I follow the prime minister's wife, Ho Ching, on Facebook because, you know, yolo.
She mostly shares such quirky items like an article on why Winnie is called a Pooh and a video of JJ Lin with Chen Tianwen.
Then yesterday morning, she posted this:
This is surprising because she usually just shares links without comment. This looked like something she actually typed out herself.
Still, with an opening like "Ever wondered how SG remains a top rated triple-A credit country?", it could easily pass off as another one of those interesting informative articles she shares so often.
But knowing that she's the CEO of Temasek Holdings, you realise she's providing a rare insider perspective on how Singapore manages its reserves.
Wait a minute.
Is she not-so-subtly campaigning for PAP by going on and on about what a good job her husband's PAP Government is doing in managing the country's money?
It's subtle because she doesn't mention PAP or her husband at all.
It's not so subtle because we all know who her husband is. It ain't Donald Trump.
This is out of character for her because she has generally avoided posting anything political on Facebook even though she has shared some PAP stuff, more so in recent days because of the election.
But her timeline is still pretty much filled with Brain Pickings and lots of nature photography.
Then last night, she did it again.
She posted this:
Yup, she's talking about what a good job the Government is doing with the country's money:
Has anyone looked at the shape of the SG budget over the years?
MOF has published the SG budget numbers on its website since FY1997.
I have summarised the broad % of the Singov budget shape below, averaged over three periods:
Sources of Singov inflows and outflows as % of GDP:
Financial Year (FY) 97-99
Operating Revenue 20
Total Expenditure 17
Primary Budget surplus 3
Financial Year (FY) 00-08
Operating Revenue 15
Total Expenditure 15
Primary Budget surplus 0
Financial Year (FY) 09-14
Operating Revenue 15
Total Expenditure 14
Primary Budget surplus 1
Operating revenue includes taxes as well as fees and charges like the vehicle quota premiums.
Total Expenditure covers all government expenses from defence to education, from social services to healthcare, including operating as well as development expenses such as building of schools or hospitals.
As we can see, Singov’s operating revenues went from 20% of GDP before FY2000, to around 15% of GDP the last 15 years or so. This was a major change.
MOF detailed budget data also shows tax revenues including GST going from around 15% of GDP in the late 1990s, to around 12-14% since FY2002.
Government expenditure has been kept tight, in the 12-15% range since FY2004.
Both government revenues and expenditures have grown in actual dollars over the years – they have come down as a percentage of GDP partly because Singapore’s GDP has grown steadily and faster.
In contrast, OECD economies have an average tax burden over 30% (not counting other fees and charges), double the rate for SG. Some Scandinavian countries like Denmark, have high tax burdens of almost 50%. Even Norway with its sovereign wealth fund from oil & gas, the largest in the world, has a tax burden of over 40%.
Others like the USA do not have just federal tax burden, but also state and municipal taxes on top. US government expenditure is over 40% of GDP. Even Hong Kong, without any expenses on defence, has government expenditure of over 18% of GDP in recent years.
Looks like Singov is a pretty lean government with a much lighter tax burden than most other developed economies, no?
And in case you are wondering about the last row of data called Primary Budget surpluses (or deficit in case of a negative number), yes, you would be right. The 3% average annual budget surpluses for the three years before FY2000 were pretty much what went into the government reserves, as the special transfers and top ups for those years were not as substantial as the post FY2000 periods.
I mentioned in an earlier post this morning that the returns from investments used for Singov budget last year amounted to S$8.6 billion. This helped to fund the S$8 billion put aside for the Pioneer Generation package to provide healthcare subsidies for our Pioneer Generation for the rest of their lives. Judging from the surpluses accumulated before FY2000, I think it is quite fitting that a good part of the returns generated from past surpluses, is being used to fund our Pioneers in their retirement years.
Going forward, if we are to maintain a competitive tax structure (as we must), we will not likely see such large government surpluses. So the rate of accumulation of reserves would be slower. Hmmmmm …..
If we don’t want to see higher tax burdens, we should not be careless or wasteful in our spending: as important for government as for all of us as a people.
For the teams in GIC, MAS and Temasek, and perhaps for Team Singapore as a whole too, the load on the shoulders may seem a bit heavier to ensure that we continue to deliver for the long term, with discipline and integrity.
Meanwhile, have a very goodnite, everyone!
As Hossan Leong would say, double confirm!
The PM's wife is not-so-subtly campaigning for PAP on Facebook.
The profile photo is also a bit of a giveaway.