Posts Tagged ‘Roy Ngerng’

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.


CPF – Completely Perplexing Fund

In Money, News Reports on July 9, 2014 at 4:54 am

So two ministers have spoken on the CPF system, probably the most extensive elaboration we’ve heard in recent years. Funny how the CPF system has been in place for so long and it is only now that we’re told the ins and outs of its operation. I don’t suppose we have to thank blogger Roy Ngerng for this? Or would the explanation have come in any case because people no longer take increases in the CPF minimum sum as something that just sorta happens every year?

The pity is that the G’s explanation is not going to reach many people. Its feedback arm says that while eight in 10 have heard of the CPF system, too many do not know how it works. Half of the 1,000 plus people polled don’t even know that CPF Life will give them a monthly sum from age 65. But why would anyone really bother so long as the money goes to them, in full and in time? No one has received a bounced cheque from the CPF have they? In fact, the fund is ticking away just fine compared to other retirement funds elsewhere where benefits have to be cut or where there’s a risk of the funds going bankrupt. Why the kerfuffle now?

At the risk of over-simplifying, people simply want more/all of their own money back earlier. They think they know how to deal with their own money to plan for their retirement and can the G please butt out, thank you. Also, there’s this desire to want all their own savings to themselves before they die. In fact, what I would really like to know is, how much do people leave behind in their CPF when they die? Nothing? Very little? A lot?

I suppose the trigger was the increase in the Minimum Sum to $155,000. You know, this really affects those who turn 55 this year but many other people are hopping around thinking it applies to them too. Hmm. Well, the bad news is that it will get higher given rising cost of living. It has to, to be able to provide between $1,000 and $1,200 pay out every month after age 65.

Then the G makes it plain that people shouldn’t be panicking at the $155K figure. It’s really just half that because you can use the property to pledge the other half. The figure I would really like to see is whether this current cohort of 55ers do have the Minimum Sum, in cash and kind. I don’t see the figure anywhere although it must exist. But last year, just 15 per cent of the 55ers put up property pledge. That sounds not too bad; most still can handle the cash portion.

There’s a point that I am confused about regarding this property pledge. So we have CPF Life which is like an insurance scheme pooling everybody’s retirement accounts (which I gather will include the property pledges) So what happens to our “property’’ if something untoward happens to CPF Life? Is this so as to provide room for us to finally sell our homes if need be? Or forced into doing some kind of reverse mortgage? (Okay, my questions might be seem silly, but I really don’t mind an education)

BTW, I thought Finance Minister Tharman did an excellent job explaining the workings of the CPF system. There will of course be queries, like why set the CPF interest rate to a formula involving G bond yields anyway – and not closer to projections of how much GIC can make, which might be higher than the 2.5 per cent for Ordinary Account and 4 per cent for Special? After all, the G is confident of guaranteeing rates of return and has a buffer of “net assets’’ if GIC underperforms. Too volatile to do so? Too much dependence on market vagaries?

But what IS this thing about net assets? So the G sells stuff and uses the money to subsidise the CPF in the GIC’s bad years? It seems to have done so for eight years – and no one noticed or recorded it?

What I also found interesting is his explanation of why the CPF fund can’t be managed as a standalone fund but needs to be co-mingled with other assets to be invested. It’s to give GIC a much bigger base to play with so that it won’t be TOO conservative about investing simply to meet CPF interest rates.

Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin also gave some interesting statistics.

a. 20 per cent of last year’s cohort of 55ers – about 12,000 people_- didn’t withdraw their excess OA even though they could. So I guess this was pushed into the Retirement Account which gives higher interest. I wonder who these people are. Probably those with enough money to spare and can’t be bothered to take it out to invest elsewhere. So they leave it to the G to make money for them. It would be good to hear from some of them

b. 10 per cent of those 55 years and older are still using their CPF to service their mortgages. I guess this is from the Ordinary Account. Half of them have to put out cash as well. How many exactly? Don’t know but Mr Tan said it was a “small group of people’’. I wonder why they still haven’t owned their homes by then. Because they have been upgrading homes through the years and been enjoying the asset enhancements without figuring that their CPF might run out?

c. Every year, about 500 of the post 55ers ask to be able to use their Retirement Account to service mortgages, that is, they’ve already exhausted their Ordinary accounts. About two-thirds are approved. The other one-third will be given other “financing’’ or “housing’’ options. I wonder what they are. Will they be asked to take a reverse mortgage or a lease buy back scheme? It would be good to know if people have had to do so.

I hope the above isn’t too hard-going. Oh. I didn’t give the mechanics of how CPF works because I did so in an earlier post. Read The Old Lady and her CPF Part 2.

