Fibre broadband assist plan: A fine policy by the country which spends the least percentage of its GDP

By SY Lee and Leong Sze Hian

We refer to the articles “Telco fines channelled to help more poor households get broadband, computers” (Straits Times, Sep 28) and “PAP Community Foundation moving into eldercare, but ‘still opening’ pre-school centres” (Straits Times, Sep 29).

It has been reported that the Some 8,000 households will be getting a 100Mbps home fibre broadband plan and a tablet for $6 a month under a new assistance scheme.

The programme, Home Access, will be drawing from a new $10 million Digital Inclusion Fund made up of telco fines.

It is said to help the 8,000 households here with no school-going children and a gross monthly income not exceeding $1,900 join the information highway over the next four years.

In the other news, PAP Community Foundation (PCF) will be opening its first senior care centre in Simei which is said to be able to accommodate around 60 residents.

New schemes everyday?

Almost every other day, if not everyday, we have stories in the media about new piecemeal schemes to help lower-income Singaporeans.

For poor families who may be struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis – the $6 a month may not be affordable. They may just continue to walk to the nearest library to get 1 hour of free internet access everyday, if they are age 55 and above.

Bottom 20% households spend more than what they earn?

In this connection, according to the Household Expenditure Survey 2012/2013 report – the lowest 20% households average monthly household expenditure at $2,231 is higher than the average income of $2,022.

Does this mean that they were spending about 10% ($2,231 divided $2,022) more than what they earned?

Disposable income even worse at more than 10%?

Moreover, as income is including employer CPF contribution, and regular government transfers such as Workfare Income Supplement, the bulk of which is not in cash, and accounted for 9.3% of total incomes – the gap between income and expenditure may be even greater from a disposable income perspective.

800,000 people struggling to make ends meet?

As the bottom 20% is 214,628 households – we may be looking at about 800,000 household members who may be struggling to make ends meet.

Lowest government spending in the world?

In this connection, according to the Economist (Sep 27) – “(in) Denmark, government spending runs to nearly 60% of GDP. More diverse America allocates just 39% of GDP to government, in polyglot Singapore the figure is just 14%”.

GDP spending

So, why is our government spending on the people, apparently the lowest in the developing and developed countries?

Pay the most, get the least?

From a cashflow perspective, we arguably pay the highest taxes in the world (taxes, indirect taxes, highest pension contribution (referring to our Central Provident Funds (CPF)), in the world (akin to social security and insurance taxes in other countries), implicit tax by paying the lowest real pension returns in the world, and receive relatively the lowest social benefits. On top of this, from a cashflow perspective, we are not spending a single cent on CPF, public housing or healthcare.

Why do we not spend more to help particularly the lower-income by accumulating less surpluses which arguably were much derived originally, and still currently from our CPF? On areas such as Comcare for the low-income, childcare and many more areas. Even the broadband assist plan for the low income families is implemented only upon the funds created by telco fines, what if telco need not pay any fines?

When people’s need are not being adequately attended to because of the government’s tight grip on its purse, people are directed to politicised revenues of aid, such as the PCF senior care centre, PAP child care centres, just to name a few.

And we also have supposedly charity organisations such as Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC) which uses donations from CPF contribution of average citizens to pay to low income citizens that should have been the responsibility of the government.

No one is saying that people should not contribute to help, but why is there such a need when there is sufficient budget for the government to extend their helping hand?

Bear in mind that our Budget surplus in FY2012 using the International Monetary Funds (IMF) fiscal reporting guidelines was $36.1 billion against the reported budget surplus of $3.9 billion by the Singapore government.