GST hike, plight of elderly workers among issues as Budget debate kicks off

An elderly cleaner at Berseh Food Centre in Jalan Besar. PHOTO: ST FILE

From the impending goods and services tax hike, to whether more of the reserves should be used to fund Singapore's growing needs, Members of Parliament yesterday weighed in on this year's Budget.

On the first day of the debate - which usually lasts two to three days - 28 MPs rose to speak.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Trade and Industry, kicked off the six-hour debate.

He called for the Government to continue using Budget surpluses to redistribute wealth among the less well-off. "Besides helping to mitigate the impact of GST and rising costs, it can also help to manage the income disparity that we see widening in our society."

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced last week that the GST will go up from 7 per cent to 9 per cent some time from 2021 to 2025.

Other MPs raised their concerns - ranging from the plight of elderly workers to the pitfalls of meritocracy to Singapore's long-term economic challenges - and offered suggestions on what could be done.

Meanwhile, the Workers' Party said it does not support the GST hike, saying that a better option is to use some of the proceeds from land sales. The Government should also consider tapping more of the reserves on a temporary basis to stave off "increasing regressive taxes like the GST", said its assistant secretary-general Pritam Singh.

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But most of the MPs, from the People's Action Party, expressed support for the existing framework, calling it prudent. Said Mr Liang: "Overall, Budget 2018 exhibits traits of what makes Singapore exceptional: always plan and act for the long-term good of Singapore."

Mr Heng is expected to round up the debate tomorrow.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2018, with the headline GST hike, plight of elderly workers among issues as Budget debate kicks off. Subscribe