Singapore 2025

What of Singapore towards 2025? Thoughts of a Singaporean.

Archive for April 2012

A Most Important Parliamentary Question

Some months ago, I made acquaintances with a sprightly young Singaporean Indian gentleman, fresh out of law school, who like me was taking classes in preparation for the Bar course examinations. One day, in between the hi and byes, he asked with a deep frown, “There are so few of you in parliament, what can you hope to achieve?”

He had a point. What can we hope to achieve?

On 1 Mar 2012, DPM Tharman flashed four charts in parliament as part of his budget round-up speech. One chart sought to impress upon Singaporeans the lifetime benefits relative to lifetime taxes for a middle-income household (with and without car). According to MOF Estimates, for every $1 paid in taxes, a middle-income household stood to gain $1.50 in permanent benefits.

I took a quick glance across parliament. No PAP MP seemed moved to question the DPM how the figures were determined. For better or worse, there appeared to be an implicit assumption among PAP MPs that the figures spoke for themselves.

At the next available opportunity, I asked the Minister to reveal all the assumptions and variables the Finance Ministry employed to come to their conclusions in the charts used by DPM Tharman.

DPM Tharman informed me that he would make these figures public on the Budget2012 website.

A week passed. Two weeks passed. Three weeks passed. The Budget debate was now well and truly on the backburner. And no sign of any update on the Ministry’s website. So on 27 Mar, I filed a parliamentary question on the matter in expectation of an answer come 9 Apr, when parliament was due to meet next.

On 5 Apr, in response to my parliamentary question, the Ministry of Finance duly publishes what Straits Times Senior Correspondent Phua Mei Pin later described as a “most detailed” response, with the DPM revealing the methodology behind the lifetime taxes and benefits charts that he referred to in his budget round-up speech.

While the release of this information was helpful, a persual of the basis behind the charts reveal that the assumptions are premised on very narrow grounds with the immediate question being – how many low-income Singaporeans are representative of the “typical” example employed? I was not the only one who had serious reservations about the illustrations used by the DPM.

Coincidentally, in late February/early March, the government bandied about figures explaining how a $1000 salary could see a couple purchasing a 2-room BTO flat, an emphatic attempt to portray the government as one that looks after low-income Singaporeans. There is little reason to doubt the PAP’s numbers which reveal the ability of low-income Singaporeans to purchase a 2-room BTO flat – the government’s numbers are not wrong, but they hardly do justice to the reality low-income Singaporeans face.

My experience of 11-odd months of meet-the-people sessions and house visits inform me that low-income Singaporeans have to contend with a range of social realities, including structural unemployment, which really makes one question the relevance of the government’s numbers.

Consider these not uncommon facts. A divorce here, or a sick child or parent there can put one income-earner out of work. A chronic illness puts another out of work. In three months, the family is in arrears. Electricity and water bills are due as are Service and Conservancy charges. The CDC steps in to provide some assistance, but depression sets in for the family too. They struggle to get out of the rut.

No variable or assumption can adequately capture this or other realities our low-income have to face. In fact, one netizen did a back-of-the-envelope calculation in response to the $1000 BTO flat story (hyperlinked below) – and his numbers – (whether you agree with them or not) do go some way in getting to the nub of issue.

“Its a fact that there are many of us earning $1000 ++ Even though their wife is working for another additional $1000+ Combine salaries will be only $2000 ++

 Est Spending Power Per Family for 2 room Flats:

HDB Bill :$0

Electricity and Water Bill : $120

Mobile Phone Bill : $80 (Husband and wife)

Transport fee : $200 (Husband and wife)

01x Children Tpt fee : $90

01x Children Sch Fee : $250 (Pri to Sec)

Children Sch Meal Allowance : $105

Family Gocery and other expan : $400 ~$500

Medical Fee for parents :$300

*Super Tight in cash…..No much $ for retirement and their medical fee….no quality time for kids ..* These work out is only for 2 working adult, if 1 working adult they can plan for going Bedok Resv….Utimately you can die instantly but cannot get sick…..Sad Life. So PAP what is your Calculation now???”

One of the things I was focused on after the 2011 elections was how the PAP would respond to the electorate’s desire for greater transparency and accountability. Statistics can be massaged and unrealistic scenarios can be trumpted to create an impression of positive government action, even as the numbers hardly reflect the situation on the ground.

What a small number of opposition MPs achieve in parliament is ultimately for the people of Singapore to pass judgment upon. Singaporeans like my fellow law graduate are blessed with a good education and well paying profession, and can thus afford to ask “what do you hope to achieve”.

Indeed, to be able to ask such question is itself a sign of affluence because it suggests contentment with the status quo and an unawareness of the plight of less well-off Singaporeans out there. Indeed there are many lives with urgent multiple burdens that are not neatly captured by the government’s figures.

While opposition MPs strive to make the government more transparency and accountable, there is a danger that the PAP of the “new normal” will not hesitate to play to the gallery to appear engaging and inclusive, by trumping up successes that only a few individuals benefit from.

Accountability and transparency will only be raised if all Singaporeans play their part and continue to scrutinise PAP policies closely. While credit ought to be given to the government when it is substantively transparent, the opposition should be expected to query the numbers and assumptions used by the government, and enquire if they are real answers to real issues, or political answers to laboratory scenarios with little relevance to ground realities.


Parliamentary Question 9 Apr 2012


Mr Pritam Singh asked the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance with regard to the charts contained in the Budget 2012 website, whether he can provide all the assumptions, variables and projections which lead to the figures stated in the charts for (i) Transfers Net of Taxes; (ii) Lifetime Benefits Relative to Lifetime Taxes for a Low-Income Household; and (iii) Lifetime Benefits Relative to Lifetime Taxes for a Middle-Income Household (With and Without A Car).

Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam: The information is contained in the Ministry of Finance’s Budget 2012 website:


Written by singapore 2025

23/04/2012 at 4:35 pm

Posted in Parliament

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