Govt and opposition MPs back Budget's focus on pioneers

Some pioneers at the Pioneer Generation Tribute at the Istana, on Feb 9, 2014.

THE $8 billion Pioneer Generation Package drew praise from 25 Members of Parliament who joined the first day of debate on this year's Budget, including three from the opposition Workers' Party (WP).

But amid the chorus of approval, several People's Action Party MPs sounded a note of caution against departing from decades of fiscal prudence that had made the package possible.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) pointed out that every revenue dollar, whether from taxes or investment returns from the reserves, had to be painstakingly built up over the years.

He urged MPs not to allow this value of fiscal discipline to "weaken or slip in the years to come" even as he noted that total government expenditure was growing at a faster rate than operating revenue, and social spending was set to increase.

Similarly, Mr Alvin Yeo (Chua Chu Kang GRC) warned against Singapore going down the path of countries whose governments are mired in debt due to generous welfare systems, and whose people face high taxes and high unemployment.

Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Nee Soon GRC) is concerned that few people know that the Government has spent more than it collects in taxes and fees for the past five years, avoiding a deficit only by drawing on the net income from investing the reserves.

At $8 billion, the fund to finance the pioneer package is without precedent. It is the largest single social transfer in a year, and aims to subsidise the health-care costs of some 450,000 pioneers for life.

It is to be paid for entirely from this year's Budget and, with accumulated interest over time, is expected to be enough to pay for the entire package of Medisave top-ups, and subsidies for MediShield Life premiums and outpatient treatments.

Mr Liang stressed that growing the economy remains the best way to ensure enough revenue for social spending.

WP chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) said the party welcomed the Budget's "unique emphasis" on the pioneer generation, and focus on economic restructuring and strengthening social safety nets.

Labour MPs, though, sought more measures to protect workers, and Nominated MP Teo Siong Seng called for more help for "pioneer generation" small and medium-sized enterprises.

The debate continued on Tuesday.

chinlian@sph.com.sg


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