K Shanmugam and Sylvia Lim clash in Parliament over planned GST hike

(PHOTOS: Screengrabs from YouTube channel)
(PHOTOS: Screengrabs from YouTube channel)

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam and Aljunied Member of Parliament Sylvia Lim clashed in Parliament once again, as the former took issue with Lim’s characterisation of the government’s approach towards the planned increase in the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

In a protracted back-and-forth on Thursday (1 March), amid the Committee of Supply (COS) debate on Budget 2018, the duo crossed swords following Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat’s speech explaining various aspects of the Budget and the eventual GST hike.

Heng announced in his Budget speech last month that Singapore’s GST would be raised to 9 per cent from 7 per cent sometime from 2021 to 2025, with the exact timing of the increase depending on Singapore’s economy, expenditure growth and existing taxes.

In response to Heng’s speech on Thursday, Lim said, “We do note that in the run up to the Budget discussion, there were some test balloons being floated out about the fact that the government needs to raise revenue, and immediately the public seized on the fact that DPM Tharman (Shanmugaratnam) and perhaps other leaders had earlier said that the government has enough money for the decade.

“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.”

Shanmugam retorted, “Can I invite her (Lim) to agree that that’s a thoroughly hypocritical and dishonest statement and typical of the statements she makes in this House?”

‘Suppreesio veri, suggestio falsi’

Calling her suggestions “baseless”, Shanmugam claimed that Lim was “making an accusation that the government is behaving willy nilly, dishonestly”. He noted that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong first spoke about a tax increase during the National Day Rally several years ago.

Heng had also mentioned a possible increase during last year’s Budget, something referenced by PM Lee late last year, said Shanmugam, who then invited Lim to withdraw her remarks.

But the Aljunied MP dismissed Shanmugam’s claims, saying, “In typical fashion, he always accuses me of dishonesty when, as far as I’m concerned, I acted honestly.”

She added that her remarks amounted to an “honest suspicion” of the government’s intentions, citing parliamentary privilege and her right to come to Parliament to advance “honestly held beliefs or suspicions”.

At one point, the pair began speaking over one another prompting Speaker Tan Chuan-jin to drily remark, “If Members can wait till I call them?”

Shanmugam then quoted the Latin saying suppressio veri, suggestio falsi (“the suppression of the truth is equivalent to the suggestion of what is false”), noting that a High Court judge had previously said the same of Lim.

The exchange concluded when Heng acknowledged that Tharman’s statement on there being enough revenue for this term of government was “accurate and truthful”, so it was not a case of “floating any trial balloon”.

Lim responded in closing, “Sir, I’ve listened to the Finance Minister’s response. I still feel there is nothing wrong with what I said, but I’ve noted his answer.”

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