The following is a letter by R H de Souza.
I have been reading your blogs, particularly the ones on CPF, and I should say that it has opened my eyes. I am a member of the silent majority and I think it’s about time to stand up and make my voice heard. Previously, I paid scant attention to issues like these – it was all on auto-mode for me. If the government was doing it right, let them do it, I thought.
I am a neutral person and without any political affiliations. The articles in the papers about you and your clamour for the release of CPF funds got me interested in the issues, and I find you persuasive and you tend to ask interesting questions.
But there is one inherent problem in your blogs. I found them repetitive and you tend to go off-tangent several times and sadly, you tend to sensationalise the issues concerned.
Your form of political activism is refreshing. You are not afraid to stare down the opposition. Your back is up against a very solid and comforting wall, I see. And it is commendable that you confidently espouse your views, in person or online.
But before expressing your views or the views of others, kindly pause to think if those viewpoints are relevant and most importantly, factually correct. That would save all, including non-partisans like me, a lot of time and effort in separating the wheat from the chaff.
I am glad that the government has decided to review the way it determines the inflation rate for the Minimum Sum. This is indeed good news for people in my age group who will be hitting the magical figure of 55 in a few years’ time as we will be paying lesser. I should convey my gratitude to you and Laurence Lien, among several other writers, for highlighting this issue.
I strongly recommend you to read Laurence’s opinion piece in The Straits Times, 21 July 2014: “Joint responsibility for old age income security,” is an excellent piece. Very rational and succinct. I did not know that he worked at the Finance Ministry but his disclosure that our CPF monies are safe was very reassuring and that “the total balances of CPF members have increased every year from $52 billion in 1993 to$253 billion in 2013” shows that our CPF is growing.
Here we have a third party and a neutral person, at risk of infringing the Official Secrets Act, coming out to reassure us that our money in the CPF is safe and that the returns are fair.
While you keep on harping that the GIC and Temasek were using our CPF monies, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has clearly indicated that Temasek is not involved while “GIC does manage CPF monies as part of a pool of the Government’s assets.”
“Return our CPF,” seems to be your constant refrain. I seriously think the Singapore government should do so and they should apologise to us, unreservedly, for safeguarding and making it grow or if you would rather, keeping our money. Look at our HDB flats. Many of us bought it with our CPF savings. We buy it at x dollars and later sell it at a profit of x+y dollars. Where in the world can you find such a system, which not only provides you a home at such affordable prices but also allows you to make money on your property?
But, I digress. I seem to be struck with the same malady as yours, I presume.
Let’s come back to the issue. If the government decides that the CPF monies are returned to all Singaporeans at the age of 55, what are the repercussions? Will we be able to invest on our own and get returns in excess of CPF’s current rates of 2.5% interest on savings in the Ordinary Account and 5% on funds in the Special, Medisave and Retirement Accounts?
You mentioned that you knew someone who invested her CPF Ordinary Account and made a profit of 3% on about 40% of her portfolio after about four months. Very impressive. But how many of them out there are like her? How diverse was her portfolio. Was it high or low risk? I am afraid you forgot to mention that. And please state the age of your friend too because you see, many are content to leave their funds in the CPF as it offers rates that are higher than the banks and most importantly, something that they are comfortable with. Not for them the highs and lows of the stock market.
Higher returns entail higher risks. How many of us are savvy enough or rather brave enough to do so? Remember, that money is our hard-earned money and if it is lost through trading in the stock exchange or other avenues, there can never be a bigger heart-ache. How are we going to tide over our old age? That’s a very frightening thought. Tharman, recently mentioned that it is important for people to understand the risks involved and that “private pension plans will not be a walk in the park.”
Over the past sixty years, Singapore has developed into a first world country and with a higher standard of living, longevity comes as a bonus issue. We Singaporeans are living longer and we would need funds to cover us during our lifetime. The CPF Minimum Sum ensures a monthly pay-out in our retirement. Although not generous by any standards, it is enough to get by if we do not have any other heavy expenses to take care of. And personally, I would prefer calibrated disbursement of my funds. If taken at one go, I might spend it all on frivolous and impulsive purchases. I have read many sob stories where senior citizens got swindled out of their life savings. It was very sad. I dread to think how I would survive if I blow up my savings. There will be many others like me too, I am sure. What then? The government takes care of us? Is it fair to the rest? Who bears the cost? Don’t tell me the younger generation have to bear the cost. I don’t think the burden should fall on our sons and daughters.
Is this what you are advocating when you say: “Return our CPF”?
You also mentioned that “the government takes our CPF monies and gives us only 2.5% to 4%. Then they take our CPF to earn 5% at the GIC and 16% at the Temasek Holdings.” Tharman has already stated that Temasek does not get the CPF monies, so we’ll leave it out. As for GIC, it has been mentioned in Parliament by Tharman “that the GIC does manage CPF monies as part of a pool of the government’s assets.”
