Three CPF stories that have been drowned out

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In the combustible mix of issues like transparency, interest rate and increases in the minimum sum, there are others that hardly get a mention as the Great CPF Debate transfixes a polarised nation.

Here are three views that show that this is not a black-and-white debate.

Tang Li, 40, is a freelance media consultant. He regrets not having contributed to CPF earlier because he was self-employed for the last decade.

He says: “I tried to save cash during that period of time, but it was damn difficult.  When things get bad, I dip into my emergency fund and it’s back to square one.

“The banks give you a generous payout at an interest rate of 0.01 per cent, assuming that they haven’t penalised you for having an almost empty bank account. The crappiest form of investment requires $5,000, which I barely have.

“So I do believe the CPF scheme is a form of social safeguard. The CPF is also your own money. In that sense, when you can no longer work, you have the means to look after yourself.”

He worries that a CPF scheme which allows everyone to take out their savings at 55 may burden the future generation.

“Nowadays, people live well into their eighties and nineties. I like to think that when I am unable to work or am physically incapable of looking after myself, I’ll have some social security to fall back on.”

“This social security I am talking about is in the form of my own money [CPF savings or pension]. I do not want to live off the next generation through taxes or social welfare help when I am old. I don’t want to be a burden on the youngsters.”

Li says: “I think there is a need for more social safeguards for this group of people, but it is not an excuse to give everyone all their CPF savings at 55. This is a problem beyond the CPF scheme that needs to be addressed.”

Gerald Soon, 38, has a different story to tell.  He has been saving up since the day he turned 25. He says he earns less than the average middle-income worker in Singapore, and never took his A-Levels.

“I don’t see CPF as a means to retire comfortably. I think you got to depend on yourself for that.

“I think we need to be more responsible for our own lives. Even if I save 38 per cent of my income for 30 years [in CPF], I cannot expect to live the next 30 years [in retirement] without changing an ounce of my lifestyle, while factoring in medical bills and house loans.

He says: “Singaporeans say Singapore is a nanny state, but if we keep asking for more, then Singaporeans only want the umbilical cord not to be cut.”

The third man who spoke to us only wants to be known as Noah. He has two children and considers his family a middle-income household. The 29-year-old feels that CPF is a good system, sold poorly to the people.

He says: “CPF is not a piggy bank to be broken at age 55 and to be spent foolishly. It would be nice, of course, if we have a risk-free vehicle to park our money in, but we do not. I don’t think CPF is that vehicle.”

Like Li, he points out that most low-risk or small investments do not yield better returns than those provided by the CPF. “I understand that for many people, myself included, money is tight sometimes. But removing the Minimum Sum scheme will not solve this problem.

“It would be terrible if many people who have exhausted their CPF savings end up on government welfare, and expect tax payers like you and me to feed them.”