Closer scrutiny of government spending needed: Pritam Singh

Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh has called for closer scrutiny of government expenditure and more transparency on the outcomes of Budget initiatives, adding this has become even more critical with tax revenues being squeezed and increased spending expected in the years ahead.

"With a tighter fiscal environment in the years ahead, as stressed by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat over many speeches, closer scrutiny of expenditure should not be seen one-dimensionally as political one-upsmanship but as an administrative necessity," he said yesterday.

"The scrutiny raises everyone's sense of ownership in Singapore."

The Workers' Party chief expressed support for the Budget but urged a "reset of the Government's agenda" in various areas.

He suggested establishing an independent parliamentary budget office to ensure more accountability and transparency in how tax dollars are used, especially given the significant draw-down of reserves to fight Covid-19.

In particular, he asked for more details on the Capability Transfer Programme - which subsidises the cost of bringing in overseas experts to train local staff - such as how much had been spent and which industries have been identified for transfer of skills.

Mr Singh said he was surprised that amid economic transformation and new jobs being created, only a "relatively small number" of 970 Singaporeans have benefited from the scheme launched in 2017 and extended until 2024.

He sought details on how money will be spent on initiatives such as the $24 billion set aside to help companies and workers transform in the next three years, and the additional $5.4 billion set aside for the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package.

Mr Singh also questioned the disbursement of cash vouchers through the five Community Development Councils (CDC), which he said played a "potentially superfluous" role.

He also posited that there is scope for a "serious review" of the need to have full-time mayors, who are People's Action Party MPs appointed to run the CDCs.