Budget 2007

The following are my comments on the series of budget debates reported in the Straits Times over the last two weeks:

28 Feb 2007

“Low Thia Khiang praises Workfare, slams GST hike” by Lynn Lee

It was reported that Mr Hri Kumar finds the idea of not raising GST during good times illogical as it implied that taxes should be raised when the economy was plummeting. He is mistaken. To use the analogy of a robber, the fact that times are better doesn’t give the robber more reason to rob the people. The fact that times are better and that the robber is better off means he should let the people off instead.

1 Mar 2007

“Sylvia Lim ignoring offsets in generous budget: PAP MPs” by Ken Kwek

Miss Lee Bee Wah was reported to have been congratulated by old friends in Malaysia for “going to get rich very soon”. Ms Lee attributed their comments to their mistaken belief that Singapore politics, like those of Malaysian politics, is all about fattening one’s own pockets. But I’m sure her Malaysian friends aren’t as ill informed as Miss Lee deems them to be. Their comments may be sincere acknowledgement of the fact that Miss Lee would be pocketing $10,000 monthly for the next 5 years, which is a cool “peanut” sum of $600,000.

Miss Lee also said it was better to raise the tax now while the economy was doing well rather than when things took a turn for the worse and rationalised it with the Hokkien phrase “looking for a toilet only when one needs to pass motion”. I think a better illustration of the actual situation now is “not using one’s own marbled toilet with golden taps but going instead to the commoners’ homes to use their toilets.”

2 Mar 2007

“More funds needed to pay for the future” by Sue-Ann Chia

Tharman argued that revenue from the integrated resorts would be miniscule compared to the budget that its ministry requires. This is in stark contrast to the perception the government gave when it was justifying the opening up of gambling in Singapore. The rhetoric then as I recall was that the casino was integral to our very survival as a nation.

Mr Tharman also said that the top 20% pays four times as much tax as the bottom 40% even as its share of household income is merely double those of the latter group. This seems to suggest that the rich is twice as generous as the poor but what it really shows is just how un-egalitarian our society has become.

He also mentioned that middle incomers here paid less tax than their counterparts in cities like Dublin, Sydney and Tokyo and comparable to those of Hong Kong. However, the wages in these cities are much higher than those in Singapore that more than compensates for their higher taxes so that on the whole, their citizens have more disposable income than ours.

3 Mar 2007

“Attracting new citizens: Integration is key, plus a dose of love” by Ong Soh Chin

Ms Indranee Rajah said that “being Singaporean is not a matter of ancestry, but of conviction and choice”. This is too simplistic a definition to being a Singaporean. When a person makes a purposeful choice to take up Singapore citizenship out of conviction that his material gains here will be much better than back home, does that make him a true Singaporean or a mercenary? Doesn’t sound like there’s much love except for money, does it?

“Spotlight cast on Temasek” by Leong Chan Teik

Ms Lim Hwee Hua says that “It’s important to note that Temasek was set up as an independent investment vehicle so as not to confuse the issue of what’s strategic and national with what’s commercial.” There is nothing confusing about the role of Temasek. It’s role is to grow the nation’s reserves and not squander them on ill considered investments so it ultimately answers to the nation.

“Citizenship Day to mark shared national identity?” by Peh Shing Huei

Mr Wong Kan Seng said that it is because our immigrant forefathers weren’t dissuaded from sinking roots here that is why we are here today and so therefore we should not dissuade new immigrants from sinking roots too. This is too simplistic a view. When our forefathers came, Singapore was still a colony, not a nation yet. Now that we are a nation, should we continue to be wanton towards immigration?

Mr Wong also cited the fact that there were more jobs in US states where immigration levels are high as proof that locals do indeed benefit from immigration. Mr Wong may have gotten his cause and effect the other way round. It doesn’t make sense to say that because many immigrants are coming into my country, therefore many jobs are created to cater for them. It is because there are many jobs available here that is why many immigrants come.

It is because places like silicon valley are prosperous and present much opportunities that they attract many new immigrants. Rather than say that immigration brought a net benefit of US$10 billion to US economy, it would be more apt to say that US$10 billion worth of job opportunities were available but were taken up by foreigners.

Our ability to absorb new immigrants depends on the opportunities we can create here. If we currently have a glut of professionals retrenched or re-employed to less desirable positions, surely it shows how acute our lack of opportunities here is? In that case, how can we still be wanton towards immigration?

Elsewhere, Mr Wong has also been emphasizing that the 6.5 million population figure is a forecast, not a target. How can this figure merely be a forecast if the actual number is determined by who the government actually grants citizenship, permanent residency or work permit to?

10 Mar 2007

“Downtown MRT line in final stage of planning” by Christopher Tan

Mr Raymond Lim said that the morning peak MRT occupancy at Toa Payoh or Kallang is only 80% of train’s capacity. He should try the evening peak at Raffles Place or City Hall.

Mr Lim also said that Tokyo, with a population of 12.5 million has a peak hour train ridership of 8 commuters per sq m against our 4 commuters per sq m. This suggests that Singaporeans are overly pampered as they have twice as much space around them as their doubly squashed counterparts in Tokyo. But Mr Lim failed to point out that Tokyo’s population is three times ours so their trains should be three times as crowded. But their trains are only twice as crowded, so their system is actually more efficient than ours. In proportion to the population, we should have 2.8 commuters per sq m instead of the current 4.

More importantly, the fact that Mr Lim has chosen, of all cities, to compare us with one of the most congested just goes to show what he thinks we ordinary citizens deserve. He gives the impression that we deserve the most congested trains there is in this world. Shouldn’t it be more apt to compare us with cities of similar size and development, like Taipei and Hong Kong?

He also attributed the low pay of taxi drivers in Hong Kong to oversupply and used that as reason for not increasing the cab pool here. However, I don’t see how much more highly paid our taxi drivers are even with our shortage. So we are being short changed on either ends, no abundance of cab pool and no decent cabby salaries and I wonder if our ever greedy cab companies have anything to do with our predicament.

“Exchange pits head against heart” by Chua Mui Hoong

Mr Balakrishnan was quoted as saying “Singapore … as a free-market capitalist country … has done better than socialist countries looking after the poor”. What is so proud about doing better than Russia? Why not compare with social democracies like Germany, Finland or Sweden? Even the mother of all capitalist societies – USA has done better than us in social welfare.

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