Budget debate

Budget 'ensures weakest in society get the most help'

Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.
Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

Chan Chun Sing refutes WP's arguments that Budget adopted 'wait-and-see attitude'

Budget 2017 was neither politically motivated nor one that took a "wait-and-see attitude", Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing said yesterday when he refuted the arguments of the Workers' Party (WP).

Instead, the two major issues that the Budget sought to address were how Singaporeans could continue to make a living, and how they might look after one another, he said. A key thrust of the Budget was to distribute limited resources in a way that gave the greatest help to those who need it most.

Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) Leon Perera, from the WP, said on Tuesday that it made "political sense" for the Government to introduce price hikes now "because people have three years to forget them before the next general election".

His fellow NCMP Daniel Goh described the Budget as a "wait-and- see" move by the Government as it prepares for the changes that will affect the economy and workers.

Yesterday, Mr Chan, in rejecting their observations, said the Budget is about building "the kind of society that we aspire to be".

He cited the values of inclusiveness and social mobility, saying: "We want to give everybody a fair chance. We want social mobility. And that is what defines Singapore."

AN EYE ON THE LONG TERM

We know the pressures in the short term, we are doing what we can in a targeted manner. But more importantly, we know the long-term challenges facing our country and we will do what is right, what is necessary to leave behind a better state for our future generations.

MR CHAN CHUN SING, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

As resources are finite, more help given to one person means less for another, he noted.

Hence, when there was a need to raise taxes or prices, it took courage on the part of political leaders to say that those who are richer have to foot a bigger bill so that the poorer people can get more help.

The approach also helps bring about a fairer society, added Mr Chan, who is also the secretary- general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

It avoids what a fellow union leader called the "sedimentation model" in which resources are distributed such that those who get to dip into the pot first will get to pick the best.

If such an approach takes root, Mr Chan warned, it will become harder to change.

The Government announced increases in water prices and diesel, and plans to introduce carbon taxes because it was the responsible thing to do, Mr Chan reiterated.

"A responsible government is one that prices the essentials properly, not distorts the market, leading to more subsidies that will burden our future generations.

"A responsible government is someone who knows what is not sustainable and will put a stop to it now. This is not a wait-and-see Budget," he said.

If it were a wait-and-see Budget or one motivated by political timing, the Government would not have introduced carbon pricing, diesel and water taxes, he added.

Mr Chan's speech yesterday came one day after Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran outlined the Government's broad and targeted measures to help Singapore companies overcome headwinds as well as grow and expand overseas.

Besides responding to the WP MPs, Mr Chan also spoke of the pressures of maintaining a Budget surplus, NTUC's plan to help workers and the water price hike in his wide-ranging, 45-minute speech.

He also distributed a picture of a trimaran sailboat to the MPs to illustrate the seven strategies in the recent report of the Committee on the Future Economy.

Mr Chan also addressed criticisms that the Government had ignored the short-term pain felt by some.

He said the Government had provided targeted help because it feels the people's pain. "If indeed this is a cynical government, then we shouldn't be giving anything at all."

Managing the economy is not like turning the thermostat in an air-conditioned room to make the temperature go up or down, he said, noting that Budget 2017 is about addressing both short-term pain and long-term challenges.

"We know the pressures in the short term, we are doing what we can in a targeted manner. But more importantly, we know the long-term challenges facing our country and we will do what is right, what is necessary to leave behind a better state for our future generations."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2017, with the headline 'Budget 'ensures weakest in society get the most help''. Print Edition | Subscribe