The constituencies: Bukit Panjang SMC and Chua Chu Kang GRC.
Of course, it would've been easy to write off — after all, there were six other rallies we could have attended and covered heavily — and perhaps many people did, given that the crowd that showed up for this rally maxed out at about 2,000 only.
Scenes from the ongoing #PAPrally in Bukit Panjang. Supporters snapping selfies, box of water and buns, and a...
Yep, none other than our super-intelligent whiz-kid Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
So, what did he say in his 27 minute speech? It's definitely worth taking the half hour out to watch, but here's a quick summary:
1. He said that the middle-income group will bear the tax burden if the government was to implement the opposition schemes:
"I've been studying this for years. Whole set of countries around the world. You cannot do it by just taxing the top 1%. That is a bluff. First of all because the top 1% know how to move their money around, but second because you can't just jack up the tax rate to a very high level for the top 1%, without having a change in your taxes for the top 5% and the top 10%. And there's no country in the world that has provided something for everyone without raising middle-income taxes. GST, Income tax. That's the way it is done. In France, in Germany, in Scandinavia, in the United Kingdom. That's the way it is done. The middle class pays very high taxes in order that everyone get something."
2. He analysed Singapore Democratic Party (SDP)'s plans and explained cogently why their plans will be very "siong" for the average Singaporean. How siong? $850 in taxes per month for someone earning $3,800.
- He takes the example of France, (which the Singapore Democratic Party mentioned in their speech advocating their universal healthcare system proposal) noting that the average French income earner pays 15 per cent in income tax, 20 per cent in VAT (their equivalent to GST in Singapore) and a further 21.5 per cent in payroll tax, which goes toward their healthcare subsidies:
"So if you imagine it in the Singapore context, our average, our median worker, someone right in the middle of the income ladder earns about $3,800. If you have that same French tax rate here, it means every month he or she will be paying the government $850. Just on income tax and VAT or GST. And this doesn't count yet the payment for what they call payroll taxes, which is an important source of funding for the French healthcare system. Payroll taxes which ultimately comes out of the workers' wages, whether the employer is paying or the employee is paying. It's ultimately coming out of workers' wages. You have a 21.5% payroll tax, and out of that, they also fund healthcare subsidies. Income tax, VAT, Payroll tax.
When you add it together, the average worker — I'm not talking about the rich — the average worker has to take a whopping amount out of their monthly pay to give to the government (Singapore, by the way, pays close to zero for the middle income)."
3. Tharman didn't have to, but he addressed a point some parties raised about using the investment incomes from our reserves to fund these increased expenditures, saying our investment income from reserves is close to being maxed out.
"It is also a myth to think... look, let's not worry about taxing people, let's talk about taking investment income from reserves, and several parties I noticed have mentioned this.
Well let me just say this. We are already maxing out on the investment income from our reserves. The constitution allows us to spend 50% of the income on our reserves and we are already maxing out, we are spending it fully, on our increased social spending, on healthcare, on infrastructure. It's fully used. There's no more money left there that you can just take without compromising the next generation.
And it's not as if we're storing up a whole lot of savings for the future generation to have a better life than today. All we are doing is making sure that each generation gets the same benefit, each generation gets the same benefit. We changed the constitution this year to take more of the returns earned by Temasek (Holdings) for spending on our budget. We increased income taxes on the rich and in the last few years we've increased property taxes on high-end properties while lowering property taxes for our smaller HDB taxes, we made it more progressive.
But when you add it all up together, we have taken measures that will give us $4 billion a year over the next five years. Including Temasek in our framework for spending, raising income tax, raising property tax, we have done it in advance, no bluff no pretence. We made very clear we have extra spending needs especially in healthcare, where we are more than doubling our healthcare spending — we need the revenues, we've taken the measures up front."
4. DPM Tharman acknowledged that the government's previous thinking about meritocracy wasn't right.
"We used to think sometime in the past that how well people do depneds on what they're born with or how well they do in education early in life. That's not true.
There's so much to be developed during your life. You may start off weak but you can develop your strengths through life. We are going to make it possible for every Singaporean through education, through expanding of our ITEs, polys and universities, and through SkillsFuture, we are going to make it possible for everyone to keep developing through life because everyone has a talent, everyone has a strength.
Not all of us realise it when we're young, but we can develop it over time, while we are at work, outside work, in the community, every way in which we can keep learning, discovering our strengths and our interest. Everyone has a talent that is useful to our society."
5. He also said that it is "not a perfect government" and "there's more to do":
We have more to do. We are not a perfect country, we are not a perfect government, there's more to do. And we are quite straight about it, we are quite honest about it. What the problems are, what the challenges are, sometimes even with policies that have worked well, there are new challenges because the environment changes. The economic environment changes, our society changes.
Things get more difficult over time and new challenges crop up and we are quite straight about it. We're quite straight about the possible solutions and we are never sure whether they are going to work. But we are quite straight that look, these are possible solutions and let's work hard on them.
6. And the only time he seems to have made any inclination of disparagement to the Workers' Party (which the crowd did pick up on), is this:
And we are straight about how we are going to fund our solutions. Where do we get the money from? That's what good government is about, and that's what good politics is about. Never pretending we are perfect, being straight about the solutions, being honest about the challenges, and telling everyone up front, telling everyone up front where the money is coming from. Who's going to pay, who's going to benefit.
Okay, that wasn't entirely a "summary". But trust us, and we're saying this completely objectively, that Tharman's speech is worth watching in its entirety.
(I mean come on, he spoke some Chinese words way better than many of us can claim to! See the 24-minute mark, for instance.)