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Leong Sze Hian questions stats on migrants, retraining and helping S'poreans.

Fed up with statistics? (Part 2)

Leong Sze Hian / Columnist

I refer to the article “Let’s celebrate the diaspora” (Today, Nov 1).

It states that “Singapore suffers the paradox of being one of the world’s smallest populations that not too long ago, reportedly, had one of the highest migrant outflows. In 2002, a survey estimated Singapore’s net migration figure at 26.11 migrants per 1,000 citizens. This year, though, it has lowered its estimate to 6.88 migrants per 1,000 citizens”.

With about 3 million citizens, does it mean that the number of migrants is about 20,640 (3 million divided by 1,000 times 6.88) ?

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, 1,000 Singaporeans give up their citizenship in a year, and the number of people in Singapore who applied for a Certificate of No Criminal Conviction (CNCC), which is needed to apply for permanent residency overseas, exceeded 1,000 a month to reach 12,707 last year from 4,996 in 1998.

According to the Department of Statistics’ Yearbook of Statistics 2008, 10,848 Singaporeans and Malaysians withdrew their CPF in 2007 because they left Singapore permanently.

Since Singaporeans can only withdraw their CPF after they have given up their citizenship and obtained citizenship from another country, how many of the 10,848 were Singaporeans?

According to the article, “Solve CPF withdrawal issue with Singapore” in the Star (Malaysian newspaper) of 12 November, "Under the present CPF withdrawal regulations, Malaysians from Peninsular Malaysia are only able to withdraw their CPF savings at the age of 50 if they have not been working in the republic for the last two years.”

Why is it that our employment statistics cannot tell the difference between Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs), our population statistics can, and our CPF withdrawal statistics cannot tell the difference between Singaporeans and Malaysians ?

Statistics on helping Singaporeans in the recession

It has been said that we will not pump-prime the economy like what other countries are doing, because Singapore is a small economy, and thus most of the pump-priming (60 cents out of every dollar) may go out of the country.

I also refer to the $ 600 million for retraining workers and $ 2.3 billion loan and credit facilities to help Singaporeans and companies.

The “loan and credit facilities” are as I understand it, generally guarantees that the Government will share the risk of default with the lending financial institutions.

Does it mean that it may cost the Government very little for a start, and may not cost very much depending on the eventual defaulted loans that cannot be recovered ?

As to the statement that, “The move to take on more risk in such schemes is a tried and tested solution which was implemented during the last major downturn in 2001”, the current financial crisis may be very different as there was no severe credit crunch and global asset meltdowns affecting financial institutions in 2001.

Did such measures actually increase the amount of lending?

The fact that the share of funding had to be increased gradually from 50 per cent in 2001 to 80 per cent in 2004, may indicate that it was not very successful. And of course, by 2004, the downturn may more or less have been over.

How much did it finally cost the Government in terms of defaulted loans non-recovery guarantees?

Can we have the statistics and regular statistical updates in the months ahead ?

What is the breakdown of how the $ 2.3 billion was derived ?

To what extent will financial institutions lend in a declining recessionary environment, as the merits and viability of the borrower may still be paramount ? After all, a loan that turns bad is still a loss, not withstanding that the Government may be sharing part of the loss.

Re-training works?

With regards to the $600 billion package for retraining workers, I understand that from past experience, such re-training schemes were not very successful, for the simple reason that there were hardly any jobs for workers or the unemployed after a few months re-training, as the recession may last for a few years.

With analysts predicting that unemployment could hit 4.5 per cent next year, up from the current 2.2 per cent ; the number of unemployed may rise to about 130,000 next year from the current 64,500.

How many of these unemployed may have the luxury of savings to tide them by whilst they go for re-training and get just $480 a month ($4 an hour x 6 hours per day x 20 days) for low-skilled workers, and up to $ 1,000 a month for the higher-skilled ?

How many Singaporeans can survive on $ 480 or $ 1,000 a month ?

In so doing, we may only be helping those with savings to tide them by, instead of those who may really be in dire need of a decent paying job.

How realistic is it to expect most companies to keep their workers by sending them for subsidised training, in a recession that may last a few years ?

Contradictory statement by minister

As to Labour chief Lim Swee Say’s remarks that, “Right now any forecast …. will be just pure speculation. Nobody can say with a sufficiently high level of confidence what’s going to happen to the global economy”; it may be somewhat self-contradictory as it makes one wonder on what basis did the Government analyse that the measures that have just been announced are appropriate and will be adequate?

Surely, a range of forecast from worse to best scenarios may help in the formulation of policies, review and feedback.

The problem with not lowering costs like reducing GST, and using the targeted assistance approval, may be that those needing financial assistance keeps increasing as the middle-class is squeezed into poverty, some may fall through the cracks, and financial assistance may always never be enough under our system of self-reliance as a fundamental guiding principle.

In this connection, assistance funding like the Citizens’ Consultative Committees’ (CCC) Comcare Fund for needy residents, is not based on how many and how much is needed, but rather on a fixed budget of $52,000 per constituency per year, such that some constituencies have to ask now for additional top-ups.

So, even those providing assistance may find that there may always not be enough to go around.

Instead of just once-off measures to mitigate the financial crisis, I would like to suggest that we have a thorough review of the fundamental root problems affecting Singaporeans even before the start of the current crisis – such as the estimated 40,000 in arrears for more than three months on HDB and HDB bank loans, the 750,000 who do not have any form of medical insurance, the estimated two-thirds who can’t even meet their CPF Minimum Sum at age 55 without pledging their hones, and the estimated 100,000 families in need of financial assistance, etc.

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A group of Nanyang Technological University students has just released a book on Mr Leong Sze Hian’s letters to the local press throughout the last 8 years. Covering 9 major issues which Singaporeans are concerned about, the book is now available at all major bookstores, including Borders, MPH and Times.

The book is titled, “Issues That Matter – Uniquely Singapore: F1 or F9?" with a foreword by Mr Tan Kin Lian.

It is sold at $15.90.