By Leong Sze Hian

On this morning’s (29 August) NewsRadio 938 Talkback programme from 8.10am to 8.50am, the guest on the programme, MP Halimah Yacob, NTUC Assistant Secretary-General and Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) Chairperson on Health, said that Ministers no longer receive pensions.

She was replying to a caller who asked why and whether it is equitable for Ministers to continue to get pensions, when the people have to purchase a compulsory deferred age 85 annuity paying just $250 to $300 a month.

In a reply to the Straits Times Forum dated 4 April, 2007, the Prime Minister’s Office said that:

“The Government moved away from the pension scheme for the majority of civil servants since 1986. However, the pension scheme is retained for the Administrative Service and the Intelligence Service where there is a strong reliance on the depth of expertise and length of experience for continuity of national policies.

For the same reason, the pension scheme has been retained for Office Holders, namely, Speaker, Ministers, Ministers of State, Mayors, Parliamentary Secretaries and Political Secretaries, given their role and impact on national policies, provided they serve long enough to qualify for a pension.”

And in 2004, then-DPM Lee Hsien Loong had also clarified with former NCMP Steve Chia in Parliament that indeed, the pension scheme is still in practice. (link)

Now, Ms Yacob’s remarks on the radio programme may have cast doubts on both the PMO and the PM’s clarifications.

So, do they get pensions or don’t they?

Hello! Anybody home?

On another note, I refer to the Auditor-General’s (AG) report in the last few years.

If not for the questions raised by the AG, the public may not be aware of the various lapses, from the answers given by the ministries and statutory boards.

I looked back at my letters to the newspaper forums, and have listed below some of the questions that I asked, but did not get answers to.

1. Education – How many foreigners are given scholarships relative to Singaporeans ? (“What’s ratio of foreigner to local scholarships”, BT, Oct 13, 2006)

2. Healthcare – What was the surplus accumulated, and what happened to it, when MediShield Plus was privatised to an insurance company ? (“Hello ? Anybody listening”, BT, May 25, 2005)

3. HDB – What is the breakdown of the cost of land and construction for HDB flats ? (“Settle question of HDB subsidy once and for all”, ST, Jan 2, 2007)

4. Charities – Why was NKF’s Institution of Public Character (IPC) status reinstated within a month of it’s termination by the National Council of Social Services (NCSS) ? (“Lesson from Kids : Stop passing the buck”, ST, Dec 24 and 21, 2005)

5 Transport – Why is the Public Transport Council’s household income data different (much higher – up to 61 per cent more) from the Department of Statistics’ data, in the report on the affordability of fares ? (“The poor will benefit most from transport fare cap”, ST, Nov 30, 2006)

6. CPF – Why is it that poorer Singaporeans who do not withdraw their CPF at age 55 and who do not meet the Minimum Sum are given lower interest, compared to those who can meet the Minimum Sum ? (“Increase 2.5% CPF interest rate”, BT, Dec 19, 2006)

7. Investing – After 11 years, about 75 per cent of CPFIS investors did not beat the Ordinary Account’s 2.5 per cent. What are the statistics after 12 and 13 years ? (“CPFIS investors and their losses”, ST, May 20, 2005)

8. Jobs – What is the breakdown for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents, for new jobs created, number of unemployed and the unemployment rate ? (“Show the numbers to dispel notion that foreigners take away jobs from S’poreans”, ST, Dec 22, 2006)

According to the World Bank report, “Governance Matters 2007 : Worldwide Governance Indicators 1996-2006”, Singapore’s score for Voice and Accountability fell further to a low 46.6.

As I believe Singaporeans may like to know the answers to some of the above questions, which pertain to the use and accountability of public funds, I would like to suggest that perhaps the AG could ask some of them in next year’s report.

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