Singapore

WP’s Low: Premature announcement of GST hike ‘unnecessary distraction’

Discussion of future tax rise took focus away from Government's vision in forward-looking Budget, says WP chief

Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang yesterday criticised what he called the premature announcement of the planned increase in the goods and services tax (GST).

He said it was an "unnecessary distraction" in a forward-looking Budget that largely aims to position Singapore to take advantage of economic opportunities, particularly from the rise of China.

It was unfortunate, he added, as in "looking forward too hastily" for future revenue streams, the move has caused "the Government to lose its focus in getting buy-in for the vision because it has to explain the future GST hike instead".

The GST increase will occur at a point between 2021 and 2025, but since its disclosure last week, has seized the minds of many Singaporeans and businessmen.

Mr Low argued that preparing Singapore to tap rising Asia led by China's growth should be the focus together with exploiting new technologies - two major global trends that "would change the world for our children".

He dedicated the bulk of his 11-minute speech to China's rise.

In the past 50 years, Singapore thrived by making itself useful to global capitalism, especially by identifying future trends before others, said Mr Low, speaking in his last Budget debate as WP chief before the party elects a new secretary-general next month.

For instance, Singapore reaped benefits when it correctly predicted the rise of China and became one of the first countries to share its economic know-how with the Asian giant.

But with China now in the lead, the advantage may be irrelevant, he added.

This means Singapore has to figure out how it can make itself useful again, by transforming its economy, culture, human capital, diplomatic ties and interpersonal friendships between leaders and citizens on both sides.

That is not all.

It also has to grapple with a new challenge: The "kinship advantage" between Chinese Singaporeans and the Chinese in China is also fading fast as China modernises.

Meanwhile, some Chinese-educated Singaporeans feel "they are finally free of the feeling of inferiority", and are excited the "so-called sick man of Asia" has fully awakened.

Yet, this comes not without unease, said Mr Low, himself a Chinese-educated graduate of the former Nanyang University.

He warned that China's rise as a superpower could possibly fuel its own imperialist ambitions in the region, using its "sharp power" to compel small states to submit to its will.

OPPORTUNITIES

To grasp the economic opportunities successfully, he said Singaporeans can do two things.

One is to learn Mandarin, a suggestion also made by Nominated MP Azmoon Ahmad.

The other is to pick up Chinese dialects.

"If one would like to connect better with the Chinese, not just rationally but also affectionately, the language to use is local dialect," said Mr Low.

He was quick to add that Singapore is first and foremost a multiracial and multilingual society, and "politically at heart a South-east Asian nation".

Meanwhile, an exchange between Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng and Mr Low on the GST hike had MPs on the edge of their seats.

Mr Ng said he found it "baffling" the Workers' Party thinks finding ways to fund all these programmes is a distraction.

Mr Low said he thought the most important point of this Budget is anchoring Singapore.

"I am not saying that revenue is not important. But GST is not part of the Budget measures at this Budget, right?

"You can announce the 2 per cent increase in GST (due between 2021 to 2025) any time. But I wonder whether is it better to announce (it) separately or debate (it) at the Budget."

BUSINESS & FINANCE