SINGAPORE — Making his first appearance on “live” radio, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was inundated with calls as listeners dialled in to Chinese-language station Capital 95.8FM, while presenters Lin Lingzhi and Pan Jiabiao peppered Mr Lee with questions sent in via Facebook and SMS.
But while the topics discussed spanned a broad range from politics to education, retirement adequacy appeared to be the issue that weighed most heavily on listeners’ minds, with questions on the Central Provident Fund (CPF) scheme and housing dominating the hour-long special last night.
Asked about fears of being unable to attain the CPF Minimum Sum, Mr Lee, speaking in Mandarin, said that “on the whole, most Singapore elderly should have no problems with daily expenses” upon retirement, with monthly payments from their CPF accounts. They also have options for monetising their homes, such as by downgrading to a smaller place, renting out spare rooms or tapping the Government’s Lease Buyback Scheme for their Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats.
When asked if the Government would consider offering the Lease Buyback Scheme — which will be extended to four-room HDB flats — to owners of private housing, Mr Lee said there were no such plans at the moment. While there are forms of buyback schemes in the commercial market which other countries are adopting, these have not caught on in Singapore, he said.
However, the Government was aware that there are retirees living in private housing who may be asset-rich, but cash-poor. “We should take a closer look at this problem … We can think of a solution to help them,” Mr Lee said.
Details on the expansion of the Lease Buyback Scheme are expected this week. In March, the Government said it was studying reverse mortgages as a means to help elderly Singaporeans retire comfortably.
Noting that some may be reluctant to sell their homes, Mr Lee said not everyone needs to resort to that, and many have children who can help provide for them. “The (Lease Buyback) scheme is the last option, but it doesn’t mean you have to do it or that we are encouraging you to do it. We are giving you a choice,” he said.
When presenter Lin Lingzhi noted some felt that how a person spent his or her CPF savings should be a personal choice, Mr Lee said a person is not only an individual and belongs in a society. “When people get old and have medical problems, it is hard for a government to say, ‘This isn’t our problem’,” he said.
He added: “The CPF scheme should provide some flexibility to allow people to withdraw a portion if they really need it. But I feel you should try not to dip into your CPF savings if you can help it and depend on your other savings first. Because CPF is meant to provide security during retirement.”
Over the course of the programme, more than 100 questions were received by the MediaCorp station through calls to its hotline, SMS and Facebook.
Among them were questions over Mr Lee’s call for a cultural shift away from the paper chase, which was made during the National Day Rally last month. Acknowledging that the dominant mindset is that a university degree is a must, Mr Lee said: “It doesn’t mean once you get a degree, employers will immediately regard you as more valuable. They will still look at whether you can contribute to the company … You may have bought a university degree, but that does not mean you get better treatment.”
While one should treasure the opportunity if one manages to get into the local universities here and obtain a good degree, there are still other options for those who do not, he said.
With a General Election due to be held by January 2017, one listener asked if the Government could consider increasing the number of Single Member Constituencies (SMCs), so citizens can vote for individual candidates. Responding, Mr Lee said the Electoral Boundaries report has not been done yet, but said both SMCs and Group Representation Constituencies have their purpose.
Asked whether he felt public satisfaction has improved over the past two years, following a slew of initiatives such as the Pioneer Generation Package aimed at addressing citizens’ concerns, Mr Lee said: “I believe people feel that the things that have caused them frustration in the past have reduced. Of course, I hope people are much happier than before.”
He added: “But while we can satisfy people’s basic needs, one’s own personal happiness or worries are not entirely up to the Government’s control.”