The People’s Action Party (PAP) government in Singapore keeps masquerading to Singaporeans that tax is low in Singapore.
I will show you in this article that this is not true. Tax is low, sure, but it is not, for you.
Indeed, the personal income tax that Singaporeans pay on a per capita basis is low – it is one of the lowest among the highest-income countries.
However, what the PAP does not tell you is that Singaporeans pay much higher indirect taxes and high social contribution rates.
In fact, Singaporeans pay more than 4 times higher indirect tax than personal income tax. Where other high-income countries pay about the same amount of indirect tax as personal income tax, Singaporeans actually pay more than 4 times more.
Not only that, Singaporeans also pay more than 3 times higher social security into the Central Provident Fund (CPF) than personal income tax. Again, where other high-income countries pay much lesser into social security or on average, about the same as personal income tax, Singaporeans are made to pay more than 3 times more.
In total, Singaporeans thus actually have to pay nearly 8 times more into indirect tax and social security than personal income tax. This is when other high-income countries only pay an average of about twice as much or at most four times as much than personal income tax.
So, you see, it is not true that Singaporeans pay low taxes. The income tax rate is low but what Singaporeans have to pay into indirect tax and social security is nearly 8 times more, which is a lot. Aside, there is the debate about whether the CPF is a tax. I will discuss this later in this article.
Now, the PAP keeps saying that personal income tax is low and thus Singaporeans should be grateful. But this is how the PAP is trying to trick you. Personal income tax is low but it is not for you. Only a very small and select group of people benefit from the low personal income tax – the rich.
Indeed, Singapore’s top personal income tax rate is the lowest among the developed countries – 20%.
But do you know even the highest income earners in Singapore do not have to pay the top rate of 20%? In fact, for someone who earns US$300,000 a year in Singapore, he or she only need to pay 14.1% – which is much lower than what a similar income earner in the other developed countries have to pay, and is also the lowest among the developed countries.
Not only that, when compared to the top tax rate of 20%, a US$300,000 earner in Singapore only needs to pay 70.5% of the top tax rate. This is the lowest proportion among the highest-income countries, where a similar income earner would have to pay an income tax of about 90% of the top tax rate. In other words, high-income earners get to get away with it, more than the other developed countries.
So, you see, personal income tax rate is low, sure. But it is not for you. It is only for the very rich. Not only is personal income tax low for them, it is the lowest among the developed countries.
But when you include how much the highest-income earners pay into social security, the gap becomes even more glaring.
A US$300,000 earner only have to pay 22.1% in income tax and social security – again, the lowest among the developed countries.
Not only do the rich in Singapore pay the lowest personal income tax among the developed countries, they also pay the lowest combined income tax and social security. Very good life. And by the way, the PAP ministers and members of parliament are among the richest in Singapore, so they get to pay low income tax and social security as well. They were also the ones who passed the law to reduce tax for themselves.
But wait a minute, you might ask – it can’t be that bad for the ordinary Singapore, can it?
Sorry to burst your bubble, but it is bad.
When you look at the median income earner, he/she pays a personal income tax rate of about 2.5%. But he/she has to pay 37% into CPF, which makes up a total of 39.5% that the median income Singaporean has to pay.
This is much higher than what a US$100,000 earner needs to pay – only a total of 31.1%. And for a US$300,000 earner, he/she only needs to pay 22.1%.
In fact, what a median income Singaporean have to pay into tax and CPF is twice as high as what the Singapore prime minister have to pay. The Singapore prime minister only needs to pay a total of 19.4% into income tax and CPF but a median income Singaporean has to pay 39.5%!
Doesn’t it shock you that someone as rich as the prime minister only needs to pay less than one fifth of his salary but the average Singaporean has to pay nearly 40%?
And so, the prime minister has a much higher purchasing power than the ordinary Singaporean. He still has more than 80% of this income at his disposal but an average Singaporean would only have 60.5% of his/her income left – this is more than 20% lower than the prime minister!
So, the prime minister more than 80% of his income left to buy whatever he wants but an average Singaporean only just scrapes above 60%. Does the prime minister need so much money?
