On 19 February, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat confirmed that the GST will be increased. The tax will be raised from 7% to 9% at some point between 2021 and 2025.
My parents were watching the news with me. “Don’t anyhow spend money now,” said my mum to vigorous head-shaking. Then I went online – the public’s reaction to the news was more heated. “Cut the ministers’ salary lah!” read one of the gentler comments.
It’s the same anger from when they raised the price of water and transport fares back in 2015. I’m not interested in being a government apologist, plus I don’t honestly know enough to have that kind of debate.
Instead, what I can offer are two handles that might help us respond better – rather than simply reacting.
1. Evaluate fairly
It’s easy to focus on the negatives. It’s easy to be negative.
Instead of just passing crude remarks about the hike and the government, we would do well to have an objective look at the official reasons for the increase in GST.
Whether we agree or disagree, we need to evaluate how we’ll respond. Am I writing up an emotional reaction, or am I offering a civilised and reasoned view of things?
Honestly, I really don’t like the fact that I’ll have to deal with increased expenditure. But though it feels bad personally, I know I have to separate my personal agenda from the national one.
2. Take action
The GST increase will only occur sometime between 2021 to 2025. That means we have at least 3 years to plan for life under the new tax rate.
It’s true that lower-income households will be the hardest-hit because of the increase costs of basic necessities. And going by the comments, Singaporeans are certainly championing their cause.
I don’t want to be cynical, but we need to ask if we are only being altruistic for our personal agenda. If we’re truly concerned for the marginalised, let’s form concrete action plans to help them.
One way we can do so is through Giving.sg. That’s a portal to help you help others. For instance, you can serve as a volunteer, donate to a specific cause or even start a fundraising campaign!
Other methods include influencing the policymaking process by participating in dialogues such as Our Singapore Conversation (OSC). It’s a part of the REACH initiative the government has set up for citizens to participate in conversations about national policies and issues. Likewise, we can express our opinions about Budget 2018 here.
Whenever it comes to money, things always get a bit feisty.
It’s found in instances in the Bible too. Immediately after that famous exhortation to submit to one’s authorities, Paul writes, “Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honour to those who are in authority.” (Romans 13: 6-7)
Before we raise our pitchforks, let’s study the verses in context. Reading Romans as a whole, we can identify how man fails to uphold righteousness (Romans 1-3), and that we have imbued righteousness through faith in Christ (Romans 3-5). Empowered by the Spirit, we’re supposed to reflect God’s righteousness to the world (Romans 6-8).
Part of this righteousness includes serving the body of Christ with what we’ve been given and building each other up. This is spiritual worship for us, and it includes submission to our authorities (Romans 12-13) as long as they don’t cause us to disobey God.
Paul uses the words “living sacrifice”. Think about that. I suspect it has to do with the fact that we must die to ourselves in order to obey God (Romans 12:1)!
I think submitting to the Roman empire was the last thing early Christians had in mind. State persecution was brutal – Christians were even fed to lions for sport!
But Paul somehow makes this appeal for submission despite their political situation. He does this in light of the mercies they’ve all received from Christ.
How then shall we live? How do we conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the life we have been called to (Romans 12:1)? There’s no hiding the fact that the tax will have a significant impact on many Singaporeans.
But I see another chance to live our lives righteously in light of God’s mercies for us. Let’s adopt the correct posture – regardless of what our stance on the issue is – because our attitude to our leaders is an extension of our attitude towards God (Romans 13:1-3).
May we always present our lives as a pleasing sacrifice unto Him. May we always present Christ to the watching world.