Parliament: Lawrence Wong rebuts Pritam Singh's statement that the Government does not appear to need more money

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong has fired back at a statement by Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh that the Government has more money now and does not appear to need more by taxing the population.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong (left) said Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh "forgot to mention" that the current Government's fiscal commitments and spending are also at their highest.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong (left) said Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh "forgot to mention" that the current Government's fiscal commitments and spending are also at their highest.PHOTOS: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - National Development Minister Lawrence Wong has fired back at a statement by Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh that the Government has more money now and does not appear to need to raise more revenues by taxing the population.

Mr Wong, also Second Minister for Finance, said Mr Singh "forgot to mention" that the current Government's fiscal commitments and spending are also at their highest.

Speaking in Parliament on Thursday (May 16) during the debate on the President's Address, Mr Wong said: "Singaporeans today are being provided with more services and support than before. For now, we are just able to meet all of our spending needs with current resources.

"Without additional revenues, how are we to meet the growing healthcare needs, as well as the many other proposals that various people, including the WP MPs have been asking for?"

On Monday, Mr Singh said in Parliament that the inclusion of Temasek Holdings revenues into the Net Investment Returns Contribution framework from 2016 has put more money and political capital in the hands of the current Government and the fourth generation (4G) leaders than previous generations of leaders.

"The picture for the immediate future does not appear to be one of a Government needing money to stay afloat and needing to tax the population as a result, raising the cost of living," Mr Singh had said.

In his speech, Mr Wong pointed out that other first-world democracies have become "more fractured, chaotic and unpredictable" due to fiscal difficulties.

"Why? Because the politicians pander to the electorate, they spend more than they collect in taxes, and run up unfunded obligations and debt. Ultimately, the ones who suffer are the citizens, especially the most vulnerable," he said.

"That is not the Singaporean way," he stressed.

Instead, the Singapore Government tells the people what to expect and the hard choices it needs to take, said Mr Wong. "We work to serve the interests of all Singaporeans, not just for one or two electoral cycles, but over the long-term."

Mr Wong said MPs do not have to agree with every government policy, and the Government is ready to listen to alternative ideas and to review its policies.

"But please, don't disagree just for the sake of doing so," said Mr Wong.

Earlier, WP Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera had also asked if the Government had more scope to review its policies to the use of reserves if there is an imminent gap in funding, arguing this is not just a technical question but a "deep, philosophic question about inter-generational equity".

Mr Perera repeated his question to Mr Wong after his speech, asking if the Government would consider "evolving its position" on the issue of tapping the reserves owing to demographic changes.

Mr Wong replied that the Government is always prepared to review policies, but the use of the reserves was debated and settled recently and the rules were enshrined in the Constitution. "Let us not be so quick to rush the minute we need money, and say, 'Can we tweak the rules again?'"

He said what he would like to hear from members of the House, are not proposals to spend more - which are often heard - but proposals to spend less for a change.