Feb 21, 2011

Editorial Indiscretions by the Straits Times

Somebody working at the Straits Times propanganda department has goofed up. The newspaper published two particular articles today, and it obviously shouldn't have, because one article contradicts the other.

The first article declares that the government has done a great job (and has the resources to do it), as far as making life better for Singaporeans is concerned. There is even the bold assertion that what the Singapore government has done, "very few" other countries in the world can do.

PM Lee: Not many can do Budget, S'pore styleSurpluses enable Govt to dish out goodies but economy must grow
By Elgin Toh & Rachel Chang

THE new Budget, with hongbao to help Singaporeans cope with the rising cost of living, took an approach that very few countries can, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday.

Calling it 'pro-growth' and 'prudent', he said it also reflected how the Government intended to make life better for Singaporeans.

That's a nice piece of positive propanganda for the government, and it's quite important because the elections are coming up. Unfortunately, the newspaper also published an article which exposes the deeper truth behind the "better lives" that Singaporeans supposedly enjoy.

ST Feb 21, 2011
Only 14% of S'poreans ready to retire, money wise: studyBy Linette Lin

ONE in three Singaporeans plans to retire/was already retired before he reached 60 years of age, two years earlier than the current statutory retirement age of 62 years old in Singapore, according to Nielsen's Global Aging Report.

However, only 14 per cent of the Singapore consumers surveyed admitted they are financially ready for retirement - the lowest when compared to the Asia Pacific (22 per cent) and global (18 per cent) averages.

..... More than 26,000 consumers in 53 countries throughout Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and North America took part in Nielsen's Global Aging Report.
So here we see, from this international study, another powerful world record achieved by Singapore.

The percentage of Singapore residents who consider themselves financially ready for retirement is the lowest not only in the Asia-Pacific region, but the lowest in the world.

(More precisely, the lowest out of 53 countries covered in the study - but 53 countries is a large number of countries and a pretty good proxy for the whole world).

How come the Straits Times propaganda department goofed up so badly? This is a bad mistake. The second article should have been suppressed. PM Lee will probably be quite displeased.


Anonymous said...

They did not goof up. This is prove that our media is free and unbiased. Hehehe

But mMr Wang, seriously, you think many Singaporeans will read and know the difference? Or even connect them up? Sigh...

Anonymous said...

But, they fool most, if not all, the naive people all the time!

Anon is right. Singaporeans read, know but never bother to connect the dots to see the true picture.

When people follow blindly, the odds are they become blind eventually.

Anonymous said...

It's OK what, they publish as it is, if that was what PM Lee really said. And also what the Nielsen's Global Aging Report said.

Everything has pros and cons, so can you also said this is contradicting itself?

I list out my strengths and weaknesses, so am I also contradicting myself?


Anonymous said...

Maybe got mole in the editorial department.

Anonymous said...

it's ok ... i dun read newspaper anyway ... lol

Anonymous said...

Sad that Singapore holds such a world record. This is a consequence of a couple of different things. Firstly, the inadequate CPF system. Secondly, the high cost of living. Thirdly, the lack of social welfare.

And all of these are the result of our government's wonderful policies.

TopSage said...

Life of a Singaporean Peasant

They promised a Swiss standard of life,
Forgot to tell us its only for themselves.
Commoners struggle for life,
As housing bleeds CPF dry.
Medical cost heads for the sky.
Get sick can only die
Too many foreigners hard to survive,
Deepen our trouble, harden our lives
COEs is only for the wealthy,
The poor - MRT so packed so Squeezy
Herded to work like cattle
Another day another battle
Be cheaper better faster
Work harder and harder
Do it for the GDP
So that fatcats can get the money?
So what is in it for me?
My future so bleak I can see.
No way out of this poverty
No mimimum wages, no safety nets
Just one long struggle from the start
Until my hearts stops and I depart

Anonymous said...

