berthahenson

Musing over the PM’s message

In News Reports, Politics on August 9, 2014 at 5:32 am

The PM actually looks nice in pink but someone should teach him what to do with his hands. They look better off holding on to a mike than flapping along his sides. Last year, he planted himself at ITE College Central, using it as a backdrop for how Singapore has come. This time, he planted himself at the Alexandra Park Connector to make the same point. Wonder what place he will pick next year? Sports Hub?
But, hey, who cares about what he looked like or where the television cameras were placed? Matters more what PM Lee said in his National Day message.

What struck me was how he eschewed the vulnerability narrative. You know, about how Singapore struggled against the odds, no one owes us a living, everybody else wants to eat our lunch and how we are so small and, yes, vulnerable. But there was the familiar refrain about how foreigners are impressed with us….and we should be too?

He was pretty forward-looking with a focus on that great swathe of young people in the ITEs and polys. I suppose those at the higher levels of education in the universities can fend for themselves. He wants to give the middle level a boost, to get them ready for the workplace and to keep on learning. (Notice he didn’t say they should all go on to university.) There’s yet another acronym-ed committee called ASPIRE to help them to reach their aspirations.

Of course, he talked about economic growth, to be achieved within a much smaller band now which he didn’t say. We can forget about hitting top end of 4 per cent forecasted; it’s 3.5 per cent at the upper end. I half-expected him to talk about productivity which has been pretty dismal despite years of effort, and which so many economists and commentators have referred to. He didn’t. Nor did he talk about how the economic restructuring might not be working as well as it should or the pain it is causing to businesses.

He did go on about retirement planning. That’s really the big thing that everybody wants to hear at his National Day Rally next weekend.

“Singaporeans know that they have to prepare for retirement. People are working longer and saving more. For most of you, your HDB flat and CPF savings are key ways to fund your retirement. The HDB flat has allowed Singaporeans to build a home, and to grow a valuable nest egg for old age. Your flat is an asset which appreciates as Singapore prospers. My team is studying how to make it more convenient for retirees to get cash out of your flats, in a prudent and sustainable way.’’

“Besides your flat, the CPF has helped you to save for your old age. It ensures you have a stream of income in retirement. The scheme works well for many of you, but it can be improved.’’

So it’s time to play a guessing game on what’s coming up. A re-look at the minimum sum requirements? More CPF money freed for the financially-savvy to invest? More “reverse mortgage’’ plans to get the elderly to unlock their assets? I hope that something more radical will be announced than such tweaking along the sides, such as whether CPF money should used to buy a home for the first, second, third and umpteenth time so much so that even though we can’t quite maintain our standard of living in the last home, we insist on keeping it. Because it is our home. As I’ve said before, people look at retirement planning in terms of cash; not cash that must be unlocked from assets. A massive mindset change needs to occur for people to “touch’’ their houses to pay for day-to-day living. (You don’t suppose he will speak about Roy Ngerng do you?)

There’s something else that he said that resonated with me: “As Singaporeans, we must judge a person not just by his educational qualifications, but also by his skills, contributions and character. This is how we keep Singapore a land of hope and opportunity for all.’’

This might be naughty of me but is that why he didn’t talk about ITE and poly students going on to uni? In any case, he’s correct to say that a person shouldn’t be judged by whether he was from the Normal or Express stream, has a diploma or a Phd. It would be good if he put a brake on this paper chase so that no one need feel embarrassed about cutting short his education or having his education cut short for him. And people realise that they don’t have to buy Phds online to earn respect or look good.

By the way, I almost expected that he would say that you should not judge a person by his sexual orientation or views on the family…he didn’t. Nothing on the cultural wars fought over library books beyond how “our interests and opinions are more diverse and deeply held’’. I wonder if he thinks the cultural divide is important enough to merit a mention in his rally speech. Is this more a pre-occupation of the vocal few than a national issue?

In all, a very “safe’’ message. I hope his rally speech will be more uplifting. I have always thought the Prime Minister doesn’t address the nation often enough. He should, to pull together the diversity of voices or set the nation on a path. May he do so in brilliant fashion next week. I’m looking forward to it.

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