Lim Tean: Budget 2018 is an immoral budget

Below is the transcript of the speech given by lawyer and politician, Lim Tean at Hong Lim Park on 3 March 2018, for the protest against GST hike.

My friends, a governments budget is a moral statement, it is a moral document. It is a window on the soul of the government, because it tells us in mathematical terms what are the priorities of the government, what areas what issues, things, people, that they deem important, and what they deem unimportant.

Now when I examine the budget carefully and in detail the one thing that came to my mind was this budget is a reflection of our governments’ greed.  It is a reflection of a government that does not care much about its citizens, does not want to do much for its citizens, and yet expects a lot.

It is a budget which leaves the poor, the vulnerable, the elderly the without much hope and much recourse. And my friends it is a budget that is testament to the PAP’s fixation with a neo-liberal economic ideology that describes human society in terms of commercial transactions.  Where people are described as economic digits. Where the aim of society ultimately is to maximizes profits for the state.

Mr. Tan wanted me to say something about a vibrant economy. Mr. Heng Swee Kiat used many words in his budget address, talking about an innovative economy and how the government wanted to make innovation pervasive in our economy. But let me say this, when you think carefully about the policies that this government is embracing, is pursuing, you will realise one thing.  Mr. Heng and the entire PAP government have no idea of how to grow the economy.

They are stuck with a model that the PAP invented 50 years ago, or 60 years ago may I say. Next year is the 60th anniversary of the PAP coming to power. A model 60 years old which depicts that government enterprises will be the main driving engine in our economy.

Do you expect innovation in such a model? The answer is no!

The late Goh Keng Swee said it admirably clearly.  Bureaucrats and government officials have always thought themselves as great in business, and that is the greatest fallacy of it all. Those are not his exact words but I am paraphrasing what he said. And so if we want to have an innovative enterprising economy I say the first thing is to let’s get the government out of business!

We cannot have an economy which is 50/60% controlled by government linked companies.  When you have that you get the result of what has happened in the last year.
There were 80 breakdowns MRT, 1 collision, 1 flooding.  And yet the MSM reports a survey that says then 96% of Singaporeans are happy with public transport.  All time high! If that is not fake news I ask you what is.

And instead of convening a select committee to weed out so called fake news, I suggest the government start in its own backyard and clear out the propaganda broad sheets which are the mainstream media and that way we will be served with more accurate news.

But, my friends, it is not going to be too long now before the next GE are upon us.  And I would like all of you to bear in mind 2 statements made by our ministers and blazon them on your body.  If you are into scripture then maybe do what scripture taught us; stamp them on your forehead so you remember all of these words all of the time.  Now did Mr. Heng Swee Keat not tell us in the government speech of 2017 “ we will have to draw our revenues through new taxes or raising taxes over time”.

The Prime Minister in November last year. This is what he said at the PAP meeting “Heng Swee Keat was right when he said that raising taxes was not a matter of whether, but when” My friends, isn’t it clear?  The trajectory of this government is very clear. In the foreseeable future, increased revenue is going to come from increased taxes on the people on businesses.

This PAP government sees every Singaporean who is walking as a walking ATM machine!

This is a government that does not know how to grow the economy.  Simply does not know how.  And are we surprised? You look at the composition of the cabinet. With the exception of a sprinkling of a lawyer here a couple of Dr’s there – who are not really real business men, they are professionals. There is no one in the cabinet who has ever gone out there to start a business or run a business.  There is no one there who knows what it is like having to find money at the end of the month to make payroll, to pay rent.

All of them in the words of Deng Xiaoping have eaten from that iron rice bowl, while the rest of Singapore has had to feed from the porcelain bowl. And they are trying to teach us innovation.

There is not much I have to say about GST because my friends have touched on the subject at length and there is very little I can add to it.  We all know it is the worst type of regressive tax that a government can impose on its citizens.

In other countries there are high VAT taxes. For example in England its 20%. But the most basic items of life like food stuffs, milk powder are exempt.  Governments But not our govt. In Singapore as Osman said earlier, they did not exempt the essentials of life they go and exempt things like financial services, trading of precious metals.  Again benefiting those rich people and their ideology is clear.

They believe in this system known as trickledown economics.  If you make the rich richer their riches will trickle down to the rest of society and the crumbs will be fed to the middle class and those desperately trying to get into the middle class. But that’s not the reality of the situation these days my friends.  The rich people do not make money simply by investing in productive activities in society. They buy assets to milk them for dividends, capital gains, interest; and they drive our society towards more and more towards what is known as a “rentier society”. Driving up business costs, driving up living costs for everyone. I do not think that is the type of society that we want going forward, but that is the society that the PAP believes in.  It believes that is the wealth creating society. I call that the wealth extraction society. These people do not create wealth.

And look at the budget.  The Prime Minister a couple of years ago when he went to an APEC meeting, talked about how he must help small businesses, small medium businesses because they could be the real growth area for innovation. Is there anything in this budget that will help the small businesses? And yet my friends 99% of enterprises and businesses in Singapore are small businesses. They employ over 2 thirds of our workforce. They account for roughly about 50% of our GDP. These are the people we must help.  These are the businesses that may hire between 0-9 people. They must have a voice and they should be the bedrock of our innovation and our growth in future.  And it is only appropriate because we have now entered what we know as the “gig economy” and very many of us are going to be consultants.  We are going to work for ourselves.  We can no longer rely on those big establishments to be our employers. But is there any idea, are there any ideas you have seen in this budget that will help and promote our people in this gig economy? Nothing.

And is there anything in this budget that will help the unemployed PMETs in our land?  I am sure there are over 100,000 of them unemployed. Some of the best and the brightest in our society. Highly educated, highly skilled.  They are unemployed today principally because of the governments illiberal immigration policy of the latest few years.

Where we have allowed cheaper foreign alternatives to come in and displace our own citizens.  And we are starting to have a big problem now with our fresh graduates. I have done walk-abouts where I have been approached by fresh graduates with very good degrees, both local and overseas, who cannot find a job even after a year. We are letting one whole generation waste away.

And my friends if you are to ask that average parent of a Singaporean today. Do you think your children will have a better future than you did? I am not sure that they can answer you positively.

There is nothing in this budget that gives hope to displaced Singaporeans, highly skilled, highly educated. Mr. Hengs’ solution is to throw them a measly $500 Skills Future voucher. And he asks them to go and create that miracle, jump into another industry into another job that pays you as well.

I was told of a story the other day of someone who used his skills future to attend a drone flying course, drone flying. At the end of the course he got a certificate in appreciation of his attendance and a free drone to fly. You tell me how is that course going to find this person a new job? And yet we hear all the time “Skills Future, Skills Future”. No wonder the take up rate amongst Singaporeans on Skills Future is so low.

People may take up Skills Future if they want a new hobby, but I think very few people will be able to find a relevant course that will be able to transport them into a new industry into a new job. And let me come back now to GST. You know when GST was first mooted about 2 months before the budget announced it was declared that we need the GST because of increasing healthcare, we need to help the poor and the needy.

Really….  as Mr. Tan says, let us wait and see and how much they really do in terms of healthcare for elderly needy Singaporeans.  In Singapore takes up 2.2% of the GDP amongst the lowest anywhere in the world.  Heng Swee Keat says that it will move to 3% of the GDP. I think by 2030 or whatever.  That still doesn’t make us a society that spends a lot on healthcare.

And it angers me when I hear ministers like Indranee Rajah give an excuse for not giving exemptions on GST on essential foodstuff like rice, when she says “we can’t do that, because the rich man eats more rice than the poor”. That is just inverted logic it is not funny.  What percentage is that purchase of rice to that rich man compared to the purchase of rice to that poor person?

You impose this 2% GST, that needy mother is going to be worrying sick whether she can place enough food on the table for her children.  Whether she has enough money to give her children to attend school for pocket money.  But this is the type of logic we are getting.  And help the poor and needy? As the PAP MP’s were saying before the budget?  You know in 1995 the poverty rate of the elderly worker was about 13% in 1995, in 2011 that figure had gone up to 41%.  Between 2012 to 2015 the number of elderly people who went on to ComCare increased by over 74%. So let’s not delude ourselves my friends.  Poverty is a big problem in Singapore.

An associate professor at the Singapore Management University John Donaldson, came up with a study quite recently in which he found that 10-14% of Singaporeans are in severe financial hardship. And severe meaning they cannot even afford the basic essentials in life and in his words “hunger is a real problem to these people”

So in one of the most prosperous countries in the world which we call ourselves you have 15% of your population who are hardly surviving.

Let’s take another topic which was not mentioned at all in Parliament and I was very surprised. Carbon Tax.
My friends the PAP used the Paris Agreement and whatever to suggest that we had to put in a carbon tax.  It is for the protection of the environment and so forth. Singapore ladies and Gentlemen emits 0.11% of the world’s carbon emissions.  Some of the biggest polluters in the world – the United States, China, Russia, Australia do not have a carbon tax.  Australia brought down a Prime Minister because of the carbon tax.  Quite unfortunate because she was the first woman Prime Minister of Australia.

