When the Government uses or don’t use the funds in the Reserves, all MPs and the public should be cognisant of the trade-offs and support to the ruling Government at that time extends to citizens, Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh said in a Facebook post on Wednesday (8 April).
“Whenever the reserves are spent (or not spent), all MPs and the public have to be cognisant of the trade-offs and extent of support any Government of the day, not just a PAP Government, can (or should) extend to Singaporeans,” Mr Singh wrote.
He added that in the present-day situation, non-government MPs do not have any clear idea of the spending of the Reserves and they can only take the current ruling party (PAP) or any future Government’s word for it.
In the post, the opposition leader cited an article by The Business Times which highlighted the lack of data given out on the Reserves which limits discussions on its use.
One of the points mentioned in the article by OCBC economist Selena Ling was that Singapore doesn’t have to announce to the world how much money it has in its Reserves. However, she suggested that the Reserves should be split into two parts – one portion to be utilised as “a base for generating the net investment returns contribution, and which can be publicly disclosed.”
As for the remaining part, it can be kept as a secret in order to “deter currency speculators from attacking the Singapore dollar.”
In reference to this, Mr Singh said that this is a suggestion that his party had enunciated in Parliament before.
He went on further to state that it’s normal for anyone in power to feel “uncomfortable and hesitate” to reveal such information as it will bring more public scrutiny.
“There can be good reasons for withholding such information, and some very questionable reasons for doing so,” he said.
He added, “Over the last few years and on the reserves in particular, the public conversation has moved forward, far beyond ‘ask no questions’ attitude, reminiscent of closed political systems.”
However, when Mr Singh asked the Minister of Finance Heng Swee Keat last year in Parliament on why the Government Financial Statements were not published online, Mr Heng replied that the Ministry pulls out relevant information and make them public in documents related to the Budget in order to make it easier for the public to understand.
If that’s not all, Mr Heng also added that his Ministry “will continue to review and update the various methods in which we release and publish information on Government accounts.”
In contrast to Mr Heng’s reply, Mr Singh noted that every Town Council and statutory board’s financial statements can be viewed online. As such, he said that the Government’s financial statement should also be published online as well.
“There are many aspects of state expenditure that are revealed in the financial statements. For e.g. how much was spent on land reclamation on Pulau Tekong, the cost of land acquisition for development, the amount spent on police camera projects etc,” the politician wrote.
If that’s not all, Mr Singh also pointed out that a responsible opposition should play a role in the country’s parliamentary democracy and governance.
“A responsible opposition is not a pliant opposition – it must play a role in Singapore’s parliamentary democracy and governance. Like asking how much money is earned by those who invest and protect our reserves – and who are ultimately paid by the taxpayer – is also not out of the ordinary in any developed country,” he explained.
He added, “This was a question asked by Mr Png Eng Huat in Parliament recently. The answer? Let’s not focus on one or two expense items.”
Having said that, Mr Singh said that Singapore can do better in informing the funds in the Reserves to all people in the country.
“And as the suggestion in the BT (Business Times) article above conveys, there is definitely scope to do better, not just on the reserves but a whole host of finance-related matters,” he added.