Debate on ministries' budgets

No contradiction in Govt's decision to raise GST in future: Indranee

There was "no contradiction" and "no backtracking" in the Government's decision to raise the goods and services tax (GST) in future, said Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance, yesterday.

She also said the Government made it a point of principle to be open and upfront with Singaporeans, and "that's why we take strong objection when allegations are made in a cavalier fashion that the Government has not been upfront or truthful with the public".

Her Facebook post is the latest statement by a senior office-holder on comments made by Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim on the timing of the GST increase.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat had similarly taken issue last week with the comments of the Aljunied GRC MP.

Ms Lim said in the debate on the Budget statement last Thursday that it was 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.

Ms Indranee pointed out that the Government had consistently said it had enough to fund expenditure until 2020, but would need to raise revenue after that to fund growing spending, especially in healthcare and infrastructure.

She cited speeches spanning five years from 2013, by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, DPM Tharman and Finance Minister Heng, to show the Government had flagged the need to raise taxes in future, even though there was no need for more revenue in the current term of government.

"The record shows there were never any plans by the Government for an immediate GST hike."

She added: "All government statements have been in the context of doing so in the future, which is pretty much what we have now done - informing people ahead of time that GST will have to be increased some time between 2021 and 2025."

Ms Indranee also said figures in the Budget Book show the Government has enough revenue to meet current spending needs up to 2020. By announcing the GST increase now, she said, the Government was doing what it had always done - and that is to plan for the long term.

"If you think about it, the allegation makes no sense. Raising taxes is never a popular measure. No government likes to do it," she added.

Last Friday, Mr Heng had asked Ms Lim if she would withdraw her allegation and apologise to the House after being told of the facts.

At a WP grassroots event on Sunday, she told Chinese-language daily Lianhe Zaobao she would not comment on the issue, saying what happened in Parliament should be dealt with in Parliament.

Ms Indranee said the issue had become a point of contention because Ms Lim was, in effect, accusing the Government of being untruthful.

She added that she had to speak up as the relationship of trust between the Government and the people had been "painstakingly built up over the years", and "the Government takes this trust seriously".

She said Ms Lim's allegation was based on untruths, and "parliamentary privilege is not a blanket permission to simply make allegations which are untrue or without basis".

"So when such allegations are made in Parliament, it is necessary to point them out. Keeping quiet and letting them be made freely would be the wrong thing to do."

The Straits Times could not reach Ms Lim for comments.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2018, with the headline 'No contradiction in Govt's decision to raise GST in future: Indranee'. Subscribe