On the issue of using more of the reserves, Pritam Singh is an artful dodger who fudges around  


The entire point of seeking clarification is that one party will ask the questions while the other attempts to answer them. Wrapping up the Budget 2024 debate, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Lawrence Wong fulfilled his side of the bargain. And yet, when the time came for Leader of the Opposition (LO) Pritam Singh to clarify the Workers Party fiscal position, Singaporeans were left none the wiser as Mr Singh attempted to shapeshift and wriggle out of making any sort of commitment. 

“Would you say that the proposals to use more of the reserves by a higher share of NIRC are therefore no longer relevant, and the Workers Party is fully consistent with the PAP when it comes to our framework and rules for the use of the reserves?” DPM Wong asked Mr Singh.  

It is a straightforward question. For the PAP, the principles of fiscal prudence are stubbornly clear and put in place by our founding fathers. But what about the WP? Are they all about raiding the reserves like the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), or perhaps a more moderate approach that aligns with the PAP? One would assume that WP supporters or even swing voters would like an answer. Unfortunately, this is one of those season finales that ends with a cliff-hanger, only for the series to be permanently cancelled. In short, LO Pritam Singh dodges the question.  

“We have no insight on those sorts of matters. So, I cannot make any promises here,” replied Mr Singh. Spoken just like a petulant child, the LO proceeded to justify the reason behind his wishy-washy approach. And it is shocking. “We are not in government,” shrugged Mr Singh.  

Now, any formidable opposition would be fighting tooth and nail to show the electorate their ability to cut through the figures and present a stand on fiscal matters. Clearly, that is not happening with this new generation of WP leaders. Perhaps collectively, they have an aversion to budgets and spreadsheets. But it is more likely that they are simply setting the stage to flip-flop on their position somewhere down the line. Like the key debate on the abolition of S377A two years ago, the WP (still) has no clear position. 

Subsequently, DPM brought up former WP leader Mr Low Thia Khiang to prove a point. Back then, it was very clear that the ethos of fiscal responsibility was the same across both sides of the house, said Mr Wong. “It seemed to me that this had changed under Mr Pritam Singh.” 

Indeed, it has. That is because while the WP under Mr Pritam Singh has enlarged its presence in Parliament, it has lost its way with regard to who it represents and what it stands for. Instead, the WP have often indulged in a half-in, half-out approach on numerous issues, turning sitting on a fence into an art form. The use of a greater share (or not) of the NIRC is one. Their deliberate ambiguity on the Hamas-Israel conflict is another.  

By Parliament standards, the exchange between DPM Wong and the LO Pritam Singh was brief. However, it highlights fundamental differences between the two parties. For the PAP, fiscal responsibility, ensuring we save enough of our reserves for future generations, is practically non-negotiable. Meanwhile, for the WP, it would seem like anything goes under the leadership of Pritam Singh. Maybe they have a different approach to how Singapore should best use their reserves, or maybe they don’t. The thing is, nobody will know unless WP leaders have the backbone to make their stance clear. 

Just as how Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong challenged political parties with differing views on the reserves to the issue to the ballot box, DPM Wong has echoed the same sentiment during this Budget debate. “The PAP will join issue with you, we will present our case to Singaporeans, and ultimately, Singaporeans can decide what is the best fiscal approach to take Singapore forward.”  

After all, as the rightful owners of the reserves, Singaporeans ought to have a say in how they want to use it. Of course, there is a caveat to this. For Singaporeans to make a choice, the Opposition, in particular WP, must demonstrate an ability to grasp the numbers. Or, at the very least, have a plan on how they intend to use this precious resource to guide Singapore into the future. Not quite unexpectedly, LO Pritam Singh’s silence remains deafening. 

Photo Source: Singapore Parliament/ MCI via YouTube