Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong’s gave us a stunning and eyebrow-raising performance in Parliament last week. Her speech on “personal responsibility” won her praises from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The most startling part of her speech was perhaps the part where she questioned whether CPF money is our own money. Here is a summary of one portion of her speech taken from CNA.
SINGAPORE: Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong spoke out against greater flexibility in withdrawing CPF savings in Parliament on Tuesday.
She said this would place a great fiscal obligation on future generations. There had been a lot of discussion on collective responsibilities when it came to the topic of CPF changes.
But Ms Chia noted that it should be viewed in the context of personal responsibilities. For instance, on CPF savings – she felt that people shouldn’t be spending like they would be spending their own salary. This is because CPF savings are enhanced by co-payment by employers and through top-ups from public funds.
Ms Chia said: “In relation to the use of CPF money, we have heard proponents who say that the CPF monies is theirs. “It’s our money, it’s in our account, it’s our retirement money. I want it out, I will spend it anyway we want.” Fine. Is it our money? Our CPF savings are enhanced and forced CPF savings which are accumulated through our own deferred consumption, through co-payment by our employers and through top-ups from public funds. Is it really my private money? Do I have the right to spend it the way I would spend my own salary? I’m not entirely sure.
“I know at the end of the day, that because I’m not the only person contributing to the fund, I cannot be the only person to call the shots as to how I am going to spend it. At the very least, I have a moral obligation to spend it wisely. Why do I say that? Because if I’m not judicious in my spending at the end of the day, who’s going to maintain me in my twilight years – the state? Who? Ultimately it means someone else is bearing it right, another taxpayer. So if I’m not judicious and I’m arguing this is my money, I’m not going to be responsible in my use and if I argue this is your money, you use it anyway you want – I’m not responsible as a citizen.”
The employers’ contribution to an employee’s CPF account is not something that the employer can take back. He is obliged to pay it. His employee expects it. The moment it is paid to CPF Board, the employer can’t take it back because it’s no longer his money. So who’s money is it now? The employee’s or the government’s?
What about top-ups? Is the government the only one who tops up our savings? There are other ways you can get top-ups for our savings. When you buy an endowment policy, the insurance company not only tops up your savings with compounded interest; the lump sum you get upon maturity of the plan, is significantly more than the premiums you’ve paid. What’s more, it even gives you death and disability coverage. Are endowment funds not your money because of the top-ups that insurance companies pay? Would you buy an endowment plan offering higher rates but with the “same” (ever increasing) restrictions on draw down age and “minimum sum”? What what about people who top up the accounts of their loved ones? Do they not recognise that the money given out becomes the recipient’s money?
But wait. Ms Chia implied that restrictions should apply because the CPF top-ups come from public funds. If it means that there ought to be strings attached when public funds are used, why not make it clear before the top-ups are made? Why not make these top ups optional? Why not free those who opt out of these top-ups from draw down restrictions? After all, you get different interest “top-ups” with savings accounts and fixed deposits. Does Ms Chia think that people would accept these top-ups if they must sign on the dotted line to relinquish some rights to their CPF savings? So what say you if I top up your $100,000 account with $500 and earn the right to set conditions for your draw down? Would you not reject my “generosity”? Why not we follow the CPF Board’s policies and set conditions for our loved ones when we top up their accounts?
For a more graphic representation, please check out The Online Citizen’s 10 Reasons Why CPF Savings Are Unquestionably Your Money
Ms Chia cautioned against a Budget that leans too heavily to the left.
“We have a Budget that has been praised and approved as leaning to the left. But I would also argue that if we lean too much to the left, we will not have much left. So what I will also want to end up with and conclude is that when we talk about collective responsibility, we need to understand that collective responsibility must also be exercised responsibly on a collective basis, as well as on a personal basis.”
This part of Ms Chia’s speech is rather vague and rhetorical. Does she find the budget too generous and pandering to the myopic plebeians like you and me? Sure, too much of something good is always bad. That’s hardly something we don’t already know. Sure, we can’t lean too much to the left, but are we really leaning to the left? How much can this budget help those who are not really poor but struggling with their finances nonetheless? How much is collected from COEs, ERPs, casino tax and petrol tax? How much of that is redistributed back to the masses? Or more importantly, how much have we benefited (or will benefit) from all these unpopular but necessary schemes?
In every society, there are people who idle around and hope to be fed. We can’t be said to be leaning too far to the left unless we are feeding these freeloaders. No, we’re not and neither should we ever play host to these parasites. But in Singapore in particular, there are also those whose talents are wasted once they’re past 45. Unless something other than skills and knowledge is at play, a simple process of updating should render these folks fit for employment in similar positions. People who used to head departments in thriving industries should drive taxis only if they choose to. Even with the most current skill sets, working for “starting pay”, many professionals are struggling, working some of the longest hours in any developed economy; yet their purchasing power, after spending on housing and children, is pathetic. I don’t think this group is satisfied with a symptomatic painkiller like lowered maid levy. I don’t think they want cheap handouts and generous top-ups with strings attached. They need a game-changer, a massive overhaul that would truly make life better like it did from the squalid 60s to the glorious dotcom boom of the 90s. And that is something we have been waiting from our most talented and highly paid leaders for two decades.
© Chan Joon Yee