But this is not even it. Look at the next chart.
When you compare how much purchasing power the prime minister and an ordinary Singapore have in dollars terms, your jaw would drop.
So, the difference of 60.5% and 80.6% in purchasing power might not look like much.
But for the prime minister, this means that he has a purchasing power of a whooping nearly S$1.8 million! But for the average Singaporean, he/she would only have a purchasing power of only $29,651.
To put this into perspective for you, this means that the prime minister has a purchasing power that would take the average Singaporean nearly 60 years to have!
And for the lowest-income Singaporean who earns S$1,000 every month, he/she would have to work 170 years to go anywhere near the purchasing power that the prime minister have in just 1 year.
Does the prime minister need so much money? If the PAP keeps saying that it does not have enough money to spend for Singaporeans for our social protection, then why does it keep paying itself such high salaries? Why does it depress the wages of Singaporeans and expect Singaporeans to spend “within their means” when Singaporeans cannot even earn enough to do so, even if they want to?
Surely, the PAP ministers should earn much lower salaries so as to let ordinary Singaporeans earn more, and to give more of these public funds (that they take to pay themselves) back to Singaporeans, to pay for the basic services to protect Singaporeans? Isn’t this a basic responsibility of government officials? If they believe that they should be paid extravagantly as compared to the citizen, tthen the allegiance of these ministers only lie with themselves, doesn’t it? It is not for the people that they are working for.
Indeed, when you look at how much the PAP spends in social protection for Singaporeans, it is very embarrassing.
Of the personal income tax, indirect tax and social security that the PAP collects from individual Singaporeans, it only gives back 46% for our social protection. Not only is it low, it is also the lowest among the developed countries!
Whereas the other high-income countries would give back an average of about 80% of what they collect back to their citizens, the PAP would only give back half of that.
Where does the rest of the money go?
Not only that, there is a surplus of between $20 to $30 billion in surplus that the PAP takes from Singaporeans every year, which it does not declare to Singaporeans.
And when you include this surplus, then the PAP would only be returning 35% of what it collects from Singaporeans back for our social protection.
What happened to the other 65%?
Meanwhile, the PAP keeps claiming that there is not enough money to give back to Singaporeans to protect us in the areas of healthcare, education and retirement. But where there is still 65% of the money left from the money that we have paid into personal income tax, indirect tax and social security, where has all these money gone?
It should be returned back to Singaporeans!
Indeed, when you look at the PAP’s social protection expenditure as a percentage of GDP, it is also the lowest among the developed countries – the expenditure on social protection is only below 10% of GDP. Other high-income countries would spend between 20% to 35% to protect its citizens.
But the PAP refuses to do so.
But how much exactly does the PAP collect from Singaporeans?
Actually, it’s not a small amount, you know. When you look at how much the PAP collects from Singaporeans from personal income tax, indirect tax and social security, it is actually not that low – the 24.79% of GDP compares similarly with Ireland, Malta and Portugal.
And when you include the surplus that the PAP does not declare to Singaporeans, the revenue that the PAP obtains from Singaporeans increases to 32% of GDP, which is on par with the other high-income countries.
So, clearly, the PAP is collecting quite a lot of money – similar to the other developed countries.
The PAP might claim that personal income tax is low but when you include the other tax (indirect) and social security that Singaporeans have to pay, Singaporeans are actually paying as much as the other high-income countries.
Clearly, tax is not low in Singapore. It is just very well hidden in indirect taxes, such as GST.
Now, let’s compare how much the governments collect in revenue with how much they actually spend on social protection for their citizens.
Again, Singapore performs embarrassingly. To be specific, the PAP is embarrassing.
After spending on social protection, the PAP would still be able to earn 13.39% (of GDP) in surplus – this is the highest saving for the governments from the high-income countries.
The PAP would choose to spend the least on social protection for Singaporeans but save the most for itself.
When including the undeclared surplus, what the PAP can keep and earn for itself increases to more than 20% of GDP. This is twice as high as what the next country saves.
In other words, the PAP get to keep a lot of money, and to earn a lot of money.
