Monday 16 June 2014

CPF Dialogue with Hri Kumar

Questions and more questions on CPF
Many at dialogue seek more transparency on how Minimum Sum is derived
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Sunday Times, 15 Jun 2014

From Parliament to Hong Lim Park, the Central Provident Fund (CPF) scheme has been closely scrutinised in recent weeks, and a dialogue yesterday showed that there are still many questions on the minds of Singaporeans.

About 120 people - from the retired to those who have just started work - turned up for a spirited three-hour session with Mr Hri Kumar Nair, an MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.

The volley of questions and concerns rarely faltered, and most centred on the Minimum Sum, and the monthly payouts during retirement.

They asked for more transparency on how these are determined, and why the Minimum Sum is rising. The Minimum Sum will increase from $148,000 to $155,000 next month.

During small group discussions, participants tried to help each other understand the CPF. But, at times, one seemed as perplexed as the other.

One participant, Ms Lucy Sim, who is in her late 60s, wanted to know how she could get higher CPF Life payouts than her current monthly sums of about $100.

Another, Mr Philip Lim, 64, said the $155,000 figure is a challenging sum to achieve for most people in the low- and middle-income groups.

The retiree said: "Inflation is higher now, so a lot of people cannot reach the Minimum Sum. If you give me a goal I can't reach, might as well don't give me a goal."

Other questions were on flexibility: Can Singaporeans decide for themselves at what age monthly payouts start, or draw out a larger sum from their CPF savings at the age of 55?

Currently a CPF member can withdraw up to $5,000. He can draw out more only if he meets the Minimum Sum and Medisave Minimum Sum first.

Resident Joshua Lim, 41, and his group suggested that to help more people meet the Minimum Sum, they be allowed to pledge their property beyond 50 per cent of the Minimum Sum.

In response to the questions and suggestions, Mr Nair said that meeting the Minimum Sum is not a test to be passed or failed, but rather about a need to help set aside an amount to tide a person through retirement.

"We're not making people richer or poorer by increasing or lowering the Minimum Sum. It's not a test, it's not a pass or fail exam."

He added: "Based on actuarial science, it is determined that if you have $155,000... you will have $1,200 per month for the rest of your life. And that is determined to be what a lower, middle-income person will spend in his lifetime."

But this, said some participants, is still not enough, and they wanted more information on how the figure was determined.

Mr Philip Lim wanted complete freedom to be given to Singaporeans to manage their savings. If he spent it all before he died then "God help me" he said, which drew applause from some participants.

But it also drew a sharp rebuttal from another resident, who said that is precisely why CPF savings should be protected by safeguards like the Minimum Sum.

Mr Nair had at the start of the session likened the CPF scheme to driving.

"If I'm a safe and responsible driver, the Government shouldn't tell me how fast I can drive. I can take care of myself," he said. "But sometimes, the rules are there not just to protect you but to protect other people as well."

During the dialogue, an elderly Ms Rene Yap spoke at length about her personal difficulties withdrawing money from her CPF savings and asked for help.

Later, Mr Nair told The Sunday Times: "This is a resident who has an issue. I spoke with her personally after the dialogue and I'll be doing my best to assist her. She's a resident in one of the landed estates in Thomson."

Discussions on the CPF issue have become more intense of late, with a defamation suit by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong against blogger Roy Ngerng for alleging that PM Lee had criminally misappropriated CPF monies, a protest against the CPF at Hong Lim Park and a debate in Parliament.

The Government has said that changes to the CPF and CPF Life schemes are in the works.

Mr Nair noted the increased attention in his session, which was organised for his residents, and had created some confusion online over who could attend.

Among the participants were about 12 who were not residents, including Reform Party chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam.

Mr Nair said he will be preparing a report based on suggestions from the dialogue to submit to the Manpower Ministry.

Acknowledging the many questions asked, he said: "What's clear to me is people need better communication. There needs to be better explanation on how things work. People should understand these things because (their) money is involved."

He added: "What is not helpful or what is not constructive is to say, 'Because I don't know the answer, therefore something bad must be happening.'"

Amy Khor clears air on retiree's CPF claim
CPF Board had notified woman she could withdraw her money
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 21 Jun 2014

PUBLIC concern over a retiree's claim at a recent public dialogue that she could not withdraw her Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings has prompted Senior Minister of State for Manpower and Health Amy Khor to issue a statement to clear the air.

The retiree in question is Ms Irene Yap, 76, a resident of Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, who took part in a dialogue last Saturday on CPF savings, organised by her Member of Parliament Hri Kumar Nair.

Ms Yap had pleaded for help during the dialogue, saying she had been unable to withdraw money from her CPF Retirement Account (RA) and that she wanted to take her money out as soon as possible because at age 76, she did not have long to live.

A video of her emotive plea was circulated online.

Yesterday, Dr Khor said: "In all probability, Ms Yap mistakenly believed that she has no avenue to withdraw her Retirement Account Savings. It is unfortunate that this has led to some public misunderstanding.

"Thus, it is important for the Central Provident Fund Board to clarify any erroneous perceptions and address public concerns."

Both Dr Khor and the CPF Board explained in their statements that the CPF Board had notified Ms Yap four months before her drawdown age in 1998 that she could apply to receive monthly payouts from her RA.

The CPF Board said that Ms Yap was in contact with them subsequently to clarify some matters.

In 2012, in response to some queries Ms Yap had, the CPF Board reminded her she could start her monthly payouts any time, or withdraw her RA savings in a lump sum, provided she had property to pledge.

But again, the CPF Board did not receive any instructions from Ms Yap, Dr Khor said.

The Board also tried to get in touch with Ms Yap after last Saturday's dialogue and visited her yesterday morning.

The Board said it is in contact with Ms Yap to help her withdraw her RA savings if she wants to.

In her statement, Dr Khor said: "I would like to assure members of the public that the CPF Board acts in accordance with prevailing CPF policies in the interests of its members. CPF Board does not withhold any member's CPF monies if they are eligible to withdraw them, as with Ms Yap's case."

The Board said in its statement that CPF members who meet the minimum sum when they turn 55, including those who have pledged their property, can withdraw any amount over the minimum sum from their Ordinary and Special Accounts.

"Such withdrawal can take place at 55 or any time there- after. Some CPF members are eligible to do so, but choose to leave their savings in their Ordinary and Special Accounts," the CPF Board said.

On reaching their drawdown age, CPF members will receive a letter from the Board informing them that they can apply to receive monthly payouts from their RA.

Mr Nair could not be reached for comment yesterday.

But he had on Wednesday written a Facebook post addressing concerns over Ms Yap's complaint.

In the post, he said that the Manpower Ministry was looking into Ms Yap's difficulties with the CPF Board and he was certain that the matter would be clarified and resolved.

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