The 2.5% for our savings in the Ordinary Account, if compared against the miniscule interest rates offered by the banks, is fair enough. Furthermore, as Tharman says our CPF monies are protected from the inherent risks as the “government has substantial assets in excess of its liabilities.”
Let’s put things in perspective here. We deposit our monies in the banks and the banks deem it fit to invest the monies, and also gives out the monies at hand, as loans to individuals and institutions. The banks give us a paltry amount as interest when we deposit and charge interest several-fold when they give out loans.
Roy, did you question the banks as to why they adopt this practice? Did you ask them to increase the interest rates for deposits? The money that you have collected from the public to fight the defamation suit against you, is it tied up in a gunny sack and left under your bed? I believe it would be safer that way. The banks could invest it and give you a lower return, which I presume is against your principles. It would be interesting to see you take on the banks and fight for higher interest rates on behalf of our fellow Singaporeans.
Roy, you also mentioned that you “voted for the government to protect us, to take care of Singaporeans first. We did not vote for the government to take care of the GIC or Temasek Holdings first.” The GIC and Temasek Holdings constitute our sovereign funds. The more that these funds have in their coffers, the better and stronger would be our buffer against any calamity.
After reading your speech on your blog, I checked the GIC and Temasek websites and saw that you were correct-our minister were indeed on the boards of these two institutions. But unlike you, I do not see anything wrong with that. In fact, I am reassured and grateful that they are on board. And I would say it is wrong to create a gulf between the government and people by referring to them as masters and us as servants. Kindly stop using this terms. Remember we are all equal. This is a dangerous ideology that could only force a country to go into a tailspin.
You also talked about HDB flats and if we are owners of the flats that we live in? That’s the problem with you. You go all over the place. Supply and demand dictates the prices of HDB flats and HDB does dole out generous grants (please check it on the HDB website) to subsidise the sale of the flat. And yes, the HDB flats, like some private condominium units, are sold on 99-year leases.
These temporary shelters as you call it, are financed with our CPF funds and the monthly instalments take care of the out-of-pocket payment, which is so required for a rental flat. Ask those foreigners, the impact of out-of-pocket payments for their rents, on their finances. And it explains why these foreigners seek to become PRs and citizens just so that they could buy an HDB flat with their CPF savings.
You asked why are the flats sold over and above their building costs. Then who pays for the beautiful facilities and infrastructure in your estate? These infrastructural developments enhance the value of your properties. You can’t just have the blocks there without any accompanying infrastructure. The public would not like to stay in such developments.
I also see that you brought up Dr Goh Keng Swee in your speech. You mentioned that he wanted us to live in a home that we can be proud of. Roy, it was realised. He saw it during his lifetime. We are living his dream. Let the great man rest in peace.
It is interesting that you talked about losing your job in your speech. I agree with you that your termination should not have become a national issue. It was indeed heavy-handed. I agree totally. But I did not understand the following, which you wrote: “Which government in the world would laugh and cheer when its own citizen is left out in the cold, unprotected and scared, and then blames you for not working hard enough.”
In the press reports, it was quoted that you were “misusing working time, hospital computers and facilities for personal pursuits.” I understand that despite being issued a warning letter, your contract was also renewed. That was very generous of your employer. There are not many employers who would give their employees a second chance. Admit it, you blew it. You have also gone on record to admit: “The stress of the court case has made it difficult for me to concentrate on my job. And my advocacy on the CPF has also taken a toll on my ability to do my job as well.”
Roy, a person is paid to do a job and if the person can’t perform, don’t blame others. And don’t try to milk it. It is very pathetic and it calls your integrity into question.
Which leads me to the next question. What got into you to allege that PM Lee Hsien Loong had misappropriated CPF funds? I am at a loss for words. Do you have the evidence or is it based on hearsay? I don’t know what to make of it and to comment on it would amount to subjudice.
You have been clamouring for a change and calling upon Singaporeans to fight and to make a stand and to change the government. I don’t know if that would be a good idea. I see you are treading a dangerous path with your rhetoric. Do you think we have an alternative to the present government? Are the opposition up to the tasks ahead? I won’t know as I am just an observer and I am not involved with any political party. But thankfully, I, like many Singaporeans understand the stakes involved and do not wish to undo the good that has been done. Let another opposition politician of Lee Kuan Yew’s calibre come forth and prove that he or she is up to the task. I would gladly cast my vote for him or her. Otherwise, mere rhetoric would do us no good and it could and would only lead us down the path of ruin.
Roy, I hope my letter would serve as an eye-opener. I have written my letter as a concerned Singaporean. I am not against you. You have your views and I have mine. Please share facts; not untruths. No hard feelings.
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