Budget 2017 was neither politically motivated nor one that took a "wait-and-see attitude", Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing said yesterday, refuting the arguments of the Workers' Party (WP).
Instead, the key thrust of the Budget is to distribute finite resources and ensure the weakest members of society receive the most help, he pointed out.
Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera, from the WP, had said two days ago that it made "political sense" for the Government to introduce price hikes now "because people have three years to forget them before the next General Election".
His fellow NCMP Daniel Goh described the budget as a "wait-and-see" move by the Government as it prepares for the changes that will affect the economy and workers.
Mr Chan, in rejecting their observations, said the Budget is about building "the kind of society we aspire to be".
He cited the values of inclusiveness and social mobility. "We want to give everybody a fair chance. We want social mobility. And that is what defines Singapore."
As resources are finite, more help given to one person means less for another, he noted.
Hence, when there is a need to raise taxes or prices, it takes courage on the part of political leaders to say that those who are richer have to foot a bigger bill so that the poorer people can get more help.
The approach helps bring about a fairer society, added Mr Chan, who is also the secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress.
It avoids what a fellow union leader called the "sedimentation model", in which resourWces are distributed such that those who get to dip into the pot first will get to pick the best.
If such an approach takes root, Mr Chan warns it will become harder to change.
The Government had announced increases in water prices and diesel and plans to introduce carbon taxes because it was the responsible thing to do, Mr Chan reiterated.
"A responsible government is one that prices the essentials properly, not distort the market, leading to more subsidies that will burden our future generations.
"A responsible government is someone who knows what is not sustainable and will put a stop to it now. This is not a wait-and-see budget," Mr Chan said.
If it were a wait-and-see budget or one motivated by political timing, the Government would not have introduced carbon pricing, diesel and water taxes, he added.
Mr Chan's speech yesterday came one day after Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran outlined the Government's broad and targeted measures to help Singapore companies overcome headwinds as well as grow and expand overseas.
Besides rebutting the arguments of the WP NCMPs, Mr Chan also spoke of the pressures of maintaining a budget surplus, NTUC's plan to help workers and the water price hike in his 45-minute speech.
Mr Chan also addressed criticisms that the Government had ignored the short-term pain felt by some.
He said the Government had provided targeted help because it feels the people's pain.
"If indeed this is a cynical government, then we shouldn't be giving anything at all," he said.
This article was first published on March 2, 2017.
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