I have not read either articles, but perhaps Mr Wang's observations can be explained as follows:

First article suggests that the govt has done well.

Second articles suggests that Singaporeans have screwed up.

Taken together, it may be an attempt to present a multi-faceted view of Singaporean society.

Although I do agree with Mr Wang that it is probably unwise to have both published on the same day. Kinda spoils the er... buzz.

I think Thursday or Friday might have been quite acceptable.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how accurate the first report is ... but I certainly can believe the second one.

Even our old MM is not ready to retire yet ... money wise.

He is still taking the 3 million bucks a year. Just not enough.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with you. At what age we retire depends alot on individual's expectations. We may earn a million bucks a month but we may still not be prepared to retire early. There are a myriad of reasons which could range from wanting to travel continuously to wanting to live a luxurious lifestyle, condo & all. If we opt to stay simply in a 1 room hdb flat with no wants, then of course we can retire early.

Anonymous said...

You can disagree with opinions. You can't disagree with data. The survey results are the survey results - facts, plain and simple.

A quitter said...

When I quit Singapore and cash out my CPF and other Singapore-based assets, I can immediately retire in simple comfort in a real 1st world country.

I think Singapore is unique amongst the developed nations where the elderly are urged to toil until they die.

Anonymous said...

The second article is only a 'mistake' if talking about the elderly being forced to make ends meet is considered an out-of-bounds topic. I think it is not, at least for now. You have to recall that some of the time, the PAP actually revels in their machismo through making things tough for the ordinary Singaporean. In that sense, then, there is no embarrassment in talking about it.

Anonymous said...

What do you expect from the 154th ranked media (or is it further down the ranking now?)
In their effort to apple-polished their political masters, they failed to see the contradiction of their articles

Anonymous said...

The two stories aren't really contradictory.

The first article suggests the government is brilliant.

The second suggests that Singaporeans don't save enough for their own retirement.

The brilliant government may then cite the second story to justify the further raising of the withdrawal age of CPF funds, if they deem it necessary.

It all fits perfectly in the grand plan.

So, perhaps it wasn't a slip-up but a masterstroke?


Anonymous said...

"However, only 14 per cent of the Singapore consumers surveyed admitted they are financially ready for retirement - the lowest when compared to the Asia Pacific (22 per cent) and global (18 per cent) averages."
Nielsen's Global Aging Report

Actually maybe much more than 14% are financially ready for retirement. It is just that they are too humble to admit that they are ready lah. So not really a bad thing.

Just like if I am really very talented, I won't admit I am, right or not?

After all who admits that he is very good, even though he is really good? Except maybe a minority (eg the 14% in the above report)of very proud people, right or not?

Or unless you are PM Lee lah, whose government really did a good Budget, S'pore style. If I were him, I would say the same too, even though I am by nature very humble. And I won't admit I am ready to retire, even if I can.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh, the first article is to praise the exceptional performance of the only Government in the world capable of doing what they have achieved.

The second article is to hint to Singaporeans that more money will need to be parked in CPF, notwithstanding the head in the air good feeling that comes with the goodies.

Goodies always give Singaporeans a high. Whether they have enough for retirement or not is a question left to be answered later, because that uncertainty depends on many factors. So most probably never give it serious thought.

Anonymous said...

Out of job or retired???

Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Wang,

I am glad you picked it up.

There is a recent debate on what caused our birth rate to plummet over the years.

One expert said its because we do not have more generous parental leave, while and MP said otherwise.

Doing a statisically significant study won't cost the Government much money. I can bet that it is because of the high and rising costs of living, and many young folks unable to afford their own accomodation.

However, I doubt they will conduct such a study. The results would make them look real bad.

Maybe someone could fund it and share the results publicly. It won't cost more than $100K with an Internationally reputable market research company - with depth interviews, focus groups and finally a statisically significant sample of a few hundred people of marriageable age and those married but no children.

Unknown said...

