Budget 2019 debate

From The Backbench

MS FOO MEE HAR (West Coast GRC).
MS FOO MEE HAR (West Coast GRC).


Postpone GST hike

With Singapore having accumulated an estimated surplus of $15 billion since 2016, Ms Foo urged the Government to postpone the "unpopular GST hike for as long as possible". She was referring to the planned GST hike of 2 percentage points, from 7 per cent to 9 per cent, between 2021 and 2025.

Budget surpluses unused by the end of each term of government will be transferred to past reserves.

Another suggestion she had was to share surpluses with Singaporeans regularly when the nation's finances allow for it, just as the Government is doing with this year's $1.1 billion Bicentennial Bonus.

"There is no better way to build social cohesion than to share these upsides with the people," she said.

MR SEAH KIAN PENG (Marine Parade GRC )

Ethics committee for science and tech

A national committee that looks at the ethics of science and technology should be set up, Mr Seah suggested.

This team, comprising government officers, ordinary folk, scientists and philosophers, would look at how new technology impacts humans and their relationships - and whether or not it should be deployed.

"Our ability to incorporate technology in our lives has far outstripped our ability to reason morally about the choices that we will be forced to make as a technological society... Choices that are not just about efficiency and speed, but about values - good, bad, right, wrong," he said.

MR ZAINAL SAPARI (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC)

Show gratitude to low-wage workers

Society at large can make a difference to how low-wage workers feel about their jobs. Mr Zainal urged the public to show gratitude to such workers - including cleaners, security officers and landscape workers - and for the part they play in creating a clean, green and safe environment for everyone.

They can do so through simple acts like returning their own trays at food centres, greeting them, not littering and not thinking "that you are doing them a favour by creating work for them", the labour MP said.

"These acts don't cost us a thing, but they can go a long way in brightening up their lives. Make it our habit to care. A gracious society does not happen by chance - it is up to you and me to make a difference."


Tackle recycling and food waste

Very little is recycled and too much food waste is generated here. To that end, the Workers' Party chief wants the inaugural Zero Waste Masterplan, due to be announced later this year, to state explicitly how to tackle this and what the targets would be.

It was reported that in 2016, only 2 per cent of the total waste generated by the domestic sector came from the national recycling effort, in which blue bins are put in places such as Housing Board estates.

"Like the Government's successful water story, closing the waste cycle would be a significant chapter of the Singapore story and would provide a blueprint for other cities to consider," he said.


Help those who help the disadvantaged

Allow voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) to invest in Singapore Savings Bonds, suggested Ms Phua, who co-founded autism-focused school Pathlight. "Unless they are more financially independent, much of their time will be taken up to seek funds instead of strengthening their services," she said.

She also suggested further incentivising donors to eligible charities by offering a 300 per cent tax deduction provision for the Bicentennial Community Fund, similar to that implemented for SG50 in 2015.

Another suggestion was for the authorities to invest in and nurture VWOs with good track records and help them build social enterprises and revenue-earning arms to reduce their dependence on donations.


Resiliency of aviation, maritime sectors

While the future Terminal 5 and development of Changi East are exciting projects for Changi Airport, Mr Tan raised concerns about whether intentions by Malaysia and Indonesia to take back delegated airspace surrounding Singapore will affect these plans and the Republic's position as a major air hub, as well as its aerospace industry.

On the maritime front, Mr Tan, a shipping lawyer, was also concerned about challenges to Singapore's port and maritime sector, such as the opening of the Arctic or Northern Sea Route and the Melaka port, as well as Malaysia's move last year to unilaterally extend the Johor Baru port limits and encroach into Singapore's territorial waters.


Buy more local produce

Singaporeans should "buy Singapore" and purchase more local produce, in a bid to boost the nation's food resilience, Mr Chong feels.

"Initially, buying local may mean paying a higher price. But we must continue to support local suppliers and vendors so that when volume picks up, prices would drop correspondingly," he said.

Such a movement will not only help ensure the sustainability of producing local food but also reduce the country's carbon footprint. And by supporting local food producers, they may eventually be able to scale up and go regional or global, he added.


Raise spending to help ITE students

Spending on students at the Institute of Technical Education should be raised, Mr Saktiandi suggested.

This segment forms about 25 per cent to 30 per cent of the post-secondary cohort each year - "a significant future labour force with key skill sets for us to be future-ready", he said. He noted that while there are many financial assistance programmes for ITE students, poor time management and prioritising of resources are reasons why some fall behind.

He hoped that a proactive approach could be taken to counsel students, particularly new admissions, to manage their resources and get needed help.

Rachel Au-Yong and Adrian Lim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2019, with the headline 'From The Backbench'. Print Edition | Subscribe