Lawyer and newly appointed Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong recently did an interview with Channel NewsAsia. The issues discussed ranged from the marathon City Harvest trial, in which he was the defending lawyer for the CHC leadership, to the imminent GST hike that was announced in Budget 2018.
On the Opposition
Minister Edwin Tong unapologetically expressed his support for the GST hike and went further to criticise the opposition for their “lack of constructiveness”
“Once we get into a situation where the opposition only takes potshots at policies without being constructive and offering something back in return, then I think if the ministers and the front benchers have to spend their time defending their positions without getting something positive in return, I’m not sure that’s constructive.”
“The Government said the Goods and Services Tax (GST) needs to be raised. It gives indication that it won’t happen in this decade, but soon. The opposition then votes against the Budget on that basis. I listened to their speeches. I didn’t discern any other major objections.
On GST vouchers and social assistance for low income families
Minister Edwin Tong also offered his take on the recent slew of Government initiatives to offset the GST and water price hike. This included the recent GST Vouchers, U-Save rebates, the Silver Support Scheme and other policies to assist poor and working class families. Without providing any concrete evidence, he cited the experience of Western Democracies and asserted that social welfare threatens to “erode the competency of the workforce”. He went on to assert that such social transfers constitute a “slippery slope” and an overreaction to ground sentiments.
“I’ve seen the experiences of the Western countries where the more you give, the more one asks and I think that’s really the start of the erosion of the work ethic that Singaporeans have. Once we start giving, we can’t scale back. You look at our country. We have nothing but our people. If we erode the competency of the workforce and we introduce a policy that undermines the work ethic, I think that’s going to be a big problem for us as a country.”
On a possible sugar tax
Minister Edwin Tong also hinted at the possibility of a “sugar tax” being introduced sometime in the future.
“You see how now some countries have sugar taxes. So you actually do try to find a way to control lifestyle because I think people realise that with social spending and the social costs of looking after people and healthcare, there must be a sense of responsibility.”
Edwin Tong’s annual salary
As the Senior Minister of State for Law and Health, Edwin Tong paid an estimated $935,000 annually, excluding bonuses. This figure has been in effect for all Senior Ministers of State since 2011. This would put Minister Edwin Tong in the top 0.5% of income earners in Singapore. As a former practicing lawyer with Allen & Gledhil, he also earned generous legal fees from past criminal and civil cases. So while Edwin Tong preaches about the supposed dangers of social transfers for poor and working class families, it appears that he is a benefactor of the current regime, being handsomely compensated for his ministerial job at taxpayers’ expense.