Marsiling-Yew Tee Member of Parliament (MP) Alex Yam on Thursday (25 Feb) criticised opposition Members of Parliament (MP) suggestions’ on the use of Singapore’s reserves, describing their proposals as “raiding the cookie jar”.
Mr Yam, who is also the Mayor for North West District, noted that many of the suggestions by the alternative parties seemed to indicate that “everything can be easily funded” because “it’s only X per cent of the GDP [Gross Domestic Product]”.
“But if we take all these suggestions together, X per cent here, Y per cent there, Z per cent somewhere else, it adds up significantly. That’s a whole lot of cookies to be given out,” he asserted.
Mr Yam went on to say that the Workers’ Party’s (WP) proposals seem to indicate that the Government can “eat, eat away [but] not everything, be careful”.
“And if we run low, instead of buying the ingredients, the government should make more, yet not what is necessary to provide ingredients to make the cookies,” he added.
The Progress Singapore Party (PSP), on the other hand, appeared to suggest that the Government should “take everything from the jar, everything, including the crumbs”, said Mr Yam.
At this point, the Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh interrupted and asked if Mr Yam could identify which WP members had made the points that he mentioned earlier, but his question was left unanswered.
Mr Yam continued by saying that “no one wants to say how much it would cost, nor be the one to buy the ingredients and bake those cookies”.
“That big elephant in the room, of course, is GST. We cannot be constantly asking for more without being cogent of the cost,” he added.
In response, Mr Singh’s fellow Aljunied GRC MP Leon Perera, also from WP, pointed out that the Government had in 2008 amended the rules governing the use of the reserves to create the Net Investment Returns Contribution (NIRC) framework.
“Is it (Mr Yam)’s position or argument that those were really ‘raiding the cookie jar’ as well?” Mr Perera asked.
“Is it (Mr Yam)’s view that any kind of deviation away from these rules that are currently entrenched in the Constitution … amounts to sort of raiding the cookie jar and becoming a ‘Cookie Monster’, even if those rules are slowing the slope of the growth of the reserves but do not actually draw upon and pull down the reserves?” He added.
Mr Perera noted that the absolute amount of reserves relative to GDP changes over decades and that consequently, the rules should also evolve and change.
“And as the rules of society changes and the opportunities to invest in the people and the country change, shouldn’t those rules also be subject to change as well?” He added.
Mr Yam replied that while the Government does make adjustments such as introducing the NIRC, it also puts in measures to ensure that the Government will “never empty out the cookie jar”, reiterating that “the cookie jar exists for moments of need”.
“And even in the current moment where we would benefit certainly from being extraordinarily generous, we have decided on what is prudent to ensure that there is always something left over,” he said.
“Ideas can be considered and adjustments made, but always with the view that we think about the future and not just about the now,” Mr Yam added.
Netizens question Mr Yam if “taking cookies from average citizens seems to be right”
Penning their thoughts under the comment section of TODAY’s Facebook post, a handful of netizens pointed out that it is the People’s Action Party (PAP) government that is “taking cookies” from the citizens by raising petrol duty, the goods and services tax, and other taxes.
One netizen noted that the Government continues to increase taxes “along with their salary”, while the people are facing pay cuts and retrenchments.
He then questioned if the Government “taking cookies from average citizens” would seem right.
One netizen commented that Mr Yam remarks seemed to imply that the PAP’s drawing on past reserves will not lead to bankruptcy, and that only the opposition members’ suggestions will.
“Look at how the govt is wasting money. If can cut down on unnecessary spending, don’t even need to raise GST,” they said.
Another user commented that the PAP Government keeps eating and eating away “from the cookie jar of Singaporeans” by paying themselves “obscene salaries”.
One netizen noted that the PAP would raise taxes to “refill the reserves quickly”, adding that the Government should instead return the money it used to save Singapore Airlines during the COVID-19 crisis.
A user went on to highlight that it is the PAP who “dug into the reserves” and think that “the cookie jar can be easily funded back”.
Another user pointed out that instead of criticising the opposition members, the Government should reveal the numbers relating to the reserves to the public.
“I think, instead of shaming them for speaking up, it would be better to be transparent…” she wrote.
One netizen noted that the Government could have cut expenses before introducing taxes.