7-hour debate between 20 MPs in Parliament: WP's motion on cost of living passes after PAP's amendments

WP and PSP rejected PAP's amendments.

Kerr Puay Hian | November 08, 2023, 04:09 PM



Parliament debated for seven hours on Nov. 7, 2023, on the cost of living pressures faced by Singaporeans.

WP's motion and PAP's amendments

Workers’ Party (WP) Members of Parliament (MPs) Pritam Singh and Louis Chua filed a motion titled “Cost Of Living Crisis”, of which parliament “calls on the Government to review its policies so as to lower cost of living pressures on Singaporeans and their families.”

The motion resulted in 20 MPs, including all eight WP MPs and the two Progress Singapore Party’s (PSP) Non-constituency MPs (NCMPs), speaking on issues covering transport, utility costs, food prices and housing.

WP MPs tabled different suggestions for policy changes across various issues, with Singh speaking on revising water price tiers, while Sylvia Lim spoke about electricity prices.

MPs Louis Chua, He Ting Ru, Jamus Lim and Gerald Giam covered housing, healthcare, and transport.

MP Dennis Tan raised changes to the healthcare system and aid for special needs or disabilities, while MP Faisal Manap introduced changes to social assistance programs.

After an opening speech by WP chief Pritam Singh, the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) Liang Eng Hwa proposed an amendment to WP’s motion.

The amended motion is for Parliament to “acknowledge the cost of living is a global concern, calls on the Government to continue pursuing policies that together lower cost of living pressures on Singaporeans and their families without undermining our fiscal sustainability and burdening future generations of Singaporeans.”

Pritam Singh's opening speech

In his opening speech, Singh, Leader of the Opposition, said WP identified the cost of living as a “major pressure point” for low-income to middle-income families, especially for families with both young children and aged parents to care for.

He said WP felt it’s time to re-examine national policies and that through the motion, WP will look into possibilities of further reducing the cost of living pressures “by way of policy change”.

While he acknowledged that the government extends one-time reliefs to help Singaporeans with price changes, Singh said parliament should consider policy changes to “leave no stone unturned”.

“Because for some Singaporeans, this has become a cost of living crisis.”

He also questioned the necessity of a GST hike next year.

Inflation and cost of living

Singh then went on to talk about what WP observes to be happening to “Singaporeans on the ground” before suggesting policy changes which they felt should be “changed, enhanced, revisited or even overhauled” to lower the cost of living pressures.

Even though inflation is projected to reach between 2.5 per cent and 3 per cent in December 2023, compared to its 5.5 per cent peak in January, Singh said WP’s ground outreach shows the cost of living worries for Singaporeans “are clearly moving in the opposite direction”.

He explained that the Consumer Price Index, which measures inflation, does not take into account non-consumption expenditures such as loan repayments.

Singh also pointed out that it is also important to consider the compounding effect of price increases with costs passed down from enterprises to consumers.

“When income growth cannot match this rise in prices, it is perfectly understandable why Singaporeans feel nervous and anxious.”

Chee Hong Tat's response

Acting Minister for Transport and Senior Minister of State for Finance Chee Hong Tat said the Government understands the concerns of Singaporeans and stands ready to support Singaporeans where needed.

Cost of living is global concern

He pointed out that the cost of living is a major concern worldwide, following a significant increase in food and energy prices caused by disruptions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and extreme weather patterns.

However, real wages have been rising for workers across the board, and the government has been committed to raising the income and skills of lower-wage workers.

But wage growth means higher business costs, contributing to overall inflation, Chee said.

He noted that inflation has peaked and is on a broad moderating path.

Chee said that the impact of the GST increase is a “one-off” and should not cause an ongoing increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in future years.

While these are positive signs, Chee said that the government remains cautious because the global situation is uncertain.

“Further shocks to global energy and food prices could bring about additional inflationary pressures and economic slowdown,” he added.

Government uses multi-pronged approach

Chee shared that the government has cushioned the impact of global inflation with a multi-pronged approach.

This can be seen through MAS helping to strengthen the Singapore dollar and keeping Singapore’s economy competitive to create good jobs and sustain real income growth for Singaporeans.

He also said that the government ensures that basic needs like education, healthcare, housing and public transport remain accessible and affordable for all.

However, he acknowledged that there can be more support for some households.

“For families who need more help, we have other supporting measures such as ComCare and the Silver Support Scheme,” Chee shared.

The government is prepared to do more to support Singaporeans should it become necessary, he added, saying that they will continue to monitor the trends closely.

“And we will do so in a manner which is fair, effective and sustainable for both current and future generations.”

PSP agree with WP's original motion

PSP NCMP Leong Mun Wai expressed support for WP's original motion.

He described handing out one-time reliefs as giving “a chicken wing for a whole chicken” and felt policies should improve "Singaporean's financial position".

Leong proposed, among others, to reduce GST to 7 per cent, increase the immediate relief package, set minimum wages, and various other plans on housing and healthcare, which PSP thought would " provide a robust and substantive response to relieve the financial stress of the Singaporeans".

WP's reasons to reject PAP's amendments

In his round-up speech, Singh voiced the WP’s rejection of Liang’s amendments.

While WP has “no substantive quarrel” with the last part of the amendments, Singh said a “careful examination” would show that WP’s proposals neither undermine Singapore’s fiscal sustainability nor would they unduly burden future generations.

He said WP also disagree with the use of the words “continue pursuing policies” as it suggests that “the status quo is fine”.

Singh said WP believes their proposed “specific structural changes to the system” are “better than current PAP policies”.

The amended motion passed, but WP and PSP MPs did not vote in favour of the amended motion.

Top image via MCI