Straits Times: Longevity insurance an irresponsible act, says Low

PARLIAMENT

BