Activist and Opposition politician Jose Raymond made a Facebook post yesterday (19 Jun), following up on his earlier issue about how a visually handicapped elderly was denied public assistance as he was receiving CPF payouts. He appeared glad that various pro-PAP pages have joined the fray, and such debate leads to policies which could be “better tightened” to the benefit of citizens.
One paragraph in his Facebook post particularly stood out: "One pro-PAP Facebook page has even gone to the extent of trying to justify the Government's proposed increase in GST because of such cases so that Government can do more. How classy."
The screenshot showed that paragraph in question was given by the pro-PAP Facebook page: "Let's put our money where our mouth is. It starts with ourselves. Support the 2% GST hike that that (sic) our elderly population can be well taken care of." Even Ho Ching, spouse of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and head of Temasek Holdings seems to agree with the fanpage by sharing on her Facebook account.
But is the really the case?
Back in 2006, PM Lee said that a GST hike for the purposes of helping the poor: “So when we implement the GST increase… it is a package which will fully offset the impact of the GST for these groups and begin to strengthen the social safety nets and tilt the balance in favour of the lower income Singaporeans”.
A decade later, statistics have proven to be inconsistent with PM Lee’s claims. In 2005 where GST stood at 5%, the full year GST collections were estimated to be about $3.7 billion. 12 years later when the rate was 7%, the total collection from GST stood at $11.1 billion, or a $7 billion increase over a decade.
Yet, this increase in $7 billion does not seem to flow down to help the poor.
For society’s most destitute, the number of recipients on the Public Assistance scheme rose by a mere 15% from 2,965 in 2005 to 3,421 in 2014. Concurrently, funds disbursed by Comcare rose from $42 million in 2006 to $108.9 million in FY2016. Such an increase is less than 1% of the increase in GST collection.
In an article by the Asian Scientist, A/Prof John Donaldson of the SMU School of Social Sciences was quoted as saying that “Singapore’s economy developed rapidly, and the ‘Third World’ form of poverty has disappeared. Yet, many people fell into a type of ‘First World’ poverty.”
Estimates found that as many as 10% to 14% of Singaporeans still face severe financial problems and have difficulties meeting basic needs. At the same time, the elderly were feeling increasingly isolated.
There were also questions about whether the curbing of supposedly extravagant government spending could be better used for social spending.
In 2007, a concerned citizen wrote to the Straits Times Forum. He questioned the need for why a government school has sought a tender to conduct English courses for PRC scholars, paying at least $35,000 for 300 hours of instructions. In 2011, the Manpower Ministry has spent almost $272,000 to buy a total of 472 Herman Miller designer chairs.
Given the spending patterns of the PAP government, are we really expected to believe that a further GST hike of 2% will go towards helping the poor? If not, where does the fine line stand between supporting the government’s policies and coming up with claims that are of little substances and have no value?
The latter seems to be practiced by these pro-PAP pages, and the lack of voices raising pertinent issues could be detrimental to society in the long run.