For a good few years now, the PAP government has tried to shed its image of being patronising, calculative, too business-like and money oriented. They seemed to heed the thoughts of a lot of Singaporeans that; what’s the point of having a lot of savings if we don’t spend at least some of it. In the past, they frowned upon anything that had the semblance of welfarism. Now, they seemed to loosen up a little on the purse string. The most recent being the Pioneer package. And of course we have the yearly GST rebates and the various safety nets that the government has in place. Some may argue that more can be done, but it is a good start. And so the image of the PAP government as the tight-fisted, money-minded behemoth is slowly changing into a more gentile and caring creature.
Then came the Causeway toll issue. The government just announced that as of 1st October, they will increase the toll of all vehicles except motorcycles crossing the causeway. Why? Because the Malaysians increased the toll on their side, and as a long-standing policy, Singapore would have to match it. And this is where many Singaporeans are puzzled. What has the Malaysian toll rate got to do with Singapore? Why must we match it? Why don’t we match the Malaysian road tax rate then? The explanation by Minister Josephine Yeo does not help. And so the allegations that the government is just trying to milk more money from the people start to surface and the old image of the Pay-And-Pay government returns. And what’s worse is that the new toll rate has proved unpopular across the political divide.
We agree that the government must have the marbles to institute unpopular policies if they are good for the country. But the toll hike is certainly not one of them. The disadvantages of the toll hike far outweigh whatever advantages that can be garnered through it. There will be inflationary pressure on goods, especially food items imported from Malaysia. There will be an increase in business costs especially for SMEs. There will be an increase in transportation cost to people who commute between the two countries regularly. There is a reason why a lot of Singaporeans cross the causeway regularly. Firstly, is to get away from the hustle and bustle of Singapore. Secondly is to take advantage of the cheaper prices. These are things that the government should encourage rather than discourage. After all, let’s face it, going across the causeway for a weekend getaway is very de-stressing. And then there are many Singaporeans who have either bought houses in JB or staying in JB but still working in Singapore and have to commute daily between the two cities. We might argue that they formed a small proportion of the population but they are the electorate and when the time comes, their votes matter.
The government can try to explain the rationale behind the toll hikes. But as it stands now, most Singaporeans are seeing them as mere excuses for the government to make more money. And this has somewhat tarnished whatever image make-over that the PAP government is trying to achieve.
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