Your Letters: A reply to Catherine

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The letter below has been submitted by “John Woo”

Catherine is a noted writer of many fictional articles. She writes beautiful pieces of drama and I must say I enjoy her latest “open letter” in just the same way I had her little stories.

I would like to start this letter by assuring you, Catherine – that we are not in the midst of a crisis where “people no longer trust their government and the government no longer cares about regaining their trust”.

If you want an example of misplace of trust, look no further than our neighbouring countries. Look at Thailand. That my dear friend, is a case of where people no longer trust their government.

What you’ve described in your article, really are the workings of any normal, healthy democracy. Can you imagine a country where people are absolutely sugar-sweet happy, without troubles? Just like you, there will always be a segment of  people who disagrees with the government. In the 1960s, the people from Barisan Sosialis and its supporters also distrusted then PM Lee Kuan Yew and his team. You tell me, in hindsight, where this has taken us?

With the amount of reserves Singapore has, this government could have easily spent its way to electoral success – look at true pork barrel politics of oil rich nations. But have we? And did we? Could you even say with a straight face that GIC has mismanaged national reserves?

As a case in point, let’s look at the recent CPF uproar. The government could have easily allowed the people to withdraw their CPF at 55 in order to pacify them. But did it? It didn’t. And it would not have been responsible of them if they did. Research has proven that individuals could not manage windfalls and end up worse-off than if they did not receive the money.

Yes, there were some incidents of graffiti cases, one of them on the rooftop of Blk 85 Toa Payoh, a first in Singapore. There were also many strong online criticisms.  The number of protests at Hong Lim Park too has also gone up. And there is public sympathy for Roy Ngerng.

Don’t you think it is normal? Don’t you think it would be weird that a healthy democracy does not see expressions such as the above? To conclude that “Singaporeans no longer trust the government” based on the above is a naive conclusion. But i’m sure a learned Doctor such as yourself is not as naive… you’re a wordsmith and a skilled writer, I’m certain you meant it to do whatever you meant it to do.

Yes, Roy did receive about $80,000 – of which you attributed to a “public outpouring of sympathy”. If he was not able to raise this money, either legally or denied outreach – then we have a huge problem.

Oh by the way, the President’s Charity of 2013 netted $5million. That is what I call public outpour.

Yours Sincerely,
John Woo


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30 thoughts on “Your Letters: A reply to Catherine

  1. Dear Mr Woo

    Thanks for writing this open letter to Dr Lim.
    It’s a well – written letter which helps many Singaporeans like myself to express our views appropriately and accurately inthe light of her letter to PM.

    Best wishes to you and family.

    Warm regards

  2. Dear Mr Woo

    I am not sure which part of the public you belong too, but I have lost faith in the government. You say “The government could have easily allowed the people to withdraw their CPF at 55 in order to pacify them. “?

    I don’t believe the money is there for it to return any more. I suspect that it has been squandered away through bad investments. Otherwise, there would be no fear by the government to be transparent. All the obfuscation by the government about CPF, TH, GIC, Minimum Sum, etc all leads me to believe we are scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to returning the CPF.

    Warm regards


    1. Then think about it: not trusting the CPF system would also mean that your bank of choice isn’t trustworthy as your accounts aren’t safe either, because like the CPF your bank balance is mostly digital.

      But if you would say that the money isn’t there any more, then how do people pay off their housing loans using the CPF, or even for medical bills, or even for education, insurance premiums, etc? Probably much the same way you spend your money via credit, debit, or online transactions.

      1. At least I can take the money out of my bank. .. -.- ..The loans all u still have to give back in the end…and more than what you have “spent” …dafaq….. peanuts spent on these leh…give citizens back here..take from another place cover lo…

      2. Well said. The bedrock of the economy or government is Trust. How do you even know your money is where it is in this day and age? Central banks create money with the push of a button. Do you actually sight the cold hard cash in your account till you withdraw it? What then is the difference? And would you say you trust other governments more than our own, bearing in mind our own track record?

        Trust is key in all we do.

    2. it is an impossible scenario for the government not to be able to return you your $. why? because the withdrawal will be made in SGD and since the Singapore government can always print more SGD, you will definitely get your $. the question to ask is what is the value of the SGD when you eventually get it back…

    3. Has there been a single case of the govt not being able to fulfil its CPF obligations to anyone in the last ten years?

    4. If the Financial World i.e. those Fund Managers, Business Analysts, and most of all Credit Rating Agencies etc, trusts Singapore Government enough to give it a AAA rating and a solid financial standing in the form of a strong SGD, I cannot understand why are you still not convinced.

