Wednesday, August 20, 2014

PM Lee is a TOTAL Failure

A month or two prior to this National Day Rally (NDR) speech of PM Lee, there was much hype about it with rumours that "Major announcement" and Major changes will be made during his speech. But in the end, it is a total let down. Apparently, PM Lee has totally lost touch of the ground and didn't really know nor understand what is expected from him and his government by the people.

The THEME of this year's NDR is supposedly to be "Honouring Pioneer Generation" and retirement financing is inevitably the hottest topic in town after the numerous CPF protests held in Hong Lim Park earlier this year, along with PM Lee suing a blogger Roy Ngern over his CPF articles. A lot of CPF issues have been brought to light and public discourse has been ongoing but PM Lee has just done a cosmetic surgery on the whole lot of issues without addressing the REAL PROBLEMS of the inadequacy of CPF for retirement financing.

Is Singapore our HOME for our Retirement?

I have the opportunities to talk to two "Foreign Talents" with regards to their choice of place for retirement. They are regarded as the "upper middle class" people with very high earnings. One of them is Director M, who is a Regional Director of a MNC, Malaysian citizen. The other is Professor D, a lecturer and head of department from a university, Hong Konger.

Both of them are in their late forties or early fifties. Both of them were having a dilemma of whether they should get Singapore citizenship and retire in Singapore. They were discussing this with me a couple of years ago but this year, it seems that BOTH have concluded that they would rather retire in their respective country or city of birth. i.e. Malaysia and Hong Kong.

Both of them do not know each other but somehow, they have come to the same conclusion that it is best for them to retire in their respective home base. Director M has been a Singapore PR for decades but after learning about the horrendous HIGH COST of healthcare services in Singapore as compared to Malaysia, he has finally decided that it is totally not worth retiring in Singapore after all.

He has a relative who was on treatment for cancer in Malaysia and he only paid Malaysian Ringgit $50 for each jab of chemotherapy! Imagine how much it will cost in Singapore? Furthermore, cost of living in Malaysia is relatively much lower than Singapore! Thus, he has decided that, despite the fact that he is pretty wealthy, he still prefers to go back to Malaysia to retire and live like a King!

Similarly for Professor D. He felt that Hong Kong has excellent healthcare system which is TRULY affordable, unlike Singapore. He said that cost of living in Singapore is really on par if not higher than Hong Kong. There is no reason for him to migrate to Singapore to suffer HIGHER medical cost since it is expected that for an aging person like him, he would have needed more healthcare for the rest of his life.

It is truly enlightening to see that BOTH people from the "Third World" and "First World" places like Malaysia and Hong Kong are shunning Singapore for "retirement". But as Singaporeans, do we have a choice at all? We are born in Singapore and we have little choice but live, retire and die in Singapore. However, under PAP rule, we are going to suffer, after decades of contributing to Singapore's development, we will die poor, having to be forced to sell off our HDB flat for our retirement.

I guess the ultimate aim of PAP has been leaked before, they wanted us to retire in JB (Johor Bahru)!

Who is responsible for CPF's inadequacy?

No matter how much PAP is going to raise the Minimum Sum for CPF, the fact still remains, despite of a high CPF contribution rate over the decades, at least 70% of Singaporeans are not going to have enough money in CPF to meet their retirement needs. Why so?

There are three key reasons why CPF has failed for its primary purpose of retirement financing.

First of all, PAP has deliberately reduced the interest returns for CPF since 1990s to a marginal amount of 2.5% to 4%.

The Second reason is that PAP has increased HDB flat prices since 1980s and it went into full steam of escalating the prices in 1990s in the name of "Asset Enhancement Scheme". This is a plot to siphon off Singaporeans' money from CPF to Main Reserves through "Land Sales" or higher "Land Pricing" for HDB flats. Of course the "Market Subsidy Pricing" logic has helped PAP to escalate the HDB prices for this purpose.

