Higher bills for foreigners

  • ASEAN+
  • Tuesday, 05 Dec 2006

FOREIGNERS in Singapore will pay more for education and health care as the government puts a priority on its own citizens, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in remarks published yesterday.  

Lee also defended a planned increase in the consumption tax, saying the extra revenues would go mainly towards helping lower-income families in one of Asia's wealthiest economies. 

“We have to treat visitors well, too, but citizens have to be treated better,” Lee was quoted as saying in The Straits Times. 

“Citizens come first in our priorities, in our thinking,” said Lee, speaking at the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) convention on Sunday. 

Official statistics say Singapore had a population of 4.4 million last year, but 18% of those were foreign workers who filled a wide range of jobs, from white collar to construction work. 

The Straits Times gave no specifics on the increased education and health costs, but said overseas students already paid 10% more for university and polytechnic studies. 

For health care, permanent residents would pay more, and foreign workers would pay the full cost. Their employers would need to protect them with medical insurance, the report said. 

While costs were going up for foreigners, Lee said Singapore's lower-income citizens would receive “far more” in terms of social programmes and assistance from the government than what they paid, as a result of a planned increase in the goods and services tax (GST). 

Lee, the PAP secretary-general, admitted the planned GST increase to 7% next year from 5% was unpopular. But he said it was the right move to help the needy. 

“We have to take the tough decisions,” Lee, 54, said. 

“Better be up front with Singaporeans, speak long-term, move now, prepare for the future and put in place a system, build up our resources, our ammunition, so that when something unexpected happens, we will be able to respond quickly,” he said. 

Lee was quoted as saying a major reason for the GST increase was to fund a “workfare” programme in which the government would supplement the incomes of lower-paid workers. 

He said workfare would become “the fourth pillar” of the city-state's social safety net. 

Earlier this year, Singapore unveiled a one-time S$2.6bil (RM6bil) package of cash and other assistance for low-wage earners and the elderly. – AFP  

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