But you can see that when comparing what a government should do to protect its citizens – by spending on the social protection of its citizens – the PAP fares very badly.
Instead of spend the money rightfully to protect its citizens, the PAP chooses to spend the least and save the most, to earn for itself.
Is this how a responsible government should behave? Clearly, the PAP has reneged on its responsibility. The PAP is not doing its job – it should be sacked.
Now, let’s come back to the topic of the CPF. So, the CPF is “not” a tax, the PAP likes to claim.
Is it true?
First, as you would know by now, the PAP makes Singaporeans pay the highest social contribution into the CPF in the world.
Singaporeans have to sacrifice the most of our wages into social security.
But not only that, the PAP also forces Singaporeans to accept the lowest interest rates on our CPF – the lowest among pension funds in the world.
As you would also know by now, the PAP only gives back an average of about 3% in returns back to our CPF – it is between 2.5% to 4% on the Ordinary, and Special and Medisave accounts, respectively, but to date, Singaporeans still do not know what the exact average returns on our CPF is.
So, the PAP would only give an estimated 3% back to Singaporeans on our CPF but the PAP takes our CPF and earn an estimated 6% in the GIC. Again, it is not known how much the GIC earns since inception, because the PAP would not let Singaporeans know.
Do you think this is right when the GIC is managing our CPF? Shouldn’t Singaporeans be able to know how the GIC is managing our CPF, and how it is doing?
However, the PAP refuses to let Singaporeans know. Yet, the PAP would put itself on the board of directors of the GIC – the prime minister, two deputy prime ministers, several ministers and ex-ministers sit on its board – but the PAP would claim that it does not interfere in the GIC.
Anyhow, Singaporeans are only able to earn an estimated 3% on our CPF. However, the average pension returns around the world since 2004 has averaged at 6%. In other words, Singaporeans are being shortchanged. Moreover, the GIC also earns an estimated 6%, using our CPF. There is no reason why Singaporeans cannot earn 6% on our CPF, other than the fact that the PAP does not want us to.
The interest should be returned to Singaporeans.
But for the 3% in interest that is not returned, do you know that this means that Singaporeans are losing as much as half of our CPF? Look at the purple shaded area in the chart below.
If someone currently has $300,000 inside his/her CPF after 30 years, if the interest earned is returned, the person would have accumulated $450,000 inside the CPF instead. This means that with the interest that Singaporeans are losing to the PAP, the person would have lost $150,000, or half of his/her CPF.
And where does this money go? The PAP is earning from it.
This money that is not returned to Singaporeans is known as “implicit tax”. Yes, it is a tax that the PAP is making you pay to them, without even telling you.
What the PAP has been doing is that they have been taking your money and then saying that they do not have to return it to you. That is half your CPF gone (to them). Do you think the PAP has a right to take your money and tell you to shut up and sit down?
Today, many Singaporeans are unable to retire today because the PAP has taken their money to earn and not return it.
So, here’s the first tax that you have to pay – the implicit tax.
But there’s more. You didn’t think the PAP will allow you to earn your CPF while they have none, would you?
Of the 37% CPF that you pay, 23% goes into the Ordinary Account, 6% goes into the Special Account and 8% goes into the Medisave Account.
Of the Ordinary Account, then-Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin revealed last year that 55% of that goes into paying for housing mortgage.
This means that of the 23% that goes into the Ordinary Account, 12.65% goes into paying for housing mortgages while only 10.35% remains inside the CPF.
Of the 12.65% that goes into housing mortgage, part of it is used to pay for land costs – 60%. And since the land that your flat sits on does not actually belong to you but you are still made to pay for it, this mean money that is thrown down the drain. In other words, the PAP earns from it.
And how much is this? 60% of the 12.65% means that 7.59% of the CPF that you pay into housing goes into paying for the land – this is money that the PAP gets to earn from you.
Next, of the Medisave Account, in 2013, only $799 was withdrawn for direct medical expenses. Singaporeans would have contributed anything between $8 to $10 billion from our CPF into Medisave in a year. Thus only about 8 to 10% of the Medisave contribution was used to pay for healthcare needs.
