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Why is PM Lee totally silent on minibond issue? By Andrew Loh.

Has our Prime Minister gone missing again (Part Two)?

Andrew Loh / Deputy Editor

In March this year, I questioned the silence of the Prime Minister over the escape of terrorist suspect Mas Selamat Kastari. Indeed, it took the PM 11 days before he made any comments on the incident. (See here: Has our Prime Minister gone missing too?)

It is October and there is a new issue gripping Singaporeans – one which perhaps is even more deeply felt than the toilet window escape of a limping terrorist. An estimated 10,000 investors are on the brink of losing all that they have saved and invested.

Yet, more than a month after the issue came to light, the Prime Minister is – as was in the Mas Selamat case – totally silent on the issue. It is left to the investors, sympathisers such as Mr Tan Kin Lian, and now Minister Lim Hng Kiang and MPs to try and “do the right thing” vis-a-vis the minibond issue.

Eminently qualified, so why so silent?

When 10,000 investors are affected, which include many retirees who are on the brink of seeing their life-savings wiped out, you would expect the leader of the country to say something. But, as with the Mas Selamat fiasco, such assurances from the Prime Minister do not seem to be forthcoming. Instead, in the Straits Times of October 21, we see a picture of the PM smiling and holding up a “stuffed panda” bear which he was presented with at Mercy Relief’s fifth anniversary celebrations. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Mercy Relief does excellent work. The report at least showed us that the PM is still around.

It has been observed by not a few people that the silence of various agencies of authority is deafening. I would say that none is louder than the Prime Minister’s seeming nonchalance. This becomes even more stark if you consider that Mr Lee was the Finance Minister from 2001 to 2007, and was himself a former Chairman of the MAS for six years as well. (See here.) So, there is no question of him being eminently-qualified to not only speak on the issue but also to understand the issue intimately. Indeed, Mr Lee spearheaded some of the important changes in the financial sector, including its liberalisation, “relying more on disclosure and caveat emptor (“let the buyer beware”).”

Hence, his silence, as Prime Minister, is especially conspicuous.

Does the Govt take the issue seriously enough?

One other thing to note is the absence of any statement by the Chairman of the Monetary of Singapore (MAS), Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, in the Parliament sitting of October 20. Instead, it is telling, at least to me, that the ministerial statement was left to the former Second Minister for Finance and Deputy Chairman of MAS, Mr Lim Hng Kiang.

Why was the statement not made by the Finance Minister or the minister who is also the Chairman of the MAS (Goh Chok Tong)? What does that say about the importance the Government gives to the issue? Alas, Singaporeans are left with the rather curt – and regrettable – earlier statement by SM Goh which said that Singaporeans who didn’t want to take risks should leave their money in the CPF.

And lastly, on the subject of silence, no Member of Parliament was present at the two Speakers’ Corner event so far. Hundreds of affected investors took the time to go down to Hong Lim Park to find out what they could do – some elderly and obviously unsure of what recourse they have. Yet, despite the media covering the events and giving prominence to the issue, no MP – from either the PAP or the opposition – bothered to seize this opportunity to go speak to the investors themselves.

This is truly a sad state of affairs, when Parliamentarians avoid or ignore such a great opportunity to help ordinary Singaporeans who are facing uncertainty and indeed, anguish.

Salary hike in spite of fiascos?

Minister in charge of the Civil Service, Mr Teo Chee Hean, is expected to announce the third increase for ministerial salaries anytime now. This will be the third and last step of the increase announced by the Government in Jan 2007, to bring salaries to 88% of the benchmark.

The question Singaporeans will have to ask is: With the economy slowing down into a recession, the unemployment rate expected to rise, inflation at record highs (even though ministers had earlier said inflation would ease in the second half of this year), and the lack of leadership in at least two major instances this year (Mas Selamat and minibonds), do our ministers deserve a third pay hike?

That will be the topic of another article here on TOC.

For now, however, it would be good if the Prime Minister provided some leadership. As I said in an earlier article, 10,000 investors deserve better.

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