Whatever is left in your CPF is "partitioned off" for Medisave. For this money, you will never see it unless you use it to cover the ever increasing medical cost or until the day you die. Else, it will stay in the Main Reserves and kept in GIC or Temasek Holdings for their investment. Make no mistake about it, no matter how PAP tries to side track or hide the fact, the truth is, part of the funds Temasek Holdings is investing comes from our CPF monies. The high healthcare cost, hospitalization cost accompanied by long waiting time for hospital beds will negate whatever money you have in your Medisave.

It is a kind of irony that PAP tries to make you feel good with "Asset Enhancement Scheme" in order to make you pay extraordinary high prices for a PUBLIC HOUSING flat which you do not really own in essence but in the end, turn around and corner you, forcing you when you are old to sell off your flat for your own retirement needs!

PAP is the MAIN Culprit in creating the situation of inadequate CPF for your retirement financing via their flawed policies in public housing, healthcare and investment returns from our sovereign funds. But in the end, instead of addressing these issues effectively, they turn around and say the best they can do is to help you to sell your HDB flat.

Well, imagine this, first they make you pay high price for your HDB flat and then they will force you to sell your flat cheap back to them for retirement. Or force you to downgrade to some overpriced studio apartment with a limited lease when you do not have enough money for retirement.

When you are old and don't have enough cash for retirement or to pay your medical fees and you think you can approach them for help, the first thing they will tell you and aim for, is to ask you to sell off your HDB flat! Never mind if you have some fond memories attached to your home but you have to sell off your HDB flat and no, they won't provide another cheap rental flat for you to live after you sell your HDB flat.

They will ask you to pay hefty and horrendous prices again, for a small studio apartment which will have only a 30 years lease. This will technically make the value of this studio apartment unattractive because no bank will make any mortgage loan to anyone to buy a property with only 20 or 30 years lease! There is absolutely no value for inheritance by your children even though you have paid a gross $70K or $80K for such studio apartment.

Yes, they will continue to squeeze every bits from you even when you are old, retired and without a job and this is done with such a beautiful name of wanting to help you with your retirement!

They have made up a beautiful empty dream of "Asset Enhancement" to make believe that you will be rich by paying horrendous prices for your HDB flats which technically, you don't really own it. You can't even re-mortgage it if you need to when you are short of cash for anything, least, retirement. So what this talk about "Asset Enhancement" when eventually, you will be forced to sell off every assets you have? Worse still, they pray on your greed but eventually your children and grandchildren will eventually be the ones who will suffer under high HDB prices!

Inadequate Hospital Care with Squeeze You further

My mother has suffered during one of the hospitalization saga. Due to over-population and shortage of infrastructures, there will be but a total lack of C class beds which "promised" a "market subsidy" price to Singaporeans. Imagine when you are so uncomfortably in pain but you are asked to wait more than 36 hours or even 48 hours for a proper bed in the ward, UNLESS you upgrade yourself to those "less subsidize" B1 or A class wards!

Avoiding to Solve the REAL Problems

If you look at the WHOLE picture closely, it is not difficult for you to realize that the main problem lies with the Sovereign Funds, aka GIC and Temasek Holdings. They are just like a HUGE MONEY VACUUM CLEANERS, sucking lots of money into it but not giving the appropriate returns to our CPF.

When PAP raise the HDB prices, it basically justify it by the "market pricing" of the land which your flats are built on. But bear in mind that most of these land are acquired at dirt cheap prices from our forefathers. All Land Sales proceeds via SLA will go into the Main reserves and thus our sovereign funds, GIC and Temasek. At the same time, our CPF monies are transferred to these two entities via the special Singapore government bonds as well, which give a pitiful returns to our people.

The only difference is that funds that acquired from selling HDB flats to Singaporeans will bear no "burden" on these Sovereign Funds to provide returns while the CPF monies via SSGB will require them to produce return. Thus, right from 1990s, they have capped the returns to our CPF monies while increased new HDB prices. It basically means that they are reducing their obligations of providing adequate returns to our CPF as a whole. They have systematically tweak the system and fooling us into believing they are doing good to us via "Asset Enhancement Scheme" and quietly reducing returns on our CPF.

