Saturday, January 24, 2009

Call to ensure relief reaches right people

WHEN the Government gave landlords a property tax rebate in 2003, many did not pass on the savings by reducing the rent for tenants, a post-Budget forum heard last night.

With the provision in this year’s Budget of a 40 per cent property tax rebate, what assurance do tenants have that landlords will do so this time, asked optometrist Christopher Tan.

Mr Tan, who rents a shop at The Adelphi shopping centre, raised the question at the forum, a day after Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam unveiled a $20.5 billion Budget to help Singaporeans keep jobs and ensure that viable companies can stay afloat in a downturn that is set to be deep and long.

Forum participants at The Grassroots Club in Ang Mo Kio had other concerns about how various measures could be effectively implemented.

One was worried that the needy living in larger flats may not get enough help. Another, who said that people may not spend their payouts wisely, suggested having financial literacy classes for them.

On the issue of rebates, Acting Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong said channelling it to landlords made the scheme easier to administer.

‘The whole idea of this Package is to try to keep it simple, so that the money and help can flow through to companies as soon as possible,’ he told some 60 participants, including national servicemen, businessmen and grassroots leaders.

‘We will continue to encourage property owners to pass down (the rebate).’

Landlords who passed on the savings would also become more competitive than those who did not, he explained.

He added that tenants would in any case benefit from other measures - such as the 1 percentage point cut in the corporate tax rate, and the Jobs Credit scheme that gives bosses a cash grant for each resident worker on their Central Provident Fund payroll.

The need for simplicity and efficient implementation was also the reason why the Government linked some help measures for households to the size of their flat, he said at the forum organised by Reach, the Government’s feedback arm.

He encouraged needy families who did not qualify for more aid due to their larger flat size to see their MPs.

Reach chairman Amy Khor told participants earlier that the feedback would be useful when implementing the Budget.

The forum was one of three jointly organised with the Finance Ministry.

At one of the other sessions, Senior Minister of State (Finance) Lim Hwee Hua said the Jobs Credit scheme may not reduce the number of jobs lost. But it could slow down the pace of layoffs.

She was speaking to reporters after an online forum where participants posed questions on jobs and why the Budget’s focus seemed more on helping businesses rather than individuals.

On the question of banks not lending to companies, she said there was a need to discuss with banks whether they need to change the way they assess credit, and the credit-worthiness of companies.

Banks should think long-term and consider the kind of relationship they want to have with the companies they lend to, she added.

‘Ultimately when we recover, these are the customers that they will need to keep…Banks that stick with companies through the bad times will also be remembered by the companies in good times.

And when the companies grow they will continue to bank with them and deal with them.’

Source: Straits Times - 24 Jan 2009

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