Rising costs of living ahead of GST increase among issues raised at Sengkang town hall session

(From left) Sengkang GRC MPs Louis Chua, He Ting Ru and Jamus Lim at the town hall session held on June 19, 2022. ST PHOTO: SYAMIL SAPARI

SINGAPORE - Rising costs of living ahead of next January's goods and services tax (GST) increase was the top concern aired by residents at a town hall session in Sengkang on Sunday afternoon (June 19).

About 30 residents attended the session in a multipurpose hall in Compassvale, where they spoke to Sengkang GRC MPs Jamus Lim, He Ting Ru and Louis Chua. Other issues raised were mental health in schools and wealth inequality.

Associate Professor Lim said the Workers' Party (WP) will continue to argue against the proposed GST increase in Parliament, as well as for alternative forms of taxation, such as wealth or carbon taxes, to make up more of government revenue.

The GST rate will be increased from 7 per cent to 9 per cent in two stages - one percentage point each time on Jan 1, 2023, and on Jan 1, 2024.

Inflation here and globally has spiked in recent months due in part to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier this month, analysts said Singapore's overall inflation for 2022 is now expected to hit 5 per cent, up from 3.6 per cent in the previous survey released by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

The town hall was held as part of a new series of forums organised by the Sengkang MPs called Sengkang Conversations.

These are meant as a feedback channel for residents to give their opinions or ask questions on national and local issues, the WP said.

Sunday's session was the second such town hall, and was intended to address residents' concerns about this year's Budget, which the Government unveiled in March.

The first town hall was held via Zoom in January, and the team intends to run sessions on a quarterly basis, Ms He said.

The session was conducted under Chatham House rules, where participants can be quoted but not named, to encourage free and frank discussion.

Residents asked questions or raised suggestions themselves or through a moderator, who also read comments some had left while signing up for the event online.

Speaking on rising costs, one resident asked if the MPs could ask in Parliament if GST increases can be tiered across different classes of goods, for example, limiting the increase to luxury goods.

He said: "Someone buying a Patek Philippe watch is not going to stop buying it because of a GST increase."

Patek Philippe is a Swiss luxury watch brand.

In response, Ms He, who also chairs the Sengkang Town Council, said the resident's suggestion was in line with her own arguments for certain essential goods, such as food or healthcare, to be exempted from the GST increase, and that the MPs would take his suggestion on board.

On the topic of mental health in schools, another resident asked if the MPs could raise the idea of removing national exams.

He said: "Shouldn't the Government be targeting the main stressor that students face - national exams - rather than removing more school-based exams?"

In March, the Ministry of Education announced that schools will remove midyear examinations for all primary and secondary school students by next year.

Prof Lim replied that removing exams must be done carefully and not result in undue stress placed on other forms of assessment.

Mr Chua said communicating residents' concerns about rising costs is a key concern for Sengkang's MPs as the area is largely made up of public housing estates.

Speaking to The Straits Times on the sidelines of the event, he said: "By and large, Sengkang represents the average Singaporean.

"People come up to us, saying the price of eggs or fuel has increased, and all this eats into their household budgets… It is a looming concern and source of stress."

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