What Do You Really Mean By "The CPF Is Safe?"

I came across this blogger Tan Kin Lian's article [link] on the CPF last night. In this article, bold printed in its title, the writer declared to Singaporeans that our CPF monies is safe and went on to justify his claims by offering some facts and figures (with a link - so it must be true). If you are worried about the 'safety' of your CPF funds and need a fatherly figure to assure you and coax you to bed, do take a few minutes to go through his blog post.

For I did but yet I couldn't sleep as well as I should so I got out of bed and read the doctor's prescription again. It said,

"The annual report of the CPF at 31/12/2012 showed total amount owing to CPF members to be $230 billion. This is invested in Singapore Government Securities totaling $229 billion, with a few other billions invested in other assets. 
If CPF were to be wound up, will the government be able to pay the $229 billion?

The answer is clearly "yes". The reserves of the government comprises of $198 billion in Temasek Holdings, $305 billion in MAS and "over $100 billion" in GIC. The total is over $600 billion. 
If this were to happen, will the government be able to sell the assets to raise $230 billion to pay the CPF members? There is no need to. If the government were to issue bonds of $230 billion, that is backed by the $600 billion of actual assets, it should have not much difficulty. 
Another way is for the government to "print $230 billion" of money to pay back the CPF members.
- extracted from my insomnia doctor's blog post

You know what? I'm glad somebody was able to provide some figures for us to ponder about. Just about 2 decades ago, when the people's President Mr Ong Teng Cheong requested for access of information regarding Singapore's financial reserves, the government told him it would take 56 man-years to produce a dollar-and-cents value of the immovable assets. [link] Since our financial blogger was able to produce some figures straight from a government website, I'd assume that the government of 1993 was actually honest and did not lie to President Ong and in fact, should be applauded for completing their work 35 years earlier. Those once-in-50-years time warp floods must have helped a little so PUB should take some credit as well.

So referring back to the 'facts and figures', Mr Tan did a simple balance sheet for us. The government owe CPF members blah blah blah and we have blah blah reserves, blah blah GIC, blah blah Temasek, so if you do some simple subtraction, we have surplus! Therefore,

 "The winding up of the CPF is completely hypothetical and inconceivable. I have used this scenario to illustrate that the savings in the CPF is safe, and that the fear that there is no money to pay back the CPF balance is totally unfounded."

Beautiful illustration on paper but Mr Tan probably did not understand the fear of worried Singaporeans do not end from knowing there are money somewhere to pay us should the "inconceivable" happens. From a government that tells the a President representing the people that they need 56 man-years to calculate immovable assets (whatever they meant) and produce figures on paper, I wonder how many years does this government needs to sell those assets when the need arises.

For somebody with a strong financial background, Tan Kin Lian seemed to be completely hypothetical himself but conveniently forgetting how difficult it is to liquidate assets. Even a small time retail stock investor knows that you might not be able to sell all his shares at the same price during a sell down. Any sell down involving millions or billions of dollars will definitely create a temporary correction effect in the market as it demand deals with the sudden oversupply of assets. So if we put Mr Tan's hypothesis to test, the government will definitely end up with a significantly lower amount of cash than what it suggests on paper - that is provided 'immovable assets' can be moved at all. Coupled with the fact that Temasek Holdings and GIC are heavy stakeholders of countless of "GLCs", what would be the ripple effect of such a great sell-up to these companies and our economy in general? Putting the possibility of liquidating as cleanly as said aside, it comes down to whether Singapore is able to cope with the effects of Mr Tan's own hypothesis. Print money? Sure.  In all honesty, it gave me more fear just reading the basis of his assurance. I hope I'm the only Singaporean thinking so.

Facts and figure may never lie but human beings are fallible. The CPF is NEVER safe on a day when

1) The government refused to be transparent and provide relevant information freely and rightfully to the people.

2) The same people with track records of a monkey continues to handle investments funded by public money and be made accountable for their mistakes.

3) The CPF board continues to shift their goal posts as and when they need it without consulting and reaching a fair consensus by their stakeholders.

The people should never rest assured and continue to be fearful until the day these change to an acceptable and ethical level.

No comments:

Post a Comment