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Subtle but significant shift in government’s stance

Posted by theonlinecitizen on September 18, 2007

By Andrew Loh

If you were in Parliament, as I was, when the Manpower Minister, Dr Ng Eng Hen, delivered his ministerial statement on the changes to the CPF, you might have noticed a very telling omission.

It was also a very significant one.

What am I talking about? Dr Ng never once, as far as I can recall, mentioned the word “compulsory” when he spoke on the newly renamed “Longevity Insurance” scheme – which itself was previously called the annuity scheme.

So, one would notice two significant shifts in the government’s position. One, no longer is the word ‘compulsory’ used and two, the scheme is now called “Longevity Insurance” instead of “the annuity scheme”, which was poorly received by the public due to its perceived low rates of returns.

Indeed, the minister said (link) : “We should be flexible in accommodating the different circumstances of CPF members..” which some have taken as an indication that the scheme may not be made compulsory for some people, besides the chronically ill which has already been mentioned by other ministers.

The minister more or less confirmed this when he said: “So long as he has provided for his old age, and will not run out of savings prematurely, we should be satisfied.” (Straits Times, “Room for flexibility, option to stretch Minimum Sum”, Sept 18, 2007)

Why the changes?

There is little doubt from those I spoke to that these two subtle but significant changes resulted from the rather intense disquiet on the ground. This is in spite of the mainstream media painting – or trying to paint – a picture of widespread acceptance of the scheme. (If you’d been reading the news reports of the local media you might agree with me.)

Having said that, kudos to the government for listening and paying attention to ground sentiments.

Several other factors for the changes in stance

One reason why the minister backtracked from using the terms “compulsory” and “annuity” could also be because of several other factors.

Some have wondered if “Black September” had anything to do with the changes.

(Black September was the event organized by netizens, calling for Singaporeans to “go shopping” wearing black at Centrepoint as an expression of protest against the annuity scheme.)

I am not sure if the incident had anything to do with the omissions by Dr Ng. But perhaps, as Seah Chiang Nee said, “it is likely to have weighed strongly on its mind. Therein lies its achievement.”

Another reason could also be that the government would risk alienating itself and creating even more discontent among Singaporeans – especially with the just-announced hike in transport fares and the recently released figures for the Consumer Price Index which showed that inflation in Singapore jumped 2.6% in July this year, the highest in over 12 years. (link)

Such news no doubt has caused quite a measure of anxiety and unhappiness among the populace. Couple this with the impending second upward adjustment of ministers’ salaries by the end of this year (as announced by Minister Teo Chee Hean in April 2007) and you see why the government had to backtrack from its insistent stance on the compulsory aspect of the annuity scheme.


Parliament is still in session, with MPs giving their views and suggestions on the CPF changes. What we can expect in the days and weeks ahead, when the government – and grassroots organizations and the media – begin to explain and educate the public on the intricacies of the scheme, is that words and phrases will be carefully selected when doing so.

One lesson the government should take from all this is that when it comes to a person’s money, the government needs to tread very carefully – including how it names its policies.

Nothing is more sensitive, and important, to a Singaporean than what’s inside his bank account – and in his CPF.

In the meantime, we have 6 months to wait – until the newly formed committee announced by the minister, which will be chaired by National Wages Council Chairman Professor Lim Pin, completes its study of the National Longevity Insurance Scheme.

That would be in March 2008 – just in time when the government will announce its budget for the new year.

One other thing to take note as well: Even though the minister or the government may omit using the term “compulsory”, that does not mean that it won’t be, for the majority of Singaporeans.

It seems, therefore, that more questions will be asked and more answers need to be given.


12 Responses to “Subtle but significant shift in government’s stance”

  1. Andrew Ong said

    Someone candidly commented on our government’s efficiency’ in problem-solving our country’s issues.

    For instance, Traffic Congestion = ERP, Increase Oil Prices = Transport Fare Hike, More Lower Income Group = Prevailing GST and the latest, Old Age = Annuity Scheme

    At a glance, it seems that Singaporeans end up the ones $paying$ more in solving these problems.

    Dun you think this is ’empowerment’ at its best? =P

    But in regards to this entry, I agree with your observation that it is a good sign that the government is adjusting their stance and ‘listening’ more to the ground. It shows that they do take heed of our views and sentiments.

  2. James Chia said

    There’s a chinese idiom “Huan4 Tang1 Bu2 Huan4 Yao4” – Change the soup no change medicine. The change is just superficial and cosmetic.

  3. Steven Lee said

    Andrew Ong Says:
    September 19th, 2007 at 12:02 am
    Someone candidly commented on our government’s efficiency’ in problem-solving our country’s issues.

