Grace Fu gives 3-day deadline to Sylvia Lim to withdraw allegations of “test balloons” on GST hike
Really not giving any chance.
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Grace Fu, the Leader of the House, strikes again.
This time she stood up in Parliament and delivered a statement demanding Workers’ Party Sylvia Lim withdraw her “allegations” that the government had “floated test balloons” about the Good and Services Tax (GST) hike coming between 2021 and 2025.
The statement was made in response to the dramatic exchange between Lim, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and Minister for Law & Home Affairs K Shanmugam.
“Ms Lim was suggesting that the Government would have raised the GST immediately, if not for the adverse public reaction when it ‘floated’ the suggestion late last year, and if it had not been ‘stuck’ with a previous statement that it had ‘enough money for the decade’. Ms Lim was in effect accusing the Government of being untruthful when it says that it had planned ahead, and that its proposal to raise the GST between 2021 and 2025 was the result of such planning.”
Additionally, Fu, also the Minister for Community, Culture and Youth, is giving Lim a Thursday deadline, by the end of Parliament’s sitting for the Committee of Supply debates, to withdraw her “allegations”, because she has not yet done so.
Fu cited part of Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat’s “love letter” to Lim on Friday evening, where he wrote:
“MPs are entitled to raise suspicions in Parliament, if they honestly believe them – but honest belief requires factual basis. And when clear factual replies have been given, an honourable MP should either refute them with further facts, or acknowledge them and withdraw their allegations, especially if the allegations had insinuated lack of candour or wrongdoing on the part of the Government.”
Lim’s suspicion no longer “reasonable and honestly held”: Fu
In view of the clarifications made by the two ministers in Parliament, as well as Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law Indranee Rajah, who published a note on Facebook overnight, Fu said Lim cannot contend that her suspicion remains “reasonable and honestly held”.
“Her allegations have been refuted, the facts she cited have been shown to be inaccurate, and she has not raised any further facts to substantiate her ‘suspicion’. However, Parliamentary privilege does not entitle MPs to knowingly maintain allegations that have been shown to have no factual basis.”
Fu then put the deadline of the end of Thursday, when Parliament concludes its sitting, on record. Noting that Lim was not present on Tuesday morning, Fu said she would extend the statement she had read out to her separately.
Here’s Fu’s statement in full:
Budget 17 and PAP convention 2017
Statement by Leader of the House Grace Fu
(6 March 2018, 10:00am)
Mr Speaker Sir,
1. On 1 March, Ms Sylvia Lim questioned in this House the Government’s
motives in announcing the increase in the Goods and Services Tax some three to seven years before the increase is implemented. She said, and I quote:
“…we do note that in the run-up to the Budget discussion there were some test balloons being floated out about the fact that the Government needs to raise revenue. And immediately the public seized on the fact that DPM Tharman and perhaps other leaders had earlier said that the Government has enough money for the decade. So the public pointed out that ‘hey, you know, is this a contradiction?’ and I rather suspect myself that the Government is stuck with that announcement, otherwise, you know, if their announcement had not been made, perhaps we would be debating a GST hike today.”
2. Ms Lim was suggesting that the Government would have raised the GST immediately, if not for the adverse public reaction when it “floated” the suggestion late last year, and if it had not been “stuck” with a previous statement that it had “enough money for the decade”. Ms Lim was in effect accusing the Government of being untruthful when it says that it had planned ahead, and that its proposal to raise the GST between 2021 and 2025 was the result of such planning.
3. Both the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Law had responded to Ms Lim to explain that there was no basis for her allegations.
4. The first mention of the need for the tax increase was in the Prime Minister’s National Day Rally speech in 2013, more than four years ago. The Minister for Finance reiterated this in his 2017 Budget Statement, and again at a constituency function a few months later. The Prime Minister spoke again of the likelihood of a tax increase late last November, and had expressly referred to the Finance Minister’s earlier statements.
5. Indeed, in the previous term of Government, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman had said during the 2014 Budget debate and in the 2015 Budget Statement that while the Government had taken steps to ensure it had
sufficient revenue to meet spending needs “till the end of this decade”, we, I quote, “we will run into structural deficits if we did not raise revenues in the next decade”.
6. As the Minister for Finance told Ms Lim in this House last Thursday, what DPM Tharman said in 2014 and 2015 remains true today: The Government has enough money till the end of this decade. But beyond that it will have to raise taxes to meet rising expenditure needs, especially in healthcare. The Government never floated “test balloons” on this matter. It has been deliberate and consistent in all its statements since August 2013.
7. When presented with the facts, Ms Lim said that her allegations were based on “suspicion”, not fact. She admitted that she was not certain of the facts herself but would check on them later. But she did not withdraw her allegations.
8. The next day (2 March) the Minister for Finance issued a statement, setting out the facts again, and asking Ms Lim, now that she had had an opportunity to check the records, if she would withdraw her allegations, as an honourable MP should, and apologise to the House? Ms Lim has not answered.
9. As the Minister for Finance said in this statement: “MPs are entitled to raise suspicions in Parliament, if they honestly believe them – but honest belief requires factual basis. And when clear factual replies have been given, an honourable MP should either refute them with further facts, or acknowledge them and withdraw their allegations, especially if the allegations had insinuated lack of candour or wrongdoing on the part of the Government.”
10. With the clarifications that have been given to her by ministers, both in this House and elsewhere, Ms Lim cannot contend that her “suspicion” remains reasonable and honestly held. Her allegations have been refuted, the facts she cited have been shown to be inaccurate, and she has not raised any further facts to substantiate her “suspicion”. However, Parliamentary privilege does not entitle MPs to knowingly maintain allegations that have been shown to have no factual basis.
11. Mr Speaker Sir, I am speaking to put these facts on the record. Now that Ms Lim has been apprised of the facts, I request that she withdraws her allegation that the Government had floated test balloons on the need to raise revenues within this term and had intended to raise the GST immediately, and apologise to this House, before the end of this sitting of Parliament on Thursday, 8 March 2018.
12. Mr Speaker, I noted that Honourable Member Sylvia Lim is not in this House. I will extend a copy of my statement to her.
Previously, Fu asked WP’s Leon Perera to apologise for accusing Mediacorp for editing parliamentary footage.
And he ultimately did.
Top image via screenshots from gov.sg YouTube videos