      1. Lehman bros still have a AAA rating the day before their collapse, you didn’t read about this?

        By the way, how do insurance pay the money of this generation? Well, simply from the money collected from the future generation. Does this explain to you why the current and past generation still get their so call CPF back and able to use it for HDB and medical?

        It is just a musical chair game, just wait for the music to stop and you will know who is the victim

  3. In the case of Thailand, it is not a lack of trust to the current government that is the problem. But rather it is more like a “struggle” between the “elites” and “non-elites”. so to use in as a case in point is might not be the most suitable.

    There is no guarantee that future governing party PAP or not will not “pork barrel” policies.

    I strongly believed that GIC/Temasek has been doing their job in good faith. But i am sure there are bad/strange investment decisions that they have made. Key word is accountability. If the government has to bail out either one of them , the SGD could crash…..

    Your CPF money is not a windfall… save it for 30 years through hard work and sweat..a 4D winning yes. But definitely not CPF.

    Out pour of sympathy i have to agree with you on this.

    At the end of the day no matter which party we support, we still love Singapore


    1. If you want to know if a business is profitable, you don’t look solely at individual investment. You look at the P&L at the end of the business period. Example: A company has no business for 9 months. It is in the red. But on the 10th month, it got a huge order which is enough to reverse the situation and put it back into the black. Is this company losing money?

  4. When nobody protests against the government or voice out their opposition, then the government is suppressing dissent and oppressing alternative voices.

    When they DO express their dissent and opposition, then there is a collapse of trust and the democracy is not working smoothly and harmoniously.

    You simply cannot win against these people!

  5. Dear All,

    ***Singaporeans do not have the luxury of early retirement or withdraw early cpf because we live in a small nation with few resources in a very competitive world with nearby emerging markets.
    Singaporeans need to work harder if you want to live in Singapore and that’s the fact because we don’t have much resources here unlike other countries with huge natural resources.

    hence the policies that are ever changing by the government is to protect us in this harsh and competitive world to let us know once again that we don’t have natural resources in our land therefore we must work extra harder and work longer for our survival.

    Dr Catherine’s opinions maybe skewed to a bit of lopped sided and maybe a myopic view and insufficient examples to justify the big picture.

    Singapore is a small country which lacks of land , water , minerals and other natural resources. This is something that many citizens had forgotten maybe of complacency because of our higher standard of living established by our government policies in survival for small country management. Hence, there are always trade offs that in a small country which we can’t compare with larger or well developed countries

  6. Psychologically, we humans tell ourselves that we have self control;that we can manage our own finances;that we will not squander our hard earned money. But the reality is different. And history provides a clear mirror, a lens through which we can actually see the harsh truth. Lottery winners, pensioners, even wealthy celebrities, Mike Tyson, Michael Jackson to name a few, ended up with hugely diminished resources at the end of the day. Let us not kid ourselves – for the majority of Singaporeans, the CPF has had huge benefits far outweighing the drawbacks.

    1. Totally agreed! Not that we can’t manage our own finances but it proves that majority people require some sort of mothering some way or another.

  7. Not like i’m a huge fan of Catherine Lim’s exaggerated and faux-obsequious prose style, but John Woo’s letter is not the response we’re waiting for either.

    1a) Two logical points: Lim claims that persistent online criticism, political graffiti, and Speakers’ Corner protests are signs that discontent is spreading. But these are perfectly consistent with deepening, rather than broadening, discontent. She’s (literally?) stretching her point. On the other hand, the fact (raised in Woo’s letter) that the Thai government no longer has the trust of the people says little about whether the Singaporean government has the trust of the people–governments may lose trust without this being manifested in a breakdown of order.

    1b) An empirical point: In robust democracies, people trust the system, whether or not they trust the people who’re actually holding power at the moment–which is why governments can get by with very little trust. One of the fears about Singapore is that the system of power and the people holding power are so closely intertwined that a breakdown of trust affects both.

    2) Barisan Sosialis did not trust LKY, and that got them nowhere because they got detained without trial under the ISA (but I daresay that mistrust was not unjustified because from their point of view, they probably think they got stabbed in the back). I’m not sure what rhetorical point Woo is trying to make when he asks “You tell me, in hindsight, where this has taken us?” Barisan Sosialis was chopped off at the root, and there’s no telling what we would have looked like if we’d had normal political contestation.

