The issue of the national reserves has always been a dicey one. For those of a certain vintage, you will well remember the days on which our first elected President, Mr Ong Teng Cheong fell afoul of the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) for asking questions about our national reserves.
At the time when he was President, it was well within his written rights to have asked questions about our national reserves. Unfortunately, it would seem from how events have played out that his right to ask was not the worth the paper it was written on. It would seem that Ong was stonewalled by the establishment for trying to be an active President and to earn his keep as opposed to being just a figurehead.
Most recently, Pitram Singh of the Workers’ Party (WP) was roundly told off by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat for daring to raise the question of national reserves. Heng even went so far as to call the question “superfluous”, stating that the question could not be answered “for national security and strategic reasons.”
For who does this “strategy” benefit?
It has been commented that Heng’s line of reasoning was flawed because no country’s reserves are truly confidential due to the fact that the health of such reserves are disclosed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) who would have downgraded our credit ratings and the strength of the Singamore dollar, had they sensed that anything was remiss.
So, is Heng suggesting that the IMF deserves to know information on the state of our national reserves more than Singaporeans who have contributed to the state reserves? What does that make us? Chopped liver? Gosh, this really demonstrates what they think of us mere mortals as they gaze at us from their ivory towers.
Secondly, it has been noted that Heng’s line of logic in not revealing the state of the national reserves does not stand up to scrutiny.
“First the new argument as to the defence forces munitions is totally non sequitor. It’s a non starter. Our reserves are simply not the subject of raiding by an aggressor.
Our reserves are not a tradeable asset that can be attacked by anyone save for the imprudence of its deployment from the custodians of the reserves namely the Government of the day and we have sufficient safeguards against such a raid.
The other argument made ad nauseam, as to our reserves being kept secret as a “strategic defence” to protect the Singapore dollar from speculative attacks and bolster the confidence of investors and citizens is equally illogical as it simply does not follow from the revelation of the actual size of Singapore’s reserves.
Speculative attacks arise from weakness to start with; whatever the reasons for that episode of weakness may be. Is the Government suggesting the size of our reserves are so surprisingly weak that we will be attacked? That would be quite a revelation and runs counter to popular knowledge, information and belief.”
Further, who is this invisible enemy that Heng is so worried about? Other countries have disclosed their reserves without crumbling to an onslaught of attacks. Perhaps the enemy is not from outside but from inside? Not telling us gives the impression that he is concerned that if we knew, we would turn against them?
Since Heng’s reasoning has already been so aptly demolished, let’s look at this from a different angle. To give Heng, the benefit of doubt, is he worried that rocking the boat will cause Singaporeans worry at a time when we are drunk with Corona (not the beer)? Perhaps he is attempting to be a paternalistic protector and saying not to worry, the government got it sorted?
If that is indeed his rationale, it might be high time that these grandiose notions be dismissed. Short of stating the obvious that state reserves are our money and not disclosing it is akin to POSB Bank refusing to tell you how much you have in your account, Heng must surely realise that not telling us what we have makes us feel even more insecure right? After all, there is nothing more scary than the unknown?
Either the reserves are so high that we would be outraged that more isn’t used to help the vulnerable or it is so low that we would have concerns as to where it has all gone — neither is particularly reassuring. So, if Heng really wanted to reassure the people, just tell us what’s in there!
The government has just announced a handout of $600 to every Singaporean over the age of 21. Given that the number of COVID-19 cases are increasing everyday, the government is sure to have to spend more money to keep the economy afloat. Surely Singaporeans deserve the reassurance that we have enough to tide over? How will we have that assurance if those in charge refuse to tell us what is in there?
The government wants us to trust them to look after the country but how can we trust them if we are kept in the dark? Not telling us what we have can leave us with the impression that there is something to hide.
That is worrying!