By Kumaran Pillai –
I had to make a quick stopover after lunch to cover the launch of SPP’s Financial Literacy Awareness Programme. I only planned to be there for 30 minutes to grab their standard press release and make a quick exit so that I can have nice Saturday afternoon with my wife and kids. But, fate has it that I spend the next two hours being entertained by a man who was a towering figure in the opposition politics for over two decades, closer to three, actually.
A frail looking See Tong was in top form; he didn’t hold back his punches and kept us entertained with his wit and wisdom on politics and policy matters. He had a prepared text, presumably done by his loyal aides, but he cast that aside to speak straight from his heart instead.
This was one very politicized financial literacy programme and it came with no warning. He spoke about how to cope with the rising costs of living, declining real wages and the rent seeking practices of our government – the things that professors won’t talk about. He gave an example of how the interest rates from the CPF Board have been declining over the years, starting from 6% to the current 2.5% per annum. He also spoke about how the government has been using the CPF monies to finance the GLCs; and about how the government has systematically eroded our personal savings by transferring wealth into our national savings and reserves.
“The CPF Board has changed the rules,” he said, referring to the opening up of the CPF funds to Unit Trusts investments and bonds. He reckons these policy changes while benefitting the growth of the financial sector and GLCs, puts the average Joe at risk of losing everything. He added that “management of CPF is a complex issue” and therefore people need to be educated.
“When you sign with that plastic card, you sign your money away,” Chaim said. He also pointed out that youngsters today do not have the same values as older Singaporeans and it is hard to survive in a place like Singapore. Although he didn’t put it in so many words, he has to do this to make up for what the PAP has done to the people all these years.
Seated by his side was NCMP Lina Chiam, who spoke at length about the number of bankruptcies in Singapore and the number of cases she has seen in Potong Pasir. She appeared to be very concerned and troubled by the growing number of people who are distressed financially despite Singapore’s stellar economic growth.
TOC contributor Uncle Leong brought up some interesting statistics. In 2006, the average grant per household for Potong Pasir was $113. Whereas, the average grant per household in Aljunied during the same period was $570, which is $457 higher than what was given to the residents of Potong Pasir. He summed up by saying, “You vote for opposition, you will get penalized; you vote for PAP, you get short-changed. There is no benefit there… might as well vote for the opposition.” Leong brought up more interesting statistics, which I’ll leave for our other editors to work on for our future articles.
The press briefing ended ahead of schedule and the Chiams invited me for a kopi siew dai with them. I spent the next hour literally talking politics and yes I asked him the most important question of whether the opposition parties are ready to take over the government. He spoke about two things in particular, the current political sentiments and the need for opposition parties to work together to form a strong alliance. But, he also added that he does not see that happening anytime in the near future and that the opposition will remain fragmented for now. I sensed his frustration when he said, “everybody wants to be his own boss.” With 34 years in opposition politics and 27 years as MP, Chiam certainly knows the terrain well.
Though old and frail, Chiam has not lost his tenacity and resolve; and most importantly he is still able to work his political charm on those around him.
Kumaran Pillai is the Chief Editor of The Online Citizen.