the end of this sitting of Parliament on Thursday, 8 March 2018," said Ms Fu.
She added that a copy of her statement would be sent to Ms Lim, who was not in Parliament at the time of her delivery.
In response to queries from The Straits Times, WP media chair and Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh said Ms Lim had sent an e-mail to the Speaker on Monday morning saying: "I wish to make a statement in Parliament, perhaps at the conclusion of the Committee of Supply debates, to clarify the matter."
He added that Mr Tan had informed Ms Lim of Ms Fu's plan to speak on the issue but did not say it would be at the start of Tuesday's sitting.