Sunday, 28 October 2012

Revolt of the single taxpayer

Oct 28, 2012

Even as my tax dollars help support today's poor, I'm not assured of help when I'm old

By Chua Mui Hoong Opinion Editor

Like others seized by the ongoing conversation on Singapore's future, I've been ruminating on the kind of society I want to live in.

But rather than think of ideals and values, an exercise I consider unproductive (would anyone not want a kinder, gentler, happier, more gracious, more equal Singapore?), I prefer to contemplate the kind of political system I want, and the tax and benefits system I desire. I'll leave politics for a later date and focus on taxes today.

Many of us project our wants and desires of today into the future. We forget one thing: In 2032, we will be 20 years older. And as we age, our needs and desires change.

At 44, I favour a society with sufficient buzz with pockets of serenity. I want the economy to go for growth now while we can. I like Singapore's pro-business, open, competitive stance, because these translate into a good job with good pay, and a relatively low tax regime.

If you ask me today, whether I would support higher income tax rates, I would say "no", because I am a taxpayer and because the country's fiscal position remains strong.

In 2032, when I'm 64, I would want a quieter city, of slower growth, with low cost of living. I would likely support higher taxes, because I won't be paying taxes, but want high taxes to fund benefits I can draw from.

The distinction between what you want today and what you want in 20 years' time is too often overlooked in the national conversation.

And yet it can make all the difference in policy.

If you asked me: "Are you in favour of paying higher taxes?" I would say "no".

If you reframed the question: "It is Singapore in 2032. Are you in favour of paying high taxes?" I would say "yes", in secret hopes that I would be retired by then.

Also overlooked is the potential rift between the generations.

Those born in the 1980s are growing up in an era of very low personal income tax rates, and rising social benefits like Workfare and housing grants. Corporate tax is now 17 per cent; and the top personal income tax rate is 20 per cent. They used to be around 40 per cent in the 1980s.

If we mend the social safety net well, they are likely to retire in 2040 with better pension and health-care benefits than today's old.

Friday, 19 October 2012


Oct 18, 2012

Top wish: Being free from pain

People also prefer to die at home than to prolong life for another year

By salma khalik health correspondent

A SURVEY of more than 500 people here has found that they value being able to die at home more than an extra year of life.

But right at the top of their list is being free from pain, the findings of a survey by the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School and Lien Centre for Palliative Care showed.

They were willing to pay $24,000 a year to relieve severe pain, but only $9,100 to prolong life for another 12 months.

In presenting the findings at a Lien Centre for Palliative Care conference yesterday, Dr Chetna Malhotra, an assistant professor at the centre, said what people value has implications on where government subsidies should go.

She asked: "Does it make sense for the Government to pay for expensive therapies to extend life?"

Sunday, 7 October 2012

What Bhutan can Teach Singapore

Oct 05, 2012

Let's talk about identity and values

By ang peng hwa for the straits times

I FIRST read in the news - when I was in Bhutan - that Singapore was going to have a "National Conversation" among ourselves to chart the future of our country.

I had been in Bhutan for a few days on a media policy project and had been given readings and briefings about the meaning of its Gross National Happiness (GNH). I had two immediate reactions: "Now we're talking" and "about time".

You see, in the course of uncovering the dimensions of Gross National Happiness, I learnt that GNH was not about replacing GNP and, despite its title, was not about happiness.

Instead, GNH is intended as a concept or philosophy to distinguish the Bhutanese from the Indians to their west and south and from the Chinese to the east and north.

As a small country of about 700,000 people - the size of three of our largest HDB estates - Bhutan can be easily subsumed by one of its two giant neighbours. It therefore needed an identity distinct from them. Hence Gross National Happiness.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

New flat prices: Getting it right

Oct 2, 2012

By Colin Tan

The fuss over public housing just cannot seem to go away.

For one, people have been alarmed at the dramatic rise in the cost of public housing in recent years. Since HDB resale prices hit the trough in 3Q 2005, the resale price index has risen by 95.5% over the past seven years.

While statistics are not available on new flat prices, it is safe to say new flat prices have also risen significantly - if not by the same quantum - as they were closely pegged to resale flat prices until about a year and a half ago.

Rapid and sharp increases in prices are not just obstacles to new households but to all potential upgraders and future households.

Hence, we can understand the deep concerns held by many over the high prices for public housing flats.

More recently, the sector has drawn a lot of publicity from the sale of the first public housing flat for a million dollars.

If you have been monitoring the HDB resale market, you will know that for several months now, the market has been continually testing this benchmark but has not been able to breach this one million dollar mark until recently.

As rightly pointed by some, these high prices are the exceptions for “special” flats rather than the norm.