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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

Why can’t people be more polite?

There are some things that you do not do, not even in name of freedom of speech. Like, you don’t call someone a liar or cheat by alleging criminal wrong-doing – unless the person is really a liar and a cheat and you have evidence to prove this. (As an aside, it makes me wonder why the Workers’ Party doesn’t sue MEWR Minister Vivian Balakrishnan for accusing them of some errrm…improprieties in its town council management. Fudging here because I don’t want to get sued too).

So Mr Roy Ngerng has made it into the rareified group of bloggers who have received love letters from Singapore’s busiest defamation lawyer, SC Davinder Singh. The lawyer for the People’s Action Party, a former MP, had been busy in the past on behalf of other ministers but seemed to have taken a break. Seems the break is over.
I don’t follow Mr Ngerng’s blog closely but I have the distinct impression of it being somewhat erudite, with lots of infographics and statistics. He takes the trouble to dig out statistics. Now, whether he dug out the right statistics and interpreted them rightly – I confess I don’t know.

I read his piece on the CPF system and came away with this: how come CPF interest rate is low when the GIC and GLCs etc have a much higher rate of return? Some answers would be good simply because it would be educational. We all take the CPF system somewhat for granted. It is there to pay for our housing and medical bills although now we worry whether there will enough for retirement. The minimum sum scheme has had its quantum raised to match inflation and today, we read about experts saying that more money should move from our own pocket into the CPF to fund future retirement needs.

But it seems that the CPF Board has replied to some of Mr Ngerng’s allegations on Factually.
This is what it said: Our CPF funds are invested in risk-free Special Singapore Government Securities (SSGSs). The returns on SSGSs are pegged to the returns of other bonds in the market with similar risks. There is no connection between GIC’s rate of return and the interest paid on our CPF accounts. GIC invests our foreign reserves in stocks, bonds, real estate and other assets that carry higher risks that SSGSs. The value of SSGS is assured, as they are guranteed by one of the few remaining triple-A credit-rated governments in the world. With our CPF funds being invested in SSGSs, we can be absolutely certain our funds will be there when we need them.

CPF interest rates are guaranteed and risk-free. The interest is paid whether or not the Government’s investments backing its liabilities to CPF, including investments managed by GIC, do well or not. So if GIC’s investments actually lose money, as they did during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-09, CPF members will still get the 2.5% interest on our funds in the Ordinary Account.

Finally, apart from the CPF system, it should be remembered that we Singaporeans benefit from GIC’s and Temasek’s returns though these are not linked to the returns we get on our CPF funds. GIC’s and Temasek’s returns supplement the annual Budget through their Net Investment Returns Contribution (NIRC), which amounted to $8.1 billion this fiscal year. This money allows our Government to make further investments for our future, such as in education, R&D, healthcare and improving our physical environment.

Aside from the return on our Ordinary Account, Singaporeans enjoy higher interest rates on their other CPF accounts- 4% on our Special, Medisave and Retirement Accounts, and an additional 1% on their first $60,000 in all our accounts:

Mr Ngerng also said that Singapore has the least adequate pension fund in the world, which makes me wonder why other countries bother to study our system if so.
The CPF’s response to this: Your CPF money is your nest egg upon retirement. The uniqueness of our system is that you can also use your CPF monies to pay for housing. Many Singaporeans have indeed done so and some have fully paid for their homes by the time they retire. The homes that we own are part of our retirement assets too, allowing us to save on rent while providing us with the option to sell our homes when we need to.

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When international studies on pension systems make comparisons across countries, they often ignore this fact. They paint an incomplete picture of what members have in their accounts. They do not take into account the fact that Singaporeans also have used their CPF monies to pay for their homes.

Kudos to the G for giving answers lest people get away with the idea that the CPF scheme is …eerm..bankrupt. Now Mr Ngerng has written plenty of articles on the CPF system and wages. And frankly, I am uncomfortable with the picture he paints; however bad anyone might think of the G, I doubt that it creates systems to line its own pockets or is out to defraud the people (please do not say it’s so as to pay minister’s salaries)

While commentators have the liberty to ask questions, newsmakers also have the liberty to rebut. I had wondered why the G wouldn’t simply sit down with Mr Ngerng and give him a lesson on the CPF system, but it seems it had already taken some steps on Factually. I suppose the idea is to counter what is online by posting online.

While Mr Ngerng might have asked questions that the less mathetically inclined might have ignored or the conspiracy-minded might have, there was no call for him to defame the Prime Minister in such a personal way by drawing parallels with the City Harvest case. That was out and out defamation. He is saying that the PM has a criminal case to answer just as the church leaders do. He should drop all pretence that he has a leg to stand on where defamation is concerned.

And now he wants to speak in Parliament.

At the risk of giving him free publicity, this is what he said:

I have received ongoing support and encouragement from Singaporeans to enter Parliament and I thank the vote of confidence and belief that many Singaporeans have given to me. I also thank this nomination and the publicity that has come with it. (Arrrh??? You mean he colluded with the PM? Or Mr Singh?)

It is in the interests of a democratic Singapore for even the smallest voice in Singapore to be heard. It is also in the interests of the Singapore government to be able to hear what Singaporeans from all segments of society are thinking and saying. I present myself as a bridge for the government, and for the people of Singapore. As a known blogger who has a keen interest in our country and who has amassed support from the blog, through the nearly 2 million views on the blog, I hope to continue to engage Singaporeans on issues that matter to us and present these in Parliament to allow Singaporeans to have a bigger role in the democratic institutions of Singapore.

The selection of representatives into Parliament will send a clear signal as to what the government is ready for. The publicity generated from this selection will also garner significant interest and anticipation of further representation in Parliament.

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I keep wondering what he is really saying. That this is a publicity stunt? And that if he didn’t get selected, it would be proof that he has been gagged? Or that the G isn’t listening to people?

The “better’’ publicity is this: I keep wondering if there is a link between the love letter and the President’s announcement that the CPF system will be re-looked.

Both have generated plenty of interest which means that the CPF will have to extremely forthcoming about the workings of the system during its review to give everyone a comfortable retirement. Or Mr Ngerng would have to prove what he said if he goes ahead to fight the case.

Then those nitty-gritty questions on the Minimum Sum Scheme and how it is calculated, whether too much of the Ordinary Account is going into housing and how employer and employee contribution rates are decided can be brought up.

We need an active citizenry which can only come about with more information disseminated as widely as possible. But we do not need to disrespect our leaders when we engage in debate.

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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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