Keeping the “civil” in civil society

In News Reports on June 3, 2014 at 1:21 am

Reading the comments that appear on my Facebook wall or in response to this blog, I think there are only two kinds of people on the internet: the cynical and the defensive.

Each group tries to drive the other out of the space, which is why in some forums, you have only a certain sort of like-minded people gathered. It is an echo chamber. What cynics say about G committees and conversations applies to them too, that they are talking only to themselves. That has never seemed to me to be an intelligent way to conduct a conversation.

From what I can see, there are more anti-G than pro-G elements in cyberspace. I pity the pro-G forces who are left in some corners of the space and who quietly watch from the sidelines at the vitriol being poured on them. How can it be that civil discourse on the Internet is so polarised?

There are too many who will die, die not give the G the benefit of the doubt, much less praise of any kind. And those who do, get tarred with some bad names including those that can’t be printed. I’ve been a target myself when I presume to say that the G is right. I have always thought I have a pretty thick hide, but the comments are so downright wicked and scurrilous that I blanch when I read them. (Note: I did NOT cry). I still care enough about my ex-colleagues (a prime target) to send them consoling messages when they are trolled. And I am always grateful to those who care enough about me or think I have been unjustly vilified, to stick their own necks out.

Last month at a talk in a junior college, a student asked how the level of vitriol, on racism and xenophobia, for example, can be tamped down. I replied that people have simply got to speak up against it. Sure, you’ll be whacked but if you have the courage of your convictions, you stand by them, I said.

Too many people say “What for? Waste time only’’ when they complain about the nastiness. They say that speaking up will only bring about a backlash and various CSI activities that might hurt not just themselves, but their family. And how they themselves are not nasty enough to do the same to the perpetrators of calumnies.

Evil triumphs when good people do nothing, it is said. I agree.

I don’t think I have that much guts by the way. I get asked very often about whether I’m afraid that what I write will bring the G down on me. Truth is, I am actually less afraid of the G (actually not at all!) than online venom.

I was flummoxed when an FB fan asked me (very politely) if I was trying to “fit in’’ because she said that some of my comments were dripping with sarcasm directed at the G. It is sad that “fitting in’’ means having to be anti-Establishment, but it got me thinking that perhaps I WAS trying to fit in. Not in the rude name-calling manner, but in a wise-ass kind of way that the online community likes (I think).

But when it comes to certain matters, I don’t think fudging it or cloaking it in wit or satire or sarcasm does me or readers any favours. So I think the antics of Anonymous with the videos etc were plain bad; that PM is right to sue Roy Ngerng and the anti-Pilipino independence day crowd was being silly. Some things should be said plainly.

I’m going to use the word of week: cynicism. There’s too much of it going around such that everything bad is laid at the G’s door and any attempt by the G to do anything is viewed with suspicion. Past mistakes are not forgiven, even if amends are being made.

There is a tendency to “mis-read’’ stuff, especially complicated stuff. The MSM isn’t doing a good enough job of making it easy – and I acknowledge that this is hard to do. Then there are people who will wilfully mis-read whether out of mischief or because they are so blinded by prejudice that they can’t see beyond it. And of course, people who wilfully disseminate the wrong stuff. I use this word “wilfully’’ deliberately. I think a lot of so-called misinformation out there is not deliberate, but more out of an incomplete understanding of the facts. Of these people, I say we should be tolerant. And it behoves those who DO know the facts and understand the subject to speak up.

Of course, they would be misconstrued as “lackeys’’ and so forth but there would be those who welcome fuller participation (and these people too should speak up too!)

I actually think the so-called PAP Internet Brigade, whoever they are, are brave people.  It is a tough job engaging opposing voices. (Oops! I think the phrase should be “shouting matches’’ with the so-called oppies or those who want a “change’’ come 2016. )

I know the responses I will get from both sides who read this post:

  1. Blame the G lah. They started it, always knocking down opponents.
  2. Why can’t I demand more from our very well-paid politicians and civil servants?
  3. Why can’t these people just be grateful for what we have now?
  4. These people who complain, can they do any better?
  5. It’s freedom of speech; you can’t control the Internet.

Thing is, we do not need a society of “closed minds’’, of painting things in black or white. Or resorting to ad hominem statements. When we do so, we risk alienating a broad middle band or the chance to bring the extremes closer together. We can start by being civil and engaging mind (and heart) before engaging mouse. We can, for example, suspend judgment for a while when confronted with things we don’t understand instead of delivering an instant verdict. We can wait to see how things pan out. We can ask questions. We must remember the “civil’’ in civil discourse and civil society.

Sure, we are entitled to have an opinion, however ill-informed, because we live here and we love this place.   

But for our opinions to matter, it must be READ by a wide range of people, and not just the like-minded.  


Why can’t people be more polite?

In News Reports on May 21, 2014 at 6:25 am

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.

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.

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.