SINGAPORE - Amid the ongoing public debate about the Central Provident Fund (CPF) system, a large crowd gathered at Hong Lim Park yesterday to protest against several aspects of the compulsory savings plan.
The nine speakers at the "Return Our CPF" protest criticised what they perceived to be the inflexible and shifting rules of the scheme, its low rate of returns and the lack of transparency in how CPF monies are managed by the Government.
The last speaker, blogger Roy Ngerng, got the loudest cheers. He is being sued by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for alleging that Mr Lee misappropriated CPF monies.
Speaking for almost 45 minutes, Mr Ngerng said the connections between CPF monies, GIC and Temasek Holdings are unclear. He asked if there is a conflict of interest with ministers sitting on the board of GIC, which manages the Government's assets.
He called for more transparency on the reserves, and claimed that the late former president Ong Teng Cheong had clashed with the Government on this issue in the past.
He and protest organiser Han Hui Hui, also a blogger, charged that wage increases have not kept pace with the increases in the Minimum Sum, which will be $155,000 next month.
The CPF issue was discussed in Parliament last month, and the Government said it is looking at ways to improve the scheme. Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin had said that while the scheme may not be perfect, it provides "peace of mind".
At the protest, Ms Han called for returns on CPF savings to be raised to 6.5 per cent. CPF interest rates now stand at 2.5 per cent for the Ordinary Account and 4 per cent for the Special, Medisave and Retirement Accounts. An extra interest of 1 per cent is paid on the first $60,000 of CPF savings.
She estimated that 6,000 turned up yesterday, though some news agencies reported a crowd size of 2,000.
The harshest criticism on CPF interest rates came from blogger Leong Sze Hian. He compared the CPF rates to those earned by pension funds of other countries such as Malaysia, where returns exceeded 6 per cent in the last two years, and said Singaporeans were being "short-changed".
Former presidential candidate and former NTUC Income chief executive Tan Kin Lian, who kicked off the protest yesterday, said Singaporeans should have the freedom to opt out of the Minimum Sum scheme and CPF Life annuity. However, Mr Tan said if interest rates improve, it would still be prudent for Singaporeans to keep some money in their CPF accounts.
Mr Tan and other speakers also called for the monthly CPF Life payouts to be raised.
Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan, who is overseas, sent a message that was read out by representative Ariffin Sha, 17.
He said CPF has strayed from its 1955 origin as a pension scheme where employees and employers each contributed 5 per cent and savings could be withdrawn upon retirement. Reiterating this, former SDP member Vincent Wijeysingha said the Government is now using CPF as a "mop-up scheme" for too many purposes such as housing, health care and education.
Reform Party chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam said the defamation suit that Mr Ngerng is facing has had a "chilling effect". Another protest is scheduled for July 12, said Ms Han.
This article was first published on June 8, 2014.
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