And here we are rushing to impose a carbon tax, without a proper dialogue.  And I read what Shell said the other day when the carbon tax was announced and it’s obvious that they are not happy.  They were saying why was there no discussion for methods to incentivize us to go even greener?

Now the PAP government can legislate. It has this super majority in Parliament. It can tell a company, a refinery “look here we think that your technology is not advanced enough, you go and upgrade it and unless you do we do not allow you to operate”.  It can do that. There was no discussion.

What was the first thing they did? They reached out and tell the citizens you have to pay. Yeah! It’s presented very nicely.  First the emitters pay but it all trickles down, ultimately to the consumer.

Then we have this story again….”Oh it’s not going to cost much, only 1% of your utilities bill”.

But wasn’t that what we heard with the water hike as well? “Oh it’s not going to cost much, there won’t be a major impact on your life” But what happened next?  Everyone who goes to the coffee shop will know that the price of coffee, tea, the noodles have all gone up.

So it’s not just what you pay in your utilities, it’s the cost of business that is driven up.

And mark my words my friends this is going to happen with the carbon tax as well.  And Heng Swee Keat left himself an opening. He talked about the 80% emissions from the big emitters.  He says well there’s another 20% that comes from varying sources, now we will deal with that in a different way, in a different accounting way.

Now, who are those 20%, I want to ask him.  I want to ask him “What is going to be priced for those 20%?”  It may well be everyday users like yourselves. So don’t think that we are all going to get away with just a 1% carbon tax on your utilities bill and that is the end of it.

My Friends, I will not repeat what my other friends have said earlier about the surpluses and why there is no need to increase GST and other taxes.

I hope you bear this in mind: Nothing the PAP ever gives is for free. Treat it like a Trojan Horse to further financial pains down the line (applause)

Before GE2015 it went on a so-called spending spree.  It gave people a lot of goodies. Pioneer Generation scheme and things like that.

So when it comes to vote harvesting time the purse opens but what happened after that?  What happened after the General Election and in 2017? Like that proverbial drunken sailor; they went on an orgy of price increases.  Car park, ERP a 30% water hike which I term as a “tax on life”, a “confiscatory tax on life” because all of us have to drink.  Conservancy charges, you name it they increased it. There was not a price increase they saw which they did not like.

And this my friends is going to be the trajectory in the coming years.  And what can we do about it?

The best thing we can do my friends; we have to effect change.  The time for idle protest is passed. If you and I believe that we can make a difference, that we have a better vision for Sg we must come together now to effect change.

Heng Swee Keat talks about community.  Building a cohesive community in his budget.  Those are hollow words, they are rootless, they are empty, they are artificial words. His community will not take care of the poor. His community will do nothing for that Singaporean who is unemployed. He will open the door to more so-called foreign talent to come in and take away jobs from that Singaporean.

I too believe in community, but my community, my vision of a community is rooted in one word; citizenship.

Our pledge begins with the words “we the citizens of Singapore”. It does not begin with the words “I Lim Tean a Singaporean Chinese” or “I Damanhuri a Singaporean Malay”.  But that is what the PAP‘s version of the pledge is when you realise what they did with our Presidential Election last year.

Instead of building a cohesive community based on citizenship, they divide us along identity.

My community is a community based on citizenship because that is the great common enterprise to which all of us are called to.

My community has reciprocal rights and duties. I have rights because I do my duty.

That must be the new patriotism going ahead my friends. Patriotism is not a one way street. You cannot expect that 18 year old to bear arms to defend our country and then sell him down the river and allow his job and opportunity to evaporate, to be taken away by a foreigner.

And my community is based on a sense of belonging. It is based on the better part of our nature my friends.

Do not believe the PAP when they tell you this is a dog eat dog world. We all have this incredible ability to work together, to come together to solve problems together.

When many of our forebears came to this island 200 years ago they were poor they were penniless.  Many of them did not even have a shirt on their back. And yet where did they turn to? Most of them turned to the clan association. And their own people helped them. Their own people didn’t scorn that person because he was poor, because he was penniless. They saw in him a person of value and in time to come that person earned a good living. Many of them even became rich and together they built this incredible port city known as Singapore.

And so my friends, I say to all of you, let’s come together and effect change. Let us not allow the PAP to write the next chapter of our history. Because if we do that, you know what that chapter is going to be called? It is going to be called “Hard Times”.

Let us not allow them to divide our country into a Tale of Two Cities.  One part for the rich and one part for the not so rich (applause)

And let us, let us write the next chapter ourselves and that chapter will be called Great Expectations, because then that Singaporean parent can hope again that his or her children will have a brighter future.