SPEECH BY ER DR LEE BEE WAH, MP FOR NEE SOON GRC FOR ANNUAL BUDGET STATEMENT 2018 IN PARLIAMENT
I thank the Minister for this strategic Budget plan, which is a practical and far-sighted approach at preparing Singapore to continue to do well in the Future Economy. Young Singaporeans in particular will be excited about building their careers, businesses, fulfilling their dreams in the innovative and vibrant economy which the Minister is planning for. A greener and cleaner living environment will certainly be a significant boost to our living standards. In the face of increasing costs of living and a challenging economy, I am heartened that the government plans to set aside more resources for those in need. Despite increasing GST costs, this is a Budget that is forward-looking and filled with optimism.
Let me start by discussing some of the plans in relation to the economy.
I share the Minister’s opinion that regional and international partnerships will certainly help to open doors to new opportunities. I am pleased to see that he is implementing some schemes to achieve this. Collaborations on infrastructure development is good news for our construction industry, that is, if there are plans to have local engineering and other consultants as well as construction firms to be actively involved. I note that an Infrastructure Office will be established to bring together local and international firms from across the value chain. I would like to ask Minister: Who will this Office serve? Government-linked companies? Temasek-linked companies like Surbana-Jurong? Or our private sector? How will local consultants and contractors benefit?
Industry Transformation Maps
Next, even before the Budget, the government has shared plans to transform industries through the development of Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs).
These are aimed at addressing issues within each industry and fostering deeper partnerships between the Government, firms, industries, trade associations and chambers. This is good in principle, but implementation would not be so straightforward, given that every industry, every business, every individual has different levels of expectations and commitment. Communication and engagement between the different bodies will always pose challenges. It is unrealistic to put together a plan on paper and expect everybody to go through with it and resolve the problems by themselves. Thus, I propose there should be a full-time secretariat for each industry’s ITM, to visit the trade associations and speak with the ground, to help resolve differences and administrative issues, and ensure that each partnership is as effective and efficient as possible.
More SkillsFuture Credits
SkillsFuture will remain a crucial component to help Singaporeans adjust and adapt to the Future Economy.
Thus far those who have utilised their SkillsFuture credits have found the scheme to be encouraging, and more importantly, they have gained useful skills that will help them in their careers, or even just to enrich their lives and learn something new. I hope the Government will consider investing more resources in SkillsFuture, such as giving more credits to those who have already used theirs.
I’d now like to move on to social issues. First of all, housing, an integral part of our lives, and an asset that supposedly gives us financial security in old age. I am disappointed that there is no new commitment to a Home Improvement Programme for HDB flats built after 1986. Some of these flats are now at least 30 years old and prone to defects and safety issues. Can the Minister share future plans for HIP for ageing flats?
Nee Soon South is in a unique situation. Half the flats were built in 1986, half in 1987. So half are enjoying the HIP and the other half are still waiting.
I am also concerned about those who have a house but are cash-tight and have little options to rightsize.
This is becoming increasingly common in the older private estates, where the land lease is expiring and it is difficult to sell their house. There are also people who live in older HDB flats with a lease of less than 60 years, and they find it challenging to sell their flats. This is not about monetising the house but getting some money from the sales to cover the cost for the next house. As more housing estates start to age, this problem will become more rampant. While there is Silver Housing Scheme (SHS) for residents who are 55 years old and above, this scheme requires most of the proceeds to be topped up into the CPF and may not meet the needs of all elderly. How does the government intend to address these issues?
Buyer’s Stamp Duty
Next, I would like to ask how the decision to raise the Buyer’s Stamp Duty for residential properties above $1 million was derived.
What were the factors that were taken in consideration? The perception from the public is this is just an exercise to take a cut from all the en bloc home owners. It is likely that these en bloc owners have to buy another apartment to move to and they will end up being penalised if they buy above $1million.
