Budget debate: Alex Yam, Leon Perera clash over dipping into 'cookie jar' of reserves

MPs Alex Yam and Leon Perera spoke in Parliament over the use of Singapore's reserves. PHOTOS: MCI

SINGAPORE - MPs across the aisle clashed on Thursday (Feb 25) over the use of Singapore's reserves, with Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) likening suggestions by opposition members to helping themselves out of a "cookie jar" with little regard for costs.

In response, Workers' Party MP Leon Perera (Aljunied GRC) noted that the Government had in 2008 amended the rules governing the use of the reserves to create the Net Investment Returns Contribution (NIRC) framework.

In 2015, the rules were amended again to add Temasek to the framework.

"Is it the member's position or argument that those were really 'raiding the cookie jar' as well?" Mr Perera asked.

"Is it the member's view that any kind of deviation away from these rules that are currently entrenched in the Constitution… amounts to sort of raiding the cookie jar and becoming a 'Cookie Monster', even if those rules are slowing the slope of the growth of the reserves but do not actually draw upon and pull down the reserves?"

He also pointed out that with the absolute amount of reserves relative to GDP changing over the decades, rules should also evolve and change.

"And as the rules of society changes and the opportunities to invest in the people and the country change, shouldn't those rules also be subject to change as well?"

Mr Yam replied: "Yes, as we go along, we make adjustments such as introducing the NIRC.

"But as was described earlier, we put in measures to ensure that we never empty out the cookie jar, that the cookie jar exists for moments of need such as these."

He added: "And even at the current moment where we would benefit certainly from being extraordinarily generous, we have decided on what is prudent to ensure that there is always something left over... So it's a quite different scenario from introducing changes to rout the cookie jar.

"Ideas can be considered and adjustments made, but always with the view that we think about the future and not just about the now."

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