ST's panel of critics: Budget 2013 is "balanced" and will help address income gap

A Straits Times' panel of critics assessing Singapore Budget 2013 in an online special on Monday described it as balanced, focused on helping the needy and addressing the income gap, even as it seeks to restructure the economy.

Said KPMG tax partner Chiu Wu Hong on Singapore Budget 2013: "This is a balanced Budget. It reinforces the message that the country has to push ahead with economic restructuring and with the initiatives to address higher healthcare costs and cost of living."

Mr Chiu was on the panel of five experts in The Straits Times newsroom giving their views as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam delivered his Singapore Budget 2013 speech.

Their views were blogged live on The Straits Times' website - - and can be viewed on the site until early Tuesday morning.

Besides Mr Chiu, the panel included Association of Small and Medium Enterprises' vice-president Kurt Wee, Singapore Business Federation's chief operating officer Victor Tay, OCBC's head of treasury research and strategy Selena Ling and Straits Times' news editor Ignatius Low.

The panellists welcomed the measures to address rising housing and vehicle prices, and raising Workfare and public assistance handouts to the poor.

Mr Low said imposing heavier taxes on owners of high-end residential properties and cars was "a very astute political move".

He said one reason the income gap has widened is because of growing property ownership, and the widening of the gap has been fuelled by asset growth rather than actual incomes growing.

But representatives from the business sector were concerned about the further tightening of foreign labour inflow, and expressed concern about how businesses, particularly small and medium-sized ones, could cope.

Mr Wee said the cuts to the dependency ratio ceiling and increased foreign worker levies were "a double whammy" to small businesses and may lead to less investment and a contraction in the business sector this year.

For more news and analysis on Singapore Budget 2013, click here for ST's Big Story coverage.