Heng Swee Keat sends 623-word “love letter” to Sylvia Lim on Friday night
Heng asks if Lim would withdraw 'test balloon' allegation on GST hike timing.
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Today is the fifteenth and final day of the Chinese New Year, which is also known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day.
And Workers’ Party (WP) Chairman Sylvia Lim has received a “love letter” tonight.
However, it was from Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and not football legend Quah Kim Song.
In a letter released to the media (March 2), Heng asked Lim if she would withdraw her claim that the government floated “test balloons” about the need to raise the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and apologise to the House.
“Now that Ms Lim has had an opportunity to check the record, will she withdraw her allegation, as an honourable MP should, and apologise to the House? Or does she still hold she has carte blanche to raise any and every suspicion, rumour or falsehood in Parliament, and continue to insist on them regardless of the facts?”
Heng’s statement in full is reproduced below:
Statement by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat
1. In Parliament yesterday, Ms Sylvia Lim questioned the Government’s motives in announcing an increase in the Goods and Services Tax some three to seven years before the increase is implemented. She said:
“…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. In Parliament, on 1 March 2018, when Minister for Law K Shanmugam and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat both presented her with the facts, Ms Lim admitted she was not certain of the facts herself but would check on them later. She further added that her allegations were based on ‘suspicion’, not fact.
4. The facts are public, and were most recently set out by the Ministry of Finance in a letter to The Straits Times’ Forum Page on 28 February 2018. The Government had consistently said it has enough money for its current term of office, but beyond that, it needed to provide for increased expenditure, especially on healthcare, with increased taxes.
5. The Prime Minister first mentioned the need for the tax increase in his 2013 National Day Rally speech. The Minister for Finance had reiterated this in his 2017 Budget Statement, and did so again at a constituency function a few months later. The Prime Minister spoke again of the likelihood of a tax increase last November.
6. Taking all these statements together, two things are clear: One that there is no need to raise taxes for the current term. But two, there is a need to raise taxes for the future. There were no test balloons.
7. Significantly, Mr Low Thia Khiang himself had demanded of Mr Heng during the 2017 Committee of Supply debate: “If the minister is indeed considering an increase in GST before the end of the decade, I hope he can be upfront with Singaporeans now so that they are not blindsided by the government as they were with the sudden 30% increase in water price”. This is precisely what the Government has now done by announcing the forthcoming GST increase early.
8. 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.
9. Now that Ms Lim has had an opportunity to check the record, will she withdraw her allegation, as an honourable MP should, and apologise to the House? Or does she still hold she has carte blanche to raise any and every suspicion, rumour or falsehood in Parliament, and continue to insist on them regardless of the facts?
Lim made those comments during a speech in Parliament on March 1 during the Budget debate.
You can watch the speech made by Lim in the video below.
The relevant portion begins at 1:50:
Minister Shanmugam clearly unhappy with Lim
Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam had earlier posted on Facebook that she had an exchange with Lim, and accused her of making serious and baseless insinuations –that in essence the government was lying to the people.
Apology to the House
This is not the first time this year that a Minister from the People’s Action Party (PAP) had demanded an apology from a WP parliamentarian.
Minister Grace Fu, who is also the Leader of the House, wrote a letter to non-constituency Member (NCMP) Leon Perera in January to request that he apologise to the other MPs in Parliament for misrepresenting facts and to withdraw the false allegations against Mediacorp over the editing of Parliament videos.
In the end, Perera apologised but maintained he did not deliberately mislead Parliament
Will Lim do the same?
Stay tuned for the Committee of Supply debates in parliament next week.
Top image adapted from Gov.sg.