Budget debate: Embrace diverse views and political differences, says Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh

SINGAPORE – Diverse views and political differences should be embraced in Singapore’s democracy, said Workers’ Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh on Friday (Feb 28).

He noted that unity has been a recurring theme of each year’s Budget since 2016.

But in seeking to engender a “Singapore Together” movement, the country’s fourth generation leadership must also encounter “very diverse, edgy and even contradictory views in the effort to find common cause”, he said.

This should be encouraged, not discouraged, he added during the debate on the Budget statement.

“It is that process of embracing diversity and accommodating political differences that give meaning to a democracy of deeds for the 21st century, and not for a one-party Parliament of decades past,” said Mr Singh.

He said WP MPs have raised issues that People’s Action Party MPs “cannot be expected to raise, not out of an inability of their own, but because of the nature of politics and political contestation”.

WP MPs agree with the Government when they have to and disagree when they must, he said, adding that they do so while endeavouring for the best outcomes for Singapore and for unity of purpose when politics has to take a backseat, like during the ongoing coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak.

In his speech, Mr Singh addressed the current geopolitical environment, responses from businesses to the measures in the Budget and Singapore’s fiscal position.

Singaporeans have to resist the urge to gloat as Singapore’s closest economic partners like Malaysia and competitors like Hong Kong negotiate their own unique political circumstances, he said.

On measures to help tide businesses over the Covid-19 outbreak, he said private bus companies and drivers are bearing the brunt of cancelled trips and tours.

“Private bus companies feel the Budget support package is not targeted enough in view of the nature of their business,” he said.

Mr Singh also said he hopes the Government will reconsider its decision not to waive foreign worker levies for companies that have no choice but to hire foreigners, on the condition that these companies “consciously seek to increase the local headcount by way of job redesign going forward”.

On Singapore’s fiscal position, Mr Singh asked for updates on the Government’s plans to study the option of using government debt to partially finance long-term infrastructure projects and on its consultations with businesses on implementing policies to prevent companies from shifting profits to lower-tax jurisdictions.

He also reiterated the WP’s position on the planned goods and services tax (GST) hike and said the party does not support it.

Mr Singh called for the Government to publicly release its revenue and expenditure projections so Singaporeans can evaluate the necessity of raising GST from 7 per cent to 9 per cent, which is scheduled to take place by 2025.

“I believe this openness would contribute to a more substantive conversation and understanding of our fiscal trade-offs. This can only advance and mature conversations that take place in Singapore,” he said.

“Until this clarity is provided, the WP position has not changed. We cannot support a GST hike, especially since this is to be raised in advance, and before the Government’s projections have been put to this House.”

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