SINGAPORE — In his speech on Monday (17 Apr) during the parliamentary debate over President Halimah Yacob’s address at the opening of the second session of parliament last week, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong took aim at the opposition in Singapore, specifically the Workers’ Party, for not providing concrete alternatives to raise revenue.
While acknowledging that there is general support for the government’s policy directions, Mr Wong pointed out a fundamental difference between the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and the opposition, saying that when the government plans to spend more, it “will always tell you plainly how we propose to raise revenues and ensure that our budget remains balanced over the medium term”.
On the other hand, the opposition has provided revenue alternatives, but according to Mr Wong, their sums do not add up, and none of the alternatives that WP has suggested will make up for the shortfall.
Mr Wong stated that he looks forward to hearing concrete alternatives from the opposition, not just “opportunist stick or populist ideas to chip away a bit by bit at trust in government, but a serious alternative agenda for end of turn at this government.”
Mr Wong also emphasized the importance of a serious opposition that thinks carefully about what it will do as a government, saying that as Singapore develops into a mature democracy, it must have not just a serious government, but also a serious opposition that can make a contribution to the ideas for improving the country.
He welcomed the opposition’s good ideas and contributions, but asked that they be upfront about the realities and tradeoffs the country faces and be honest about their plans, policies, and intentions.
Opposition has been offering alternative policies
On Mr Wong’s point that the opposition should offer concrete alternative policy ideas, Workers’ Party MP for Aljunied GRC, Leon Perera spoke on Tuesday in Parliament that the opposition has been doing this.
“We offer alternative policies that differ substantively from the ideas of the PAP – eg on slowing reserves growth to enhance livability, social justice and social mobility; and reducing BTO prices based on tweaks to the land valuation formula.
“The alternatives we have championed in Parliament, in our manifesto are too numerous for me to mention here. I only have 20 minutes. We championed universal healthcare insurance and delinking BTO from resale prices long before they were adopted by the PAP government.”
“We championed anti-discrimination legislation and redundancy insurance, policies the PAP are now considering. The DPM, the PAP knows this.”
“Sir, I have a sense of déjà vu now, recalling how I was debating a similar issue about what the PAP said about our housing paper just a few weeks ago.”
“Sir, let us be honest in our political debates. Honest. Not going for false but flashy soundbites that smear our opponents, that the media then viralise. I don’t want my children to grow up in a posttruth society.”
Back in February during the Budget 2023 debate, Mr Perera had gone into a heated exchange with Mr Wong over the allegations by the People’s Action Party (PAP) that the WP’s housing paper called for a cut in BTO flats in 2019.
During the exchange, Mr Perera said, “I would really question if the People’s Action Party has become a party that propagates falsehoods to gain political mileage. The first paragraph makes observations about the risk of vacancies in the context of a paper on longer-term housing dynamics, that resale prices will inevitably come under pressure at some point… But the call to action comes in the second paragraph, which says, BTO projects should continue.”
Non-constituency Member of Parliament Leong Mun Wai also addressed Mr Wong’s comments in his Tuesday speech.
Mr Leong noted that – despite its very limited resources – the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) has put up two key policy proposals to reset Singapore’s housing policy: the Affordable Homes Scheme and the Millennial Apartments Scheme.
He said that PSP will also continue to put up alternative housing policies that it believes will be in the interests of all Singaporeans.
“As always, we expect that these policies will be robustly challenged by the Government. But we hope that these policies will not simply be brushed off as “raiding the reserves” or “crashing the housing market” just because they do not fit into the Government’s framework for the reserves or finances, or challenge the Government’s “sacred cow” policies like home ownership,” said Mr Leong.
Simliar to Mr Perera, Mr Leong had crossed swords with Mr Wong over several exchanges in Parliament over policy suggestions. One recent incident is when Mr Wong rebuffed Mr Leong’s statement that middle-class Singaporeans are overtaxed in relation to their income, calling it an “outright falsehood.”
In response to Mr Wong’s statement, Mr Leong rejected the assertion and challenged Mr Wong to prove that he was not misleading Singaporeans.
Mr Leong highlighted that the calculation of tax-benefit and tax-income ratios in Singapore does not take into account the land cost paid by Singaporeans via HDB flat prices.
He argued that this gives the impression that the tax-benefit and tax-income ratios appear favourable for middle-class Singaporeans when, in fact, they are suffering under high land costs.
Mr Leong also accused the government of hoarding resources and pushing through tax increases like the GST, which affects middle-class Singaporeans.