For some strange reasons, it seems that this is just not enough for them. They have also systematically dragged on the period for these Sovereign Funds to give us back our CPF monies. First, Medisave has been created and whatever money you have in this account, you won't be able to see them in broad daylight till the day you die but only be "transferred" as digits into the big black hole of high medical cost you will face in life.

I believe they will try to make it a law that whatever inheritance your children will get from your CPF, including your Medisave, will be transferred to your children CPF accounts in the near future! They have already tried to tweak the system by introducing such similar mechanism into the CPF nomination scheme as "option" but I believe they will make it "opt-out" instead for those who didn't make clear of their intentions. It just reminds me of the HOTA legislation whereby an initial "volunteer option" of organ donation has become the default choice unless you opt out.

It seems to me that they are doing everything they can to feed these monsters (GIC and Temasek) with money and trying their very best to delay any payment and thus, cash outflow from these monsters.

I do not know why they are trying everything to keep the cash in these two Sovereign Funds but apparently if this is what they are striving for, there is no reason for them to solve the three problems of Inadequate CPF for retirement financing.

1) Low CPF returns
2) High HDB price
3) High Medical Cost

What needs to be done is simply:

1) Raise the CPF returns or liberalize the system to allow Singaporeans to invest their own funds in appropriate trust funds or even directly into Temasek and GIC! To get this work effectively, basic financial management skills should be taught in our schools. If most Singaporeans are to be proficient in managing their own funds, I do not see why we should just settle for that miserable 2.5% from CPF. They could even withdraw their CPF at age 55 and manage their own funds for their own retirement if they can prove their proficiency in financial management!

2) Change the HDB pricing mechanism to Cost-plus pricing system for New Flats. This will reduce BTO prices with minimum impact on resale market.

3) Public Hospitals should remain as Public, instead of thinking making money via Medical Tourism. There should only be one class of beds with REAL subsidies to citizens. A fair Universal Healthcare Insurance should be put in place.

There are many other things that need to be looked into. eg. The CPF Life Annuity system is really a joke. I do not know whether it is just another scheme for PAP to make money or what but the payout is definitely "profit-bias". This has been explained by many other bloggers in Singapore.

Nevertheless, to solve the inadequacy problem of CPF, PAP will have to look hard at these three fundamentals first. 


This is where PM Lee has failed badly. He thought he could hoodwink us with such small cosmetic surgery by allowing us to request (approval is not guaranteed!!!) to withdraw part of our CPF money at 65 years old and putting up some measures for us to reverse-mortgage or sell off our flats to solve the problems created by them, in terms of inadequate CPF for retirement financing. What PM Lee should do is to address these fundamental problems that are creating a huge gap in the adequacy of our CPF which is meant for our retirement financing. It is totally a joke for a country which has a mandatory contribution rate of 36% of our gross salary but in the end, we ended up with insufficient funds to finance our retirement and most of us will be forced to sell our flats for retirement!

But I guess Singaporeans are not that stupid at all. The fundamental question we want to ask is that, will PAP take up the responsibility of providing for those who can't have enough money for their retirement? This is especially a REAL problem for many Singaporeans because apart from the above 3 main problems created by PAP, its ultra-liberal FT policy has basically depressed Singaporeans' wages over these two decades and worse of all, displaced quite a number of Singaporeans from their proper jobs. Many professionals or PMETs were forced out by cheaper Foreign labour and have no choice, to become Taxi Drivers! This will add to the difficulties for these Singaporeans to have enough savings in their CPF to cater to their retirement needs.

All in all, I have basically lost confidence in PAP's manipulation of the whole system and this is why, I do not trust them at all. Not with my CPF money. Their past and present tweaking of the CPF, HDB and Healthcare systems, on top of it, the ultra-liberal FT policy, have basically made me skeptical about their real intentions.

My gut feeling is that there is a bigger problem in this whole system which is totally opaque to us. The only way to find out is to kick PAP out of power first.

Goh Meng Seng

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