    Well said. Walkways congestion by HDB shophouses leadin to fire that killed residents – the solution is not to clear up the walkway completely but heavier fine.


  4. blackshirt said

    Well, certain words may not have repeated but that do not change the substance of the policies and their stances. This is part of the spinning. Please remember how many rounds of talk c**k did they had when they were raising the GST. Remember “Help the poor”?!!!

    Hard tactics cannot work, so try soft tactics now…

    This guy could not have said it better.

  5. RaymondChua said

    Andrew Ong ,
    you have to be careful to take the view whether the gov is quick to listen now because they want to move on and put those ‘no-reply’ questions in the past and throw them into the dustbin.

    It seem to me that gov is more reactive than proactive in tackling issues. Today, I read a newspaper, and I almost laugh to tear when gov say they care about the citizen by giving 1 percent extra to CPF.

    Why ? It should have been done early, and why wait until the public place dissent then the gov try to do some damage control and then turn around to save face ?

    The answer everyone need to know is this:
    How is the profit earn by GLC ,and the stepboard help the nation and citizen. Oh ya, the gov can stop giving us crap about upgrading cost, road cost, etc blah and blah, because we know everyday PAP’s scheme make the world envy about Singapore gov’s money-making business.

    And sure, you have minister telling us that if gov want to help us, we have to help ourselves. Why did the gov still treat us as a child or dummy ? Since when we did not help ourselves ?

    Read today newspaper, and you find all the excuses, remark and rubbish so crappy and insult to people’s intelligence.

  6. Sylvia Kong said

    Is there an official website that is collating citizen feedback on this issue?

  7. Seeking Salvation said

    Let list the honest mistakes

    Suzhou Industrial Park – Who lost their pants
    The Great Singtel Subsidy – paying extra compensation for a earlier opening of the telco market – Who benefitted
    Batamindo Industrial Park – its literally a ghost town with the
    firms moving out – Smart ACUMEN on well paid officials
    The Shin Corp debacle – Billions wipe out – U must pay them well
    so there will be no corruption or else

    Who whose to decide on your hard earned retirement money when they can’t even hold on to the big money


  8. RaymondChua said

    Our gahmen are the world’s greatest ‘joker’ that even batman don’t even bother to destroy because batman has already ‘die laughing’ at the gahmen’s tons of excuse and reasons for their PayAndPay money-making justification.

  9. sevenleleven said

    what would be the biggest expenses for the age? I think MEDICAL COST would be the killer. instead of coming up with insulting craps that even a kid would laugh at, the should scrap athe the medi-scheme insurance and come up with one that will look into paying fully the medical cost of elderly even if it meant only a class C ward.

    look into the present urgent issues, not some crappy money grabbing non-issue

  10. Alex Har said

    At least there is final admission that the governmnet has messed up all this while and there is urgent need to make changes. Of course it comes with the excuse the that world is changing so fast…so its nobody’s fault certainly not the fault of the PAP.

    I guess that’s what Singapore citizens will have to evaluate. Having listened to the government and being obedient citizens…did they, or their parents, relatives and friends get the outcome they expected, or were promised.

    Do they see certain select people of class or person enjoying more benefits not becuase they have contributed more but because they have been able to garner more power?

    I for one am a happy Singaporean. And I hope that everyone else will explore these questions and gain contentment in the process.

    If we are just listening to some politicians, whetehr PAP or opposition, we will never be contented…maybe just get some high and lows.

    My advise for everyone is to sit down to evlauate objectively …and do share your views.

  11. Onlooker said

    Wow this have the overtone of the NKF fiasco(now called NGO or non government organization)
    Sad leh Last time I remember long time back, The letter that “invite” ppl to a dinner seem to have a “on government service” on it leh. Have many MPs including the head honcho(then) wife there too. But after The favorite son MR TT DURAII install the ?Golden toilet thingy, All hell break loose. It disappear leh, how strange hor.
    NVM We Singaporean is tough lah, They should get pay increase becos we can’t spell like miss Wee and they can spell
    “Supercalifragilisticexpialidoceous”. Too bad We will be “crush like cockroaches” quote master of the sea but Still we cannot die until we are 85 rofl 😛

  12. Seeking Salvation said

    Its really been determine whether u vote or u a balls carrier we are losers in the end

    The Parent maintenance bill being passed have already made them wash their hands off taking care of the older folks. However since most of the baby boomers chose not to have kids the parent maintenance bill could not be applied and the ball of the elderly is in the court. So come this cpf announcement and the retirement scheme (to work till u drop dead). If every suckers realises (especially the 66pct jackasses who voted for them ) who else would be retiring comfortably ontheir million dollar salaries. Think about it.

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