Poor old Singaporeans. Their government, not content with their fun police curbing everything from taxi speeds to chewing gum, has now reached its tentacles overseas into its citizens' shopping baskets.
The long arm of the Lion City's tax man now stretches out to follow its citizens wherever they go.
Singaporeans love to shop as much as anyone else, but now their overseas tax free sprees are capped at S$600. Spend over that amount and they must dutifully declare all at Customs when they return home and go through the Red Channel. Purchases worth more than S$600 - only about HK$3,000 - now attract 7 per cent Goods and Sales Tax (GST.) That's if you stay away from Singapore for more than 48 hours. Less than that and the tax and duty free allowance shrinks to just S$150. New articles and gifts including clothes and food are included, for personal consumption.
Meeting Singaporeans in Hong Kong this week revealed some unhappy campers. "This means we can basically only buy one hand bag-la", said a frustrated shopper. She said she would have to fess up to her purchases at a self-declaration booth at Changi Airport. They must have several, or the queues will be horrendous. Customs would do spot checks, so it was not worth trying to cheat, she said. Receipts would be asked for and you could be sure Singapore Customs officials would be very thorough. So what are creative Singaporeans planning to do about this swingeing new shopping tax system? "Remove all the labels from our new clothes, said one.
"Go shopping for clothes on the day we arrive. And then wear all them so they don't look new when we go home," he said. I had assumed he was wearing two shirts because he was cold, but this now made sense. Anything else? "Carry more than one handbag, one inside the other," said one solemnly. "But basically, eat all the food we buy before we get home and wear several layers of clothes." So if a Singaporean comes up yo you at Chek Lap Kok and asks you to carry three boxes of biscuits and a pair of trainers to Singapore for them, you will know why.
In recent weeks I have been tussling with PCCW in an attempt to get the internet installed at home on Lantau. After an extraordinary amount of fuss and confusion, it is now hooked up. And I am paying for a "high speed" 6 megabyte connection. But until yesterday it moved at speeds reminiscent of the old days of dial-up. So I called Technical Support and explained I could not even persuade it to open a site on google.
"That's because the speed is only 5 megabytes " the upbeat operative said. "That's very slow." I agreed with a hollow laugh. I know that. So they came and tested it and said it was now improved - to 5.1! Glory be. Were they trying to be funny? No, PCCW don't do humour. So, I said, I trust my bill will be discounted to reflect this lousy slow service? I am, after all, paying for a fast connection, which you are not delivering. Silence. "I do not wish to pay for fast speed when you are delivering slow speed. "Another, longer silence. He said he would have to get back to me on that one. Watch this space.