As such, we can estimate that of the 8% of your CPF paid into Medisave, only less than 1% would be withdrawn to pay for medical expenses and 7% becomes surplus for the PAP. (I have not included MediShield in this illustration because the MediShield premiums paid are negligible, so the whole MediShield Life is a “universal” healthcare scheme for Singaporeans – that doesn’t mean for much, really. But to be clear, the MediShield is also another black hole where your CPF gets slowly sucked away by the PAP.)
Thus when you factor in the 7.59% of your CPF that goes into land cost and the 7% that goes into the Medisave surplus, this is at least 14.59% of your CPF that is money thrown into a black hole – for the PAP to earn.
This means that you can see that through these mechanisms and policies that the PAP has created, they are actually able to earn close to 15% (out of 37%) of your CPF without any effort.
Yet, the PAP would keep claiming that they are making losses from the HDB flats they build – but they are earning tens and billions from the land, and the PAP would claim that it is generous with the housing subsidies – but it is earning several times more – tens of billions – by making us pay to them from our CPF.
In short, the PAP does not make any losses, lah. In fact, it is earning so much it is laughing to the bank, literally.
So, there, you see, of the 37% of your wages that you pay into the CPF, about 15% (at least) is earned by the PAP. I have not included an analysis of the other schemes which would mean that it is likely that a higher percentage of your CPF is actually being earned by the PAP.
If anything, this should make sense to you now why in spite of having to pay so much of our wages into CPF – the most in the world, Singaporeans are still not able to save enough to retire. First, the PAP earns by not returning the interest that it earns on our CPF (implicit tax) and second, by finding ways such as through HDB and Medisave to earn even more from Singaporeans.
Yeah, the PAP is a bloodthirsty vampire. Yeah, you should vote PAP out. You should sack the PAP. There is absolutely no question about it.
But, moving on – we discussed earlier that Singaporeans actually pay as much in personal income tax, indirect tax and social security as the other high-income countries.
Indeed, we do. In the chart below, you can see that the tax and social security (yellow shaded area) that Singaporeans pay is actually on par with what the Germans pay, on a per capita basis.
But note that in these countries – Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Germany – healthcare, education and retirement is next to free because the citizens of these countries get back the tax that they pay, and because their governments are actually honest and transparent to them.
As such, for whatever they have paid in tax and social security (yellow shaded area), this would cover for healthcare, education and retirement.
But for Singaporeans, what we pay in tax and social security still does not cover fully for these basic necessities. First, the PAP spends the lowest in health and education, as a percentage of GDP, and thus Singaporeans also have to pay the most out of our own pockets to pay for healthcare in the world, and we also have to pay for one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive, university tuition fees in the world. We most possibly also pay for the most expensive childcare fees in the world.
And not only that, when we take money from our CPF or a parent’s CPF to pay for education, we still have to pay back, and with accrued interest, which means the CPF is pretty much redundant, except as a financing tool with which the banks can offer even better rates, and without the stealth accrued interest too.
So, back to the question – Singaporeans thus have to pay additional for healthcare, education and retirement, on top of the tax and social security that we pay.
As the government expenditure of $7.3 billion on health last year is roughly 35% of total healthcare expenditure, this would mean that Singaporeans would have to pay about $14 billion for health, out of our own pockets. This would mean a per capita spending of about $2,500 for healthcare.
For education, when including for the university, polytechnic and ITE fees, childcare fees and tuition fees that Singaporeans have to pay, this would mean a total of about $7 billion, or $1,300 per capita.
For retirement, CPF is enough to cover for only 4% to 7% of the retirement needs of the elderly. In order to retire adequately, a person would still have to fork out about $2,000.
Thus when including for the out-of-pocket expenses that Singaporeans would still have to spend, you can see that Singaporeans actually have to pay as much as the Nordic countries, on a per capita basis – and mind you, they are already the most expensive countries in the world, together with Singapore.
This means that Singaporeans are actually not paying low “taxes”. When you look in totality with how much Singaporeans have to pay in order to obtain the same access to essential services as the Nordic citizens as well as that of the other developed countries, Singaporeans actually pay one of the highest “taxes” in the world.
