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Govt 'will look out for asset-rich, cash-poor'

Fairer tax regime, help schemes for sandwiched elderly: Lawrence Wong
The Straits Times - November 18, 2013
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Govt 'will look out for asset-rich, cash-poor'

The Government's move towards a more progressive tax system will help address the concerns of asset-rich, cash-poor older Singaporeans, Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

In designing its tax system, the Government is "very mindful of this particular group of sandwiched Singaporeans", he said in response to concerns raised by residents of Joo Chiat in a dialogue.

For instance, it has moved away from using Housing Board flat type as the qualifying criteria for Budget surplus sharing schemes, he said.

These schemes now use the annual value of property, which Mr Wong said is a "fairer system" because owners of lower-end private property can also benefit.

Many of the Joo Chiat residents at yesterday's dialogue, which was held at the end of Mr Wong's visit to the single-member constituency, were retirees living in private property.

Three of them were unhappy that although they had little or no income, they or family members could not qualify for the Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas), which subsidises care at private general practitioner clinics.

Others were worried about large hospital bills.

Opera Estate Neighbourhood Committee chairman Chris Chen, 70, said he had to pay a hefty property tax for his home, which he bought when it cost "less than the cost of buying a car today".

Mr Wong said the Government's challenge is how to design a progressive tax system that is fair and just, even while looking after people like Mr Chen.

"We do need to find ways in which we can continue to generate more resources in a sustainable fashion, in a fair and just way that will allow us to redistribute these resources to those in need."

Elaborating on the Government's thinking, Mr Wong said it is fair for "those with means" to pay more taxes, defining "means" in two ways: income and wealth.

"Those with more income ought to pay more, I think that's fair. Those with more wealth, wealth in terms of assets, ought to pay a bit more than those with less," he said.

The Government is already committed to spending more in areas like health care. It also draws on the Net Investment Returns of the reserves to fund its spending, he added.

But it also wants to avoid the plight of some European countries, where future generations will have to foot the bill for current debts.

On residents' health-care concerns, Mr Wong said those who do not qualify for Chas can appeal to the Health Ministry or look to other social assistance measures like ComCare, which comes with "very flexible" criteria.

On whether Singaporeans, especially those from the higher-income group, can expect to pay more taxes in future, Mr Wong told reporters no immediate tax increases are expected. The Government is "trying to do the best we can" with what it has today.

But, he added: "Eventually, if we continue to spend more, then we must find ways in which we can cover this future spending with additional revenues."

Reiterating a point he made in the dialogue, which had "A Caring Community" as its theme, Mr Wong called on citizens to also think of how they can help one another - in true kampung spirit.

"Then we will have more balanced responsibilities between the Government and community, all doing our part to help the vulnerable segments of society."


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