    3) We don’t have the documentary evidence to independently verify whether the GIC has or has not mismanaged national reserves. Not saying they have. Welcoming any and all evidence on the matter!

    4) CPF savings are not windfalls! Windfalls are things you don’t see coming: lottery winnings, inheritances, insurance payouts… successful crowdfunding appeals… That’s not the case for CPF. With CPF, people know when and how much is coming in, which is very different from a windfall. There is a very clear schedule for withdrawal of CPF savings, which individuals can plan for in advance.

    So till someone produces evidence that people -systematically- misuse their retirement savings, as opposed to their gambling takings, I’ll remain sceptical of the argument that people have to be parted from their money because they can’t be trusted with it. The claim that people can’t be trusted with their own retirement savings (a) is patronising and (b) rests on a poor analogy.

    5) I agree that graffiti, protests, and online criticisms are normal in a healthy democracy, as John Woo claims. But a healthy democracy has outlets like genuine electoral contestation and a free press. To the extent that Singapore lacks these outlets, signs of discontent will remain disruptive and provocative because the system (our institutions) is unable to channel them appropriately. That, to me, is why Singapore’s is not a healthy (I personally like the term ‘robust’) democracy.

    And this “my dear friend” business is far too snarky, IMO. Woo’s snark and Lim’s servility are both poisonous to civil discourse. They need to treat their constructed audiences as equals, or risk inviting the same old disappointing personal attacks that we need to transcend.

    1. I would like to touch on your point:
      Barisan Sosialis was cut at the root.

      Results of the General Election 1963:
      PAP: 37
      Barisan: 13
      UPP: 1

      Operation Cold Store which took place on 2nd Feb 1963 was a open secret. Most if not all, then knew many Barisan fellas with communist connections were arrested and detained under the PPSO.

      Now, let’s look at the results of the 1963 GE. If the people then thought that OCS was not warranted, would they have voted for 37 PAP MPs and only 14 opposition MPs? If the people then had felt that the PAP was wrong in carrying out the OCS, would they not vote it out totally?

      Why was PAP returned to power elections after elections (1968 to 1981)? WHY?

  8. Once again! Some loser or fence sitter picks on stuff so trivial but redirects the attention to other nations as a baseline, get real “Woo”, this is our country and we want accountability not non acknowledgement, or worse yet threats. 2016 is almost upon you, Akang Datang!

  9. Mr. John Woo:

    What Singaporeans are asking are ‘Transparency’ and ‘Accountabilty’ (which are the basic fundamental pillars of all Accounting System) of the CPF funds. Is that asking too much?

  10. Mr Woo, You either do not live in Singapore or belong to a group of people still hanging on the PAP legacy. The ways and styles the government is handling many issues shows that this government almost ignore transparency completely in the interest of accumulating reserves at the expense of the people. To name a few, CPF/GIC/Temasek relationship and their accounts, true costs vs market costs in building HDB flats and the true subsidiaries, COE and car pricing – just to name a few. Let me elaborate the last issue in the light of transparency and trust. Early 2013, the public was asked to provide feedbacks on COE bidding system. The public responded enthusiastically. The government suddenly pushed forward with some minor changes and ignore most recommendation. Today, one cannot tell how much is the true car price, COE price, and additional car dealer profit. If a company sells $10 of goods the profit is say $3, selling $20 of goods the profit is very unlikely to remain at $3. You think our government is stupid? No, I don’t think so but I think our government think we are stupid. As I said , you belong to a group still hanging on to the outdated legacy and believe in blind faith.

    1. At the end of the day one has to take a certain stand. That stand may not be the best but it benefits the most people or serve the purpose it intends. I find that when the final decision is not in ones favour, he or she yells out that the government is no good. If all us sit back and look at things in perspective, we can appreciate the hard work and thinking that has gone into the decisions made. What I appreciate most is that the government does not compromise, does not just do the popular things and take the easy way out but ALWAYS do the RIGHT thing even if it means losing votes sometimes.

  11. People asks for transparency. But which government in the world is truly transparent? If want true transaprency, then we have Secrets Act for what?

  12. Dear Mr Woo,
    I agree totally with your reply, we should look at both the pros and cons, it is my view that there are more pros than cons when it comes to how our government have performed over the years. It is not that a new group of people taking over our country will be able to do a good job, simply because of the lack of experience. A platform to voice the people’s opinion is needed at this time, and it is showing from the big turnout at speaker’s corner. This however does not mean that there is a crisis happening, I am sure that our government is able to listen to the people’s voice and appropriately form better policies for us. Thank You.

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