Leader of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) Chee Soon Juan, shared a Facebook video on Saturday, questioning the justification for a GST hike.
His video message comes just in time before the Budget 2020 announcement tomorrow.
Mr Chee argues against raising GST especially during a critical period amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. The video which spans over 11 minutes covers a whole gamut of different sectors and the expenditures therein incurred by the government.
He answers the many lingering question on the minds of all Singaporeans – “Is the GST hike really necessary?”
The SDP leader highlights Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s remarks who was reported to have said that raising the GST is only deemed necessary if there has been a profligate spending and irresponsible and unsustainable plans. That is what will hurt and require you to raise taxes and GST.
Apropos to the Prime Minister’s statement, Mr Chee raises issue, does this mean the government has been profligate in spending, been irresponsible and embarked on unsustainable plans?
Mr Chee connects this with a report by the Auditor General done in 2008 which said that, “Every year we see instances of lack of financial prudence in procurement and poor management of contracts and agreements resulting in higher expenditure for goods and services”.
Similarly, in 2011, the Auditor General again pointed out, “I note that the lapses found were largely due to administrative expediency taking precedence over financial prudence”.
However, this problem continued unabated, says Mr Chee, pointing to the expenditure of the Ministry of National Development in 2012, where they spent S$2,200 for each foldable bicycle for National Parks and purchased twenty six of them.
Again, in 2016, Mr Chee recalls, the Auditor General flagged a ridiculous amount of S$880,000 that the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) paid for a bin center. He reminded the public that half of the sum went into consultancy fees for the project. The Auditor General Office (AGO) pointed out that there was “inadequate assessment of the reasonableness of the exceptionally high consultancy fee”.
Mr Chee recollects another instance in the redevelopment of Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, where 164 contracts were awarded. Out of these, 47 of them had works carried out before the contracts were approved. The delays to some of the contracts were up to 3.5 years. That same year, the AGO noted that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) bought a computer system for nearly $500, 000 only to find that it could not be integrated into the existing system. It was left on the shelf unused.
To this, the AG remarked, “This has resulted in a waste of public funds”. And the list goes on.
In 2017, Mr Chee says, the AGO found that the Ministry of Health or MOH had paid S$4 million for staff despite the ministry having already hired a contractor for S$8.16 million to provide the same service. In that report, the AGO also found irregularities in seeking approvals regarding changes to the hospital contracts involving some S$30 million.
The Auditor General said that there was “no assurance that the MOH had exercised financial prudence in the use of public funds”.
If that was not enough, in 2019, the Auditor General was still finding lapses in the procurement. Again, the MCCY was cited for oversight in the approval of 1425 contract variations amounting to S$12.4 million for the National Gallery development project.
Despite the AGO citations, the lack of the financial prudence on the government’s part and due diligence in financial matters remain undone, corrections are not to be found. Me Chee stresses that this has been going on for decades.
The SDP leader then continues to highlight the other instances where the government has extravagantly spent public funds.
He says that the Youth Olympic Games budget exceeded the original budget by almost S$300 million.
And in 2015 and 2016, PAP had spent S$40 million on just one of the National Day celebration. PAP had also spent S$1,500 for one bus stop bench and this excluded installation costs.
As for cost overruns of building hospitals, Mr Chee adds that the Khoo Teck Puat’s hospital expenditure rose to over $700 million from the initial estimate of S$400 million. He says this is despite the Khoo family donating S$125 million.
In 2017, Minister of Transport, Mr Khaw Boon Wan revealed that the Bukit Panjang LRT was constructed as an “after thought” and built due to “political pressure”. Mr Chee explained that this afterthought had cost the taxpayer’s money of S$285 million.
Furthering his scintillating attacks, Mr Chee also brought to attention the retail scene at shopping malls where many outlets, such as SASA, Times Bookstore, MPH, and Crabtree and Evelyn were being shut down. He points to a slide as detailed by prominent property analysts that estimate that there are more than 4 million square feet of vacant retail space in the third quarter of 2019.
This was the scenario even before the coronavirus outbreak. Mr Chee hammers home the point that with a GST increase, this would affect the consumer’s confidence and effect the retail business overall.
Mr Chee draws into question the soon to be built “Founders’ memorial” which he regards as another vanity monument.
To cap it all, the Facebook video had also highlights comparative statistics of the earnings of worldwide leaders. Accordingly, Singapore PM Lee had ranked the highest in 2015 with USD1,700,000, ( S$2,362,694) surpassing former US President Barrack Obama whose annual salary was USD400,000 (S$ 555,928)
In conclusion, Mr Chee stressed once again that there is absolutely no justification for the government to hike the GST, especially in light of the COVID-19 situation, as it has already taken its toll on retailers and many Singaporeans.
However, Mr Chee commended People’s Action Party (PAP), Mr Lawrence Wong’s undertaking that a package of measures in combating the COVID-19 situation and its impact on the country and people.
Nevertheless, these measures should not be used to justify any increase in GST or other taxes down the road. The funds for such relief should be taken from the NIRC or the Net Investment Retirement Contribution.
Mr Chee hopes that the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Heng Swee Keat will pledge to improve financial discipline and invest in wise investments. He urges the government not to entertain mega projects like Jewel or the founder’s memorial. He advised the government to use the funds from the NIRC to help Singaporeans and businesses recover from the virus situation.
The Facebook video message ends with Mr Chee thanking medical professionals who are working on the front lines in trying to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. He sends his well wishes for a speedy recovery to Singaporeans who are currently infected by the virus.