Pritam Singh calls for bold leadership to address issue of rising costs

Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh called on Singapore's fourth-generation political leaders to be more open to alternative views and better explaining their decisions on issues such as the hike in water tariffs and increase in transport costs.

SINGAPORE - Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh on Monday (May 14) said bold leadership is needed to address the issue of rising costs, in his first parliamentary speech as party chief.

He called on Singapore's fourth-generation political leaders to demonstrate this boldness by being more open to alternative views and better explaining their decisions, particularly on issues such as the hike in water tariffs and increase in transport costs.

He also said the call for boldness - made in President Halimah Yacob's speech during the opening of Parliament last week - should not preoccupy the 4G leadership alone.

The transition from third-generation to 4G leaders "presents a unique opportunity for each Singaporean to question what we can do to make Singapore a better home for all of us", he said.

"At its core, the transition from 3G to 4G leaders must be accompanied by a transformation of our society which creates the conditions to engender a confident people," he added in a 10-minute speech.

In his 10-minute speech, Mr Singh focused largely on the issue of cost of living.

He said rising prices had dominated headlines in the past few years, with the prospective increase in goods and services tax (GST) to 9 per cent - to take place some time from 2021 to 2025 - causing more anxiety.

Raising examples of the hike in water tariffs that kicked in last year, and the increase in transport costs expected this year, Mr Singh suggested that the Government should better explain why these increases are necessary and whether there are any other ways of addressing the rising costs of providing water and public transport.

He also questioned if cost of living was an impediment to young Singaporeans fulfilling their aspirations of having children, asking if there is any scope to make Housing Board flats more affordable.

While he stopped short of calling for a rethink on raising GST, he said "the picture for the immediate future does not appear to be one of a government needing money to stay afloat or needing to tax the population, as a result raising the cost of living".

He noted that in the first two years of its five-year term, the Government had accumulated a Budget surplus of $15.7 billion.

The addition in 2016 of revenue contributions from Temasek Holdings to the Net Investment Returns Contribution framework - which allows the Government to tap up to half the long-term expected real returns on investments by the GIC, Monetary Authority of Singapore, and Temasek - will also provide a stable source of income to fund public spending, added Mr Singh.

While the 4G leaders are taking over at a time of rising expenditure, he said, they will also have more money and political capital than any other generation of leaders.

"We are told more money is needed for healthcare and other areas in years to come. This is not unexpected given our demographic transition with our elderly population expected to grow to 900,000 by 2030," he said.

"But what are the Government's current estimates and the underlying basis for its projections of higher expenditure coming on-stream in future? This information needs to be shared so that the public are clear-eyed about the sufficiency of the Budget at the Government's disposal to help Singaporeans with the cost of living today."