During the Budget 2017 debate in Parliament on Wednesday (1 March), Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Chan Chun Sing stressed that the system of the country design is for the Government to earn its keep.
In response to comments from the Workers’ Party that stated that this budget is a political budget and that the Government spend less so that PAP can time the political cycle, Mr Chan said “Guess what? Our system is designed such that every term of Government has to earn its keep. At the start of every term of Government, PAP or otherwise, the Government must earn its keep,”
Mr Chan said that the Government precisely designed the system such that no Government will come in and promise to spend before it has earned its keep.
“This is unlike other countries. This is the reason why we have been able to get one dollar out of every five dollars to support our Budget,” he added.
According to the Minister, if the forefathers have done otherwise, to spend the first before the term of Government even earn its keep, then Singaporeans can forget about that one of every five dollars that they are depending on for Budget now.
“So we rather earn on the side of caution. This is the reason why our forefathers have put in place this system and this generation will continue to uphold this system,” he said.
Then he said that there are suggestions that the Government is ignoring the short term phase of the economy.
“Is that so? If this is so, why did (Finance) Minister Heng Swee Keat announce targeted measures to help specific sectors like the offshore and marine sector? Like the S$700 million we pushed into the construction sector?” the Minister asked.
“If this is so, why do we spend all the money that we spent for that increase in U-Save rebates, to make sure that even though prices may increase on average, we will take care of the lower-income first? If we adopt such a cynical attitude to budgeting, would we have done this? If indeed this is a cynical Government, then we should not be giving anything at all,” he added.
He then stressed that this Government is not a cynical Government and it would be wrong to impute own perverse motives, saying, “(The Budget) is targeted to help, and precisely because we feel the pain for our people.”
“If this Government is not concerned with the short term, and if the economy goes down south, who can guarantee that in two years’ time, when we want turn it up, it will go up?” he asked another question.
He said that there are many examples all around the world where countries lose their footing, get into a downward spiral and never recover.
“Our job is to keep ourselves on a steady path, making sure we address short-term pains while establishing conditions for long-term success. It’s never either/or, it’s always both,” he said.
“Jobs, jobs and jobs. Jobs for those displaced today; jobs for those who might be displaced tomorrow,” he added.
However, he noted that grants and subsidies alone will not create jobs, especially sustainable jobs, saying that grants and subsidies enable and help but the crux must come from businesses, access to markets and innovation.
“When we look at our Budget, this is what we see – MTI, MOM, MOE and other agencies all focused on these four basic fundamental issues to support our businesses: enable innovation, internationalisation, SkillsFuture and a more progressive regulatory environment for start-ups future. One that prices essentials properly and does not distort the market, leading to more subsidies that will burden future generations,” he said.
According to the Minister, a responsible Government is not one that will raise prices and not take especially greater care for the poor nor one that pretends it will make difficult decisions but no one will have to bear a greater part of the responsibility to help those with less.
“A responsible Government is someone who knows what is not sustainable, and will put a stop to it now,” he said.
“This is not a ‘wait-and-see’ Budget,” Mr Chan stressed, in reference to remarks made by NCMP Daniel Goh.
“If this is a ‘wait-and-see’ Budget, we wouldn’t have to put in place mechanisms for carbon pricing, or talk about diesel taxes or water taxes,” he added.
Mr Chan then said that if the Budget is political, then the Government do not have to talk about any of those.
“So I submit to the House that this is a Government that has the heart of its people at its core,” he said.
“We know the long-term challenges facing the country and we will do what is right and necessary to leave behind a better state for future generations to build on,” he ended.