WAKE UP GUYS ! not only Singapore gives 'Angbao'. I worked in developed country for 4 months paid up withholding tax, pension fund and unemployment insurance totally slightly less than $1,000/-. The following year I received Tax Refund about $2,600/- and GST subsidize $800/-. We are not the best neither worst.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:39 pm,

Are you suggesting that Singaporeans hold the world record for being the most humble people in the world, out of 53 countries?

Come, come. The way you defend the government is so .... pathetic.

Anonymous said...

What the second article did not indicate was the fact that Singapore has amongst the highest compulsary savings in the world. I do not how many of the 53 countries require their population to save more but sometihing is terribly wrong when we save close over 30% of our earning and yet cannot retire. This is the legacy of the ruling party

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon 6.20 pm.

How is it that Singaporeans, with one of the highest if not the highest savings rate in the world (implemented via a mandatory savings scheme called CPF), end up with not enough savings when they retire, to the extent that many must (as opposed to want to)carry on working after their official retirement.

The answer is very simple: the CPF interest rate for far too long was too low and didn't even cover the cost of inflation.

This of course benefited the government which could tap a large savings pool at an artifically low interest. It didn't need to borrow from the financial markets. Admittedly much of this money was put to good use in the early days like basic infrastructure but now it's been sidetracked with the people's savings used by Temasek for overseas investments.

Of course Temasek says the money comes from MOF but the way it works is CPF passes the money to MAS who issues it with government bonds and passes the money to MOF.

I think if Singapore had opened up the CPF to market players right from the beginning it would have been much better. Each person would still have their own retirement account which can only be withdrawn at retirement. The money would be invested and diversified by professional managers in a wide range of assets and not just tied up in property which is the case now. However, the problem with this is that the government would not have direct access to our savings and would need to pay market rates to tap the savings by issuing bonds.

Remember the simple math - if our CPF savings had grown at the long term returns (emphasis here) of equity markets of about 6.5%, our savings would double about every 10years.

Older Singaporeans are in a quandary where they are property asset-heavy (their HDB)and too cash poor to meet the high costs of Singapore living. And of course if one is a low wage earner, then one could not have built up a large nest egg. The system just favours the high earner of course.

What the Government really needs to do now is to start a massive buidling program of retirement apartment blocks (in effect retirement villages) sold only to Singaporeans say 60 and above. And to make it fair in view of our massive immigration intake, only those who have been Singaporeans 10years or longer can qualify.

And these retirement flats must be sold at a low price (perhaps even below cost) so that older Singaporeans have the option to cash out their current HDB to buy or lease these retirement apartments and still have sufficient cash to live out their longer lives.

But of course the government is shirking this responsiblity, it will just point the finger and say "you can cash out and move to Malaysia or Indonesia." Problem is, not many countries take in older people unless you are rich in the first place.

Anonymous said...

"...but sometihing is terribly wrong when we save close over 30% of our earning and yet cannot retire."
Anon 6:20 PM

Who say cannot? Don't you have at least a HDB pigeon hole when you retire? Cash it out and rent a flat at retirement! This is what HDB rental flats are for! Or buy a cheap senior citizen 30 year lease studio apartment! Or do a reverse mortgage!

Anonymous said...

Second article may mean. Not ready for retirement, so must work longer & hehehehehe now coming back to........ your cpf withdrawing age.

Anonymous said...

You know, and I know, and they obviously know, that CPF is the proverbial pot of gold.

Ways and means will be formulated to ensure more money will have to be put in, kept in, and Singaporeans done in.

They already fired the first salvo by telling Singaporeans to forget about retirement. What follows is to make retirement an obscene dream by telling more and more drastic horror stories, which the second article is obviously trying to do.

The way houses and cost of other things are moving, maybe 14 percent of Singaporeans being able to retire will be too optimistic a benchmark as we go further down the road.

Anonymous said...

