Saturday, 12 July 2014

Hri Kumar: Why I Do This – A Reflection on the CPF Forum

By Hri Kumar, Facebook, 10 Jul 2014

A close friend of mine looked at the hullabaloo caused by my recent CPF Forum and asked why I bothered doing it. He had a point - it is easier to do nothing.

So why?

During the Second World War, General George Patton asked his troops to think about what they would tell their grandchildren. Do they want to be remembered for fighting the Nazis or for digging dirt in Louisiana?

Patton's point is clear - when times are tough, what did you do to try to make a difference? Did you do what was difficult or did you choose what was easy?

Today, we are also in a war - not the conventional kind - but one for hearts and minds of Singaporeans. There are groups who view politics differently, and who want to take Singapore in a different direction. And you can tell from what you read on the Internet or otherwise that some elements do not care how they win.

CPF matters to my residents. It is my duty to understand their concerns, clarify misunderstandings and to get everyone talking about how we can do things better. It did not trouble me that some netizens labelled the Forum a “wayang”. It did not even bother me that Kenneth Jeyaretnam wrote a post lying about what I said at the Forum – people are wise to him. Mdm Irene Yap’s speech grabbed all the attention, but it turned out that the CPF rules were applied properly and consistently in her case and she has access to her funds.

Ultimately, what was important was that the Forum helped us understand CPF better, and more importantly, to hear what others thought about it. And not surprisingly, there was a diversity of views. Most accepted that CPF was a good system, but could do with a few tweaks. Indeed, several spoke against allowing a complete withdrawal at age 55 or later. While they acknowledged the argument that people should have freedom to deal with their own monies, they countered that there is an equally strong argument that people should make provisions for their own retirement if they have the funds. Indeed, several spoke against the sentiment of one gentleman who said that it was his right to spend his money in Batam, and that if his funds run out, it was for God to help him! The reality is that it will be for the rest of us help him. So, the challenge is to find an acceptable balance between these two arguments.

Our society is evolving. We are made differently from the generation which built Singapore. We have different hopes, expectations and sense of fairness. We want more inclusiveness, less “swim or sink” or “winner takes all”. We measure success, not just by how well we do individually, but whether society as a whole is better off. We regard each other more as equals, and are less accepting of hierarchy. These are all good objectives. Our institutions and policies will therefore have to adapt. The Pioneer Generation Package and Medishield Life reflect that change.

However, it remains unknown whether what we are doing will achieve those results, or make things worse. Do not mistake the will for the deed - good intentions do not guarantee good results.

To me, the fundamental question is this - will Singapore continue to enjoy the same success it had in the last 50 years? Will our society continue to improve? What will it mean for my daughter’s generation, and their children?

To answer these questions, we need to understand WHY we have done well in the last 50 years. That is a question that is not discussed enough. We tend to answer it in very superficial terms – “hard work”; “free of corruption” etc. But there is surely more to it. What specifically was it about our institutions, our policies, our people that enabled that success? If we do not understand this, we risk changing what works and keeping what does not.

That is why I organised the CPF Forum. CPF is but one issue. We will have to confront a whole host of others – costs of living, minimum wage, income inequality, wealth redistribution, housing policies etc. These issues matter greatly to the future of Singapore and the well-being of our children. There are no easy answers.

I will therefore continue to urge my residents to openly share their thoughts on these and other important matters. People have the right to dismiss this or even snipe by the side. But if you care for Singapore, step forward and make a difference.

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