Bad habits of a Singaporean come Budget season

Singapore has a very bad habit, come Budget season. They see it as “ang pow” season and care very little for what it really means. If there is money to give away – then the complaint is that it is not enough. If there is little, then it is a lousy budget.

This is bad attitude and needs to stop.

The first instance of the Government handing out freebies could be traced back to the public listing of SingTel in 1993. Back then, the Government decided to make SingTel a private company (over a period of years) and distribute these shares to all Singaporeans. You could sell or hold these shares and take dividends over the years.

Then in 2001, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong announced the New Singapore Shares. It gave a literal meaning to wealth sharing – to take S$2.7 billion from budget surpluses and distribute it to all Singapore citizens.

What followed after that was a form of monetary deposits, tax reliefs, GST rebates and social transfers announced year after year.

Budget became the annual “ang pow” event. Each year, Singaporeans are glued to their TVs, every word from the Finance Minister is a blur…except to when they announce these budgetary carrots.

It is unlikely the government will stop this anytime soon. In politics, once you handout ice-cream, there is no way you’re going to take it back without suffering a revolution. However, as mature, thinking citizens we need to take a realistic view of the annual budget.

The Supply debates (the Parliamentary way of saying “budget”) are a means for Members of Parliament to get a grasp of how the Government intends to spend this money and object/approve it where necessary.

(Food for thought: The Budget doesn’t just “happen” each year. This government forecasts budgets up to 7 years in advance)

Members of the public, via feedback channels and the media can also show their support and objections. They can pressure Government ministries, especially when the Committee of Supply goes into debate.

We can get a sense of what the government is doing; are there areas of society that needs funding? Has that S$6 billion dollar Circle Line gone to good use? In light of poor economy, should we raise or decrease taxes and if so, which taxes? Is our national budget balanced? Should we be concerned if we’re heading towards deficit?

That – is how a learned, concerned and mature member of society should participate in this very important event and not only be obsessed with how much each individual be getting. It is a chance for us to appreciate the strong GDP we’ve been enjoying.

We cannot all be about just taking and not giving. Because if the day comes that our economy loses steam… not only will one not be getting freebies, taxes will necessarily be raised to get the funds merely to run this country.

 

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About the author

Tay Leong Tan

Tay Leong Tan is a collective of 3 writers. Tay, Leong and Tan. (Who were you expecting?!) We are enthusiastic about labour issues, economics and current affairs in particular.

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