CPF withdrawal age is no longer an issue for them because not many have much to withdraw anyway at 55, what with so much going into housing and medisave.

They would just have to keep on increasing the minimum sum and medisave and they can leave the withdrawal age at 55 for eternity.

Anonymous said...

People see what they want to. PAP supporters will read the first article and believe that PAP is doing a great job, read the second article and think that PAP is right again to say that Singaporeans are too daft and lazy to earn enough money for retirement.

PH said...

First off, let me state that I am not saying the govt is doing a fantastic job in preparing citizens for retirement nor bashing the govt for doing a bad job. what I am doing is simply a critique of the survey.

Nielsen's Global Aging Report is a survey based on self reported perception. There is no objective level/target for which respondents can be measured against. Eg. instead of asking "Are you financially ready to retire?" a more objective qns could be "Do have assets worth $X" whereby X could be set at a multiple of a country's median income.

In analyzing the data/findings, we have to think about the different cultures and perception/expectations of retirement. Certain culture would expect to be self sufficient in order to retire while another culture may think that he/she is ready to retire when the offspring starts working. So this may skew the respond quite a bit when the same question is posed to people in different country.

Anonymous said...

as of dec 2010, there were 541,000 PRs.

even if only 50% are CPF contributors, there's still the liability of 270,000 x 35K (average amount in each CPF account) that the govt has to repay. that's close to $9.5 billion, and bound to increase every year.

no wonder withdrawal age and minimum sum have to be increased for citizens.

Anonymous said...

PH, I'm surprised that you talk about the different cultures, but not about more obvious things such as the absence or presence of welfare, pensions, healthcare benefits etc for the old, in the various countries, and the differences in cost of living.

Yeah, the Nielsen study is based on self-perception. So how would you perceive your own preparedness for retirement, if you were to retire in Singapore, as opposed to, say, Malaysia or the UK or Australia?

PH said...

I'm approaching this issue from a sociological viewpoint. And thus my considerations and the questions I am raising would be slightly different.

First off, as pointed out, I am not commenting on the govt policies on elderly/retirement.

Next, I want to point out that perception and concept of retirement might be different.
China does not have pension nor social welfare in place. Most are still relying on family for retirement, so their idea of retirement plan might be a well-educated offspring. Of course there might be social issues once the baby boomers grow old with just 1 kid lar.

I'm just thinking that SG probably belong to the category of a transition country in terms of retirement perception. We are moving away from dependence on family to self-sufficiency. Might be due to changing family structure or due to family values. Is the govt responding fast enough? Every one is entitled to their own opinions. My opinion is that in this transition phase, there probably would be more differences in needs/wants. Some need more help, others want more flexibility. Can't make everyone happy.

My take? I think we probably can do better with lesser spending on fighter planes, tanks and fat generals.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand. Are you saying that Singapore is last because it is some kind of "transition country", and none of the other 53 countries in the survey are "transition countries"?

Anonymous said...

/// as of dec 2010, there were 541,000 PRs.

even if only 50% are CPF contributors, there's still the liability of 270,000 x 35K (average amount in each CPF account) that the govt has to repay. that's close to $9.5 billion, and bound to increase every year.

no wonder withdrawal age and minimum sum have to be increased for citizens. ///

This is wrong. You are only looking at one side of the equation. You forgot that these 270,000 also have to pay in those money. This is not pension. This is your money. You and your employer faithfully pay in month after month, and on retirement age, you draw out a portion of it (minus the minimum sum). So, what is the problem?

SMS said...

" think Singapore is unique amongst the developed nations where the elderly are urged to toil until they die"

I think they have to continue to work because of the lack of cash from CPF. That is unless they sell their HDB house and rent a house in Johore Bahru. Maybe time to build a MRT rail system to JB.... maybe that is why they have/soon allow CPF to be use overseas !! Our health minister also encourage us to stay in old folks home overseas ... live on TV. Things are looking to burst anytime now.