You might not call it “tax”, or you might call it something else. It’s a matter of semantics, really. When looked at from a cash flow perspective, Singaporeans clearly pay as much as the other developed and Nordic countries.
Chart: Eurostat Taxation trends in the European Union, Analysis of Revenue and Expenditure Financial Year 2015, Central Provident Fund Board CPF Statistics, Population Reference Bureau Population Mid-2014, Department of Statistics Singapore Latest Data Population & Land Area
So, the PAP can keep telling Singaporeans that Singapore has the lowest taxes among the developed countries but this is far from the truth.
First, the low tax rate only benefit the high-income earners. Second, CPF is clearly a tax when we have to pay an implicit tax on the interest not returned and nearly 40% of what we pay into CPF is actually turned into profit for the PAP to earn for itself, and does not go back to Singaporeans – so the CPF is not actually your money.
Finally, and most importantly, because Singaporeans also earn one of the lowest wages among the highest-income countries and yet because we still have to pay for the most expensive healthcare and education in the world, and also because our retirement funds are also one of the least adequate in the world, this means that we have to pay a lot more from our wages to pay for these.
So, here are the issues. First, if our wages are already so low and we still have to pay for the most expensive healthcare, education and retirement, this means that we have to pay a much larger proportion of our wages (than just tax and CPF) into these, and thus have much lesser leftover wages. Second, because it has been estimated by several academics and economists that 30% of Singaporeans live in poverty and do not have enough to use, this means that for the poorest 30% and another 30% or so Singaporeans in the middle class, we would simply not have enough to spend on these basic necessities, or have to struggle to be able to pay for them, and then languish in debt and have to work the rest of our lives – indeed Singapore has the second highest debt in Asia.
In fact, as was pointed out just now, the high-income earners have a much higher purchasing power than the low- and middle-income Singaporeans, which thus mean that for the average Singaporeans, they have to struggle but for the very rich in Singapore, life is a breeze.
Why? Because the PAP kept increasing their own salaries and the salaries of the rich, and reduced the taxes that the rich have to pay, so much so that life is damn good for them now. And by the way, some of us had voted for it. So, if we want things to change in order for us to have a government which will protect Singaporeans, then it is time to vote the PAP out of government.
Tax is Not Low in Singapore
The aim of this article is to let you know that first, tax is not low in Singapore. In fact, when you look at what Singaporeans have to pay, for the same things that the people in the Nordic and other developed countries have to pay, you will realise that we are paying the same amount of money, if not more, for the same things.
Also, the CPF has a tax component to it and the PAP is clearly making money out from it. Take a look at the illustration below.
For the median income earner, he/she has to pay a tax of 2.5% and 37% into CPF. And as we have discussed earlier, of the CPF, nearly 15% of our CPF actually becomes profit that the government is letting itself earn from us.
Also, there is the implicit tax. In the example above, if the CPF were to earn 6%, the person would have ended with $450,000. However, at the current interest rate of 3%, in order to still end up with the same $450,000, the person would have to contribute another 20% of his/her salary into the CPF – thus this additional 20% is actually the “implicit” tax that Singaporeans are paying to the PAP, or rather it is money that we are losing which we should otherwise have.
Finally, for the expenditure for healthcare, education and retirement that we would have to pay from our own pockets (which citizens in the Nordic countries and Germany only need to pay into tax and social security for), this would make up another 8% that we have to pay from our salaries.
Thus in total, the true “tax” that Singaporeans are actually paying (to get the same things as what the Nordic and German citizens pay into tax and social security) is a total of 67.5%.
Clearly, “tax” is not low. In fact, Singaporeans have to sacrifice the most – 67.5% – from our already low wages, which is why Singaporeans also have the lowest purchasing power among the developed countries.
But again, not all Singaporeans have to pay 67.5% of their salaries into “tax”.
The rich do not have to. By now, you would have understood that the system that the PAP has created in Singapore is simply to benefit themselves and the rich. The PAP does not care about the rest of Singaporeans.
So, let’s see.
