Tax hike, help for vulnerable among concerns for Budget

Will the Government announce a tax change at next year's Budget, asked an IT company chief executive at a pre-Budget dialogue yesterday. Mr Nick Lee, 45, did not specify what tax he had in mind.

Replying, Senior Minister of State for Finance Indranee Rajah did not give anything away. Her ministry is still working on the "what" and "when" of the tax hike that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hinted at last month, she said.

"I know it's something that's very much on people's minds." However, she assured that people will be given enough notice to prepare for the increase, and that the Government will have to buffer the impact on vulnerable groups if they are affected.

Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan said the Government does not take decisions to raise taxes lightly, because such hikes come with a very high political cost.

"But if we have to raise it, that is because the reason is stronger than the political cost," he added.

Mr Tan, who chairs government feedback unit Reach, also said he is "keenly aware" any tax adjustment will have an impact on businesses.

More than 50 participants attended the session last evening, which was jointly organised by Reach and the Ministry of Finance.

They raised issues ranging from caring for an ageing society to coaxing workers to improve their skills.

A post-session poll showed about 30 per cent of participants felt the Government should focus on supporting vulnerable groups in Budget 2018. This was followed by enabling people to improve their skills and helping businesses to thrive.

Ms Indranee said the Budget is a strategic financial plan to take care of Singapore's immediate needs and position the nation for the future. It requires building the economy amid technological disruptions and global uncertainties, she said. It also involves developing people to cope with challenges.

Speaking to reporters, Ms Indranee said different groups have different concerns, with young families more interested in education and housing, while those with older family members are more concerned with healthcare.

"Speaking to people who are going to be impacted... will help us to make a better and more informed decision," she said.

"All governments have the same challenge. You have a range of things that you need to do; how are you going to fund them? It's important for the public to know."

She added that it is important for the Government to explain to people its objectives and how its initiatives will be funded.

Referring to conversations during the session, she said: "You can see that people are very mindful of the fact that there are trade-offs."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 06, 2017, with the headline 'Tax hike, help for vulnerable among concerns for Budget'. Print Edition | Subscribe