Budget Day is tomorrow, 18th Feb (auspicious number huh). I think The Straits Times has been unnecessarily hyping up the expectations of the Budget, with its daily speculations on what the Budget would offer, and what people desire. Furthermore, tomorrow’s Budget would be an ‘election budget’. People are anticipating freebies e.g. cash handouts. Every incumbent govt in the world does this, by distributing freebies to the electorate before an impending election. But the impact on electoral results has been mixed – look at 2006, despite the PAP government giving out the ‘Progress Package’, there was no net gain or loss from both the PAP and opposition sides. Hence, while I think the PAP govt would continue to be the God of Fortune, their gifts have limited impact.
What is exactly a Budget? How is it created? I mean, what does it serve? To answer this question, let’s go back to the basics of what a govt should do. In my point of view, like quite simple:
1) Ensure food, water, sanitation
2) Provide access to shelter
3) Provide physical security e.g. police and army
4) Gives education opportunities
5) Creates employment opportunities
6) Affordable healthcare
Of course there are other functions, but these are the BASICS. Some psychologist (Maslow right?) claims a person has several levels of needs. At the most essential level is food and water, duh. Next is security and safety, which can be provided by having a home and the presence of a strong police and army. Following that, people want to have sex and start families, so they have to be healthy and educated to find employment to provide for their children, and the govt should of course help to create employment opportunities, whether by pump-priming or pushing the private sector.
Simple what. Very difficult meh.
Translating into what I think ought to be the Budget’s priorities:
1) Food: inflation has caused food prices to increase. Veggies and meat are getting expensive. My personal ‘cai fan’ index has increased, so, yeah, to keep food affordable, inflation has to be tackled. How? That is the hottest question.
2) Shelter: HDB resale price index has been rocketing since 2006. If it continues, Singapore will truly be a First World country, but not on Earth. In Mars or Neptune or Jupiter maybe. The govt has to bring the index down AND provide affordable new homes for people.
3) Physical security: I think Singapore quite safe. Malaysia won’t invade us with our strong military deterrence. At least we’re doing a good job on this count.
4) Education opportunities: Good work so far, but I’m unhappy school fees have been raised. No wonder SDP called for school fees to be frozen for 5 years… The govt should be more sensitive about pricing and cost issues, especially with regards to pre-school education, as many couples KPKB they can’t make babies because of the high costs of pre-school.
5) Employment: The govt has been facing flak on immigration and ‘foreign talent’ problems, because they are perceived to be competing for jobs. Actually ah, the problem might not be so huge. What I suspect is more problematic, is ‘structural unemployment’. One fine day many factories will shift to China and Vietnam, so alot of folks who are old and uneducated will be unemployed. Yeah la, go for retraining, but also limited impact. The govt has to do something for this huge group of S’poreans who like stuck in these low wage jobs with little future, while their counterparts at the other end keep getting richer. It doesn’t matter if someone works as a cleaner, but if that cleaner sees his pay decreasing or he is unable to afford the most basic stuff in life, then it is a tragedy. With income inequality growing in S’pore, it won’t be long before we have an underclass. And the govt must solve it, of course, by narrowing the gap.
6) Healthcare: Being healthy and strong can make alot babies, lol. Healthcare costs have been rising. Face it lah, it will never go down unless we become immortals. And S’pore has an ageing population. What the govt should do is contain the costs as long as possible, while ensuring no one lacks access to healthcare. Sounds easy, but it’s a damn tough job.
If the govt can’t get the basics right…then I also nothing to say. Back to work for me.