Cost of living
Rising living costs and inflation are persistent concerns for every country. Residents understand the need for the government to raise the GST. However, they worry about businesses profiteering by raising prices excessively and in some cases in advance. Back when it was announced that prices of water would be increased, some businesses took the opportunity to raise prices even before the raise kicked in. I hope the government can look into a taskforce to ensure commercial entities do not use the GST increase as an excuse to exploit consumers.
The government is enhancing various financial support and grants, which will help mitigate the GST increase in some ways. I would like to propose that when deciding on the income eligibility of applicants, we do not be so fixated on the applicant’s household income. An applicant may have obtained a new job or wage increase which results in disqualification from a scheme, but he or she may have only obtained that income increase recently, and still has many outstanding bills to pay off. I think we should also look at other criteria, such as minimum working period. Ultimately, we do not want to end up penalising people for getting a job or a better paying one. Our end-goal is to ensure that children in these low-income families have a conducive environment where they can focus on their studies and self-development without being affected by their parents’ worries. Beneficiaries should thus be encouraged to find better means to support their family, and not feel worried that they will be cut off from much-needed financial support once they do so.
Speaker Sir, Malay please.
Pemerintah baru saja mengumumkan kenaikan GST yang akan dilaksanakan antara 2021 hingga 2025, namun saya khuatir para peniaga akan mengambil kesempatan untuk menaikkan harga terlebih dahulu dan meraih keuntungan. Ini yang berlaku pada tahun lepas apabila diumumkan kenaikan harga air. Saya berharap pemerintah dapat mengawas untuk memastikan entiti komersil tidak menggunakan kenaikan GST sebagai alasan untuk mengeksploitasi pengguna.
Pemerintah akan terus meningkatkan pelbagai sokongan kewangan dan bantuan, yang dapat membantu mengurangkan kenaikan GST.
Disini, saya ingin mencadangkan bahawa para agensi pemerintah dapat bersifat ikhsan dalam menilai pemohonan bantuan. Jangan jadikan pendapatan keluarga sebagai kayu ukur semata-mata, kita terlalu tertumpu kepada pendapatan keluarga menyebabkan beliau tidak layak. Misalnya seseorang mungkin baru mendapat pekerjaan ataupun kenaikan gaji menyebabkan beliau dia tidak layak.
Tetapi jika kita selidik beliau harus melunaskan bil-bil yang tertunggak semasa beliau diberhentikan kerja. Saya sarankan selain pendapatan keluarga, kita boleh melihat jangka masa beliau sudah bekerja. Pada akhirnya, kita tidak mahu mendenda seseorang kerana mendapatkan pekerjaan yang lebih baik.
Speaker Sir, Chinese please.
I would like to tell a story, about a housewife and her husband.
One day, the wife said, “Dear, my mum is getting old and has to see the doctor quite often. Our children are also growing up and need to eat more fish and meat. I’ll need more money from you.”
The husband happily said, “No problem! I actually have a piece of good news for you. Last Saturday, I saw our MP drive into the nearby CC. I saw her car number: 4188, quite a good number! I bet on it, both normal bet and iBet. The next day, 8481 struck first prize! For every dollar I bet, I got $2000. Now I have several thousand dollars more.”
The wife was shocked into silence for a while. Then she looked at her husband and said, “Dear, these expenditures are recurring, not one-off. If you don’t strike lottery, does it mean my mum doesn’t need to see the doctor anymore? Or that our children don’t need to eat?”
The husband replied, “We can still sell our house!”
That’s what Mr Pritam Singh from the WP just said. An ageing population and rising costs are constant, but we can solve it by just selling land.
One of my residents seems to have foreseen this. Last Saturday, when I was in the coffeeshop, he told me, “You must remember, even a mountain of gold can be depleted. People shouldn’t keep eyeing the savings ‘Ah Gong’ left us. Otherwise we’ll become the prodigal sons, selling off the family jewels! )
Sir, I support the Budget.