I have really got no beef with this year’s budget. It’s proceeding (more or less) in the direction that the country needs to go. It’s got more a progressive taxation structure without having to mess with either income tax, corporate tax or GST. It has bigger benefits for the needy and higher costs for the rich. It’s starting to put the squeeze on cheap labour and encouraging businesses to pay fair value for workers, especially Singaporeans. Preschool education gets a massive boost. I’m not so cynical to think that the government is just throwing money at us to buy our loyalty. It’s not an election year anyway.
Still, some weaknesses do exist: a nagging question of whether GST vouchers are just a stop-gap drug for painful inflation numbers, or a badly disguised attempt at buying votes. The definition of a “low income” Singaporean ranging from income to per-capita income to assessable income to type of dwelling to AV of dwelling doesn’t seem to give a clear picture of income inequality. How big of a dent in our Gini are the new handouts going to make? Do any of these measures actually directly address our income gap problem (I don’t think they will)? What about a budget measure to build our fast-crumbling national cohesion/national identity?
That last point, I believe is the biggest weakness of this year’s budget – not so much a weakness of the budget itself, but of our nation. With each passing year, we fragment a little more. With every budget handout it seems that we think a little more about ourselves, and let the government take care of the poor.
A number of friends quipped before the live stream of the budget speech, “Let me know if we get any ang pows!” Indeed, even Channel NewsAsia ran an infographic on their Facebook page asking the public “What’s in it for you?” Our annual budget seems to have become more about what individuals and individual companies can get out of Singapore than a fiscal plan that points the nation in the direction that it needs to go. The budget has become just a matter of dollars, not a signal of values, which it should also be.
Will companies make sacrifices to raise low-income earners’ wages? Will Singaporeans give less to charitable causes now that we sense the government is stepping up its welfare schemes? Will the rich see progressive taxation as an infringement on their wealth and try to exert more influence on policy? Will MNCs keep threatening to abandon their bases here if costs must rise so that justice can be done?
I think the biggest problem with this year’s budget is us.