Grace Fu asks Sylvia Lim to withdraw statement on GST hike, apologise to Parliament

Singapore’s Parliament House. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)
Singapore’s Parliament House. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

Leader of the House Grace Fu has asked Workers’ Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim to withdraw her statement on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) hike, and to make an apology in Parliament by Thursday (8 March).

Fu said on Tuesday (6 March) in Parliament that there was no basis for the allegations by the Aljunied MP that the government had floated “test balloons” on the GST hike.

On 1 March, in response to Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat’s speech during the Budget debate, Lim said “there were some test balloons being floated out about the fact that the government needs to raise revenue” and that the public had “seized on the fact that DPM Tharman (Shanmugaratnam) and perhaps other leaders had earlier said that the government has enough money for the decade”.

Lim added, “And I rather suspect myself that the government is stuck with that announcement. Otherwise, if that announcement had not been made, perhaps we would be debating a GST hike today.”

On the same day, eight of WP’s MPs voted against the Budget. In a statement, WP cited three reasons for its objection – lack of clarity on long-term projected government income and spending, lack of consideration of alternative revenue streams, and lack of details on the effect of the future GST hike on low-income and middle-income Singaporeans.

Lim’s allegations refuted: Fu

Fu said that Lim’s allegations were refuted by Heng, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam, and Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah. She also pointed out that Lim had not raised any facts to substantiate her suspicion of the government’s intentions.

“With the clarifications that have been given to her by ministers, both in this House and elsewhere, Ms Lim cannot contend that her ‘suspicion’ remains reasonable and honestly held,” Fu added.

In her statement read out in Parliament, Fu laid out a timeline of comments made by the government on the need for a tax increase, starting with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s 2013 National Day Rally Speech. Heng also mentioned it during his 2017 Budget statement. In November last year, Lee had also talked about a tax increase, making reference to Heng’s earlier statements.

Fu said, “Now that Ms Lim has been apprised of the facts, I request that she withdraws her allegation that the Government had floated test balloons on the need to raise revenues within this term and had intended to raise the GST immediately, and apologise to this House, before the end of this sitting of Parliament on Thursday, 8 March 2018.”

Lim’s comments sparked a clash with Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam last week, with Shanmugam calling Lim’s statement “baseless”, saying it accused the government of behaving dishonestly.

Finance Minister Heng had also accused the WP of being “dishonest and irresponsible” by offering “politically expedient options” for government expenditure that will not resolve long-term challenges.

More Singapore stories:

Workers’ Party unable to support GST hike for now: Pritam Singh

No change to ministerial salaries, says DPM Teo Chee Hean