Minister and WP MPs cross swords over tapping on reserves

The issue of whether to tap more of the country's reserves to meet growing spending needs emerged on the fourth day of the debate on the President's Address, with National Development Minister Lawrence Wong crossing swords with two Workers' Party (WP) MPs.

WP chief Pritam Singh and Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera both highlighted the size of the returns from the reserves. Mr Perera called for the share of returns that can be spent on current needs - now capped at 50 per cent - to be raised.

These returns have "put more money and by extension more political capital in the hands of the current government... than any other generation of People's Action Party leaders", Mr Singh said on Monday, as he questioned the Government's line that the country's fiscal position will become more difficult.

Rebutting the WP yesterday, Mr Wong pointed to considerable investments needed for urban transformation as well as other needs.

Mr Wong, who is also Second Minister for Finance, said Mr Singh "forgot to mention" that current fiscal commitments and spending are at their highest level ever.

"Without additional revenues, how are we to meet the growing healthcare needs as well as the many other proposals that various people, including the WP MPs, have been asking for?" he asked.

The Government has said it plans to raise revenue through a 2 percentage point increase in the goods and services tax (GST) in the next decade, a move the WP opposes.

On the WP's call to relook the 50 per cent cap on spending from the returns of the reserves, last debated in 2016, Mr Wong said: "What does it say about us and our mindsets... if the minute we need the money, the first thing we do is to relax the rules? Surely, that would be ill-disciplined, imprudent and unwise."

Asked by Mr Perera if the GST hike could prove a drag on growth, Mr Wong replied that it could.

"So what I would very much like to hear from (MPs), if you think that this is a concern, please let us have proposals not to spend more, which we keep hearing, but to spend less for a change."- NG JUN SEN

Team Singapore