In the chart below, when you look at the US$300,000 earner, he/she would pay a personal income tax of 14.1% and CPF of 8%. The implicit tax would only make up 4.4% and the out-of-pocket expenditure would only make up 0.9%.
This means that in total, a high income earner in Singapore would only need to pay 27.4% into “tax”.
So, if you really drill down and look at it, you will realise that tax is low, but only for the rich. For the rest of Singaporeans, “tax” is actually very high.
The average Singaporean pretty much wouldn’t have much leftover after paying for tax, CPF and the basic necessities.
This is why an estimated 30% of Singaporeans are living in poverty – the highest among the developed countries.
And this is why Singapore also has the highest income inequality among the developed countries and one of the highest in the world – the PAP created it, by allowing itself to get richer and richer, and letting the poor and middle class become poorer and poorer.
The PAP does not want to take care of Singaporeans. The policies that the PAP has created is purely to only protect itself, enrich itself and take care of only itself.
So, my friends, this is it.
Whether or not you agree on the true “tax” or not or whether the CPF is “tax” or not, this really doesn’t matter. We can keep getting stuck with the semantics and lose sight of the forest.
When you come down to it all, it is very simple. The PAP has created a system that has allowed itself to get rich, and richer and richer.
Meanwhile, it pretends to tell Singaporeans that tax is low and so we should not ask for too much back. The PAP’s basis is easy to understand.
First, the PAP tells you that tax is low to scare you, so that it can then tell you it cannot spend more for Singaporeans. The PAP then keeps Singaporeans in this loop whereby we know that the government should spend more, but we don’t dare ask for it, because we are worried that the PAP will threaten us with increasing taxes.
But fret not, the PAP will not want to increase income tax, because this means increasing tax for itself. And the PAP is quite happy paying low taxes, while making the rest of us Singaporeans foot the bill.
Here is why you don’t have to worry anymore. First, personal income tax is low but it only benefits the rich. For the rest of Singaporeans, the PAP already has a trick up their sleeves – they will keep income tax low but keep increasing indirect taxes so that it can still keep increasing revenue. Thus by keeping income tax low, it knows you cannot have a reason to ask it for money. But by increasing indirect taxes, it can collect more money without having to return it to you because you won’t be able to recognise how much money they are making from you.
Then, the PAP keeps drilling in the idea to Singaporeans that the “CPF is not a tax”, and keeps pretending to Singaporeans that the “CPF is your money”. These two “ideas” are just propaganda. To the PAP, the CPF “is” a tax. And the CPF is “not” your money. But by making you think it is, the PAP can keep increasing the CPF contribution rate to earn from you and you will become a willing victim. Next, the PAP will then keep finding ways to earn from your CPF, via HDB, Medisave, MediShield, the CPF Minimum Sum, etc, by using the pretext that it is all done for you. But really, what they are doing is to take more and more from you and locking it up, and because there is no transparent reporting, the PAP gets to earn massive profits from your CPF but you still won’t be able to tell how and why.
But I hope that from this article, you can tell how the PAP is really earning from you. You should also now be able to understand why, that no matter how much you save, you simply cannot save enough to retire, because the PAP has found all sorts of ways to prevent you from saving inside your CPF.
By no means is this article comprehensive. I have not looked at all the strategies and policies that the PAP has created to earn from your CPF. The fundamental structure is there, but it would require a deeper look into even CPF Life to have a complete understanding of the PAP’s profit strategies from your CPF. Certainly, what I have calculated as the PAP’s profit is underestimated.
So, why do I say you don’t have to worry? Once you understand how the PAP is thinking about “tax” and “CPF” from a cash flow perspective, then you will understand that whatever they have been telling you is all fluke.
The PAP does not want you to earn. The PAP only wants itself to earn. And because it has controlled government and get to decide on the policies, and has also chosen to not to be transparent and to hide, they wanted you to have no way to know what they are doing.
But if you can see through what they are doing now, then it should be simple to understand that the PAP is simply not in your best interests. To vote for the PAP is to vote your life away, and to give them a blank cheque to do whatever to your life.
The general election is coming up soon. You know what to do. 🙂 It is time to sack the PAP.