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Higher taxes for the rich, mandatory preschool attendance among MPs’ proposals to close gaps in society

SINGAPORE — Higher taxes on the rich for their cars and property were among some suggestions proposed by Members of Parliament (MPs) to protect meritocracy and level the playing field in Singapore for people to achieve their goals.

Higher taxes for the rich, mandatory preschool attendance among MPs’ proposals to close gaps in society
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  • MPs began debating President Halimah Yacob’s speech in Parliament on April 17
  • They proposed several ways that Singapore could protect meritocracy and level the playing field for the lower-income
  • Among these were higher taxes on the rich, such as taxing luxury cars or inherited residential homes
  • Others suggested a through-train option from Primary 1 to Secondary 4 so that children may explore their interests instead of studying for major national exams
  • For low-income workers, they also said to introduce unemployment support linked to training and job search for those forced to leave their jobs

SINGAPORE — Higher taxes on the rich for their cars and property were among some suggestions proposed by Members of Parliament (MPs) to protect meritocracy and level the playing field in Singapore for people to achieve their goals.

The suggestions were raised on Monday (April 17) during a debate on President Halimah Yacob's speech, which was delivered at the reopening of Parliament last week.

Among the priorities she had raised for the Government were improving social safety nets for Singaporeans, as well as refreshing the nation’s social compact in a way that will allow Singaporeans to relate to and support one another.

Twelve MPs, one Nominated MP and two political office holders spoke on how Singapore could redefine the concept of meritocracy to go beyond grades and provide better social support to vulnerable communities in Singapore during the 4.5-hour debate in Parliament. It will continue on Tuesday.

During the debate, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong spoke on the Government’s key plans to create a new “social compact”, including new initiatives to provide stronger social support and skills training for workers.

Mr Wong, who is also the Finance Minister, said that the Government is considering ways to “tilt the scales and narrow the wage gap across professions”.

“It is not enough to say we will celebrate a variety of professions. Our economic structures, remuneration and career prospects in various professions must also be consistent with what we value.”


Several parliamentarians, including Mr Murali Pillai, MP for Bukit Batok, and Mr Gerald Giam, MP for Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC), spoke of the need to ensure that people who are less well-off continue to have access to educational opportunities.

Mr Murali agreed with President Halimah’s call to provide more resources to children who start out with less.

He noted that the Government is already helping low-income children living in rental flats such as through subsidies for kindergarten programmes.

He suggested that social service agencies also run study centres for children near rental flats so that students who are living in overcrowded flats will have a more conducive environment for studies after school.

Mr Vikram Nair, MP for Sembawang GRC, suggested making preschool compulsory for all children. 

He said that with most children having preschool education, the benchmark for basic literacy and numeracy skills has risen for children attending Primary 1.

This means that children who do not attend preschool, which tend to be from the lower-income families, will end up starting primary school at a disadvantage.

Mr Giam, a Workers’ Party (WP) MP, said that having to sit for national exams such as the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) can induce “tremendous amounts of stress” on students and result in them forgoing opportunities to experience the joy of learning.

He proposed offering a through-train education programme running from Primary 1 to Secondary 4 to any parent who wants their children to bypass the PSLE. 

By having 10 years to prepare for their first major exam, students will be able to learn at a pace best-suited for them, while developing other areas of interest, Mr Giam added.


Some other MPs were concerned about Singapore’s meritocratic ideals being eroded as a result of inherited wealth, where wealth accumulated in one generation is passed down to the younger generation, giving the beneficiaries a leg-up in opportunities. 

On this, Nominated MP Raj Joshua Thomas suggested imposing a tax on inherited residential property worth more than S$5 million, based on a percentage of the property’s value.

The proportion taxed should be higher for more expensive properties, going up to 25 per cent for Singaporeans and 35 per cent for foreigners, broadly in line with current Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty rates for purchase of private properties, he said.

Mr Raj Joshua said that inherited residential property should be taxed because such property should be treated as a form of income received by the beneficiary and be taxed like all other forms of income. 

Mr Seah Kian Peng, MP for Marine Parade GRC, suggested that the Government tax the rich in specific expenditures such as super cars, country club transfer fees and Good Class Bungalows. 

For example, there could be a separate category of the Certificate of Entitlement for cars costing more than S$1 million, so that the state may benefit from the demand for luxury cars, he proposed. 


On broadening social support and levelling the playing field for Singaporeans who are not born into wealth, Mr Seah suggested looking at expanding educational spending or resourcing, for the 60 per cent of "each cohort" who do not have access to state resources in the form of a higher education. 

This can be done through continuous training, certification of assessed learning, or even non-academic opportunities in the arts and sports, as well as access to community service and overseas exposure. This may include having the SkillsFuture Credit framework as part of a curriculum with added resources for this 60 per cent group, to provide higher and lifelong education for all.

Associate Professor Jamus Lim, WP MP for Sengkang GRC, said that more can be done to support the poor.

He suggested having an "official poverty line" established, based on components that go beyond the basic needs of housing, food and clothing. 

With a poverty line determined, government assistance such as ComCare will then be able to adjust its thresholds accordingly to help poor families get the assistance they need.

This also means that a refined system has to be put in place to reduce the need for "burdensome and intrusive" pre-approval scrutiny.

Mr Desmond Choo, MP for Tampines GRC, highlighted the importance of improving social safety nets in two other areas.

The first is to get employers to allow workers to reskill while being gainfully employed, through an increase in funding for absentee payroll to an overall S$100,000 annual cap.

The second is to introduce unemployment support linked to training and job search for workers who were involuntarily forced to leave their jobs. 


In reference to President Halimah's speech on mutual respect between politicians, Mr Murali stressed the need for "constructive politics" in parliamentary proceedings and for the House to not be interested in merely "sounding good".

Parliamentary proceedings should not be turned into arenas for "entertainment" that is often seen elsewhere, because it will erode the people's trust and confidence in their elected representatives, he added.

Mr Wong, his speech earlier, touched on this aspect when he spoke on the Opposition's stance towards proposals such as the increase in the Goods and Services Tax, which WP did not support. He said that he looked forward to hearing "concrete alternatives from the Opposition and not just opportunistic or populist ideas". 

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tax preschool low-income meritocracy

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