Trust in government key to acceptance of unpopular policies: PM Lee
The goods and services tax (GST), a hot topic of late in Singapore and Malaysia, has highlighted how trust is a crucial factor in determining whether citizens will accept or reject an unpopular policy.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made the point in Parliament yesterday when he spoke on the importance of constructive politics and good leadership.
In governing, leaders have to do difficult things from time to time when necessary and, to show leadership, they have to "explain, persuade and convince people that we know what we are doing, and we are doing it for good reason, and it is the right thing to do", he said.
But when the previous Malaysian government introduced the GST three years ago, people rejected its explanation that it was a necessary source of revenue.
They swung to Pakatan Harapan, the opposition coalition led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, which had vowed during the election campaign to abolish the GST.
The decision was taken, Mr Lee said, not because of the economic merits or demerits of the GST which, from an economic viewpoint, is better than the sales tax it replaced.
"But politically, Malaysians linked the GST with other complaints they had with the previous government... and they said, 'no, I don't accept this'.
"Does that mean that no government should ever raise taxes? Alas, that is not the real world. From time to time, the country will need to spend more - on healthcare, on defence, on education, or something else," he added.
If revenues are not enough, there is no choice but to raise taxes, Mr Lee said.
The government then has to convince people it is done for the right reasons.
If the PAP can keep on successfully doing that, we can stay in government. But if we ever fail, then we deserve to lose.Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on how the PAP should always renew itself, continue to serve the people and bring progress to the nation
Singapore will raise the GST from 7 per cent to 9 per cent some time between 2021 and 2025, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said in February.
Mr Lee also said there is no fixed lifespan for a political party.
How long it stays in power - or in opposition - hinges on whether it can renew itself, continue to serve the people and bring progress to the nation.
"If the PAP (People's Action Party) can keep on successfully doing that, we can stay in government. But if we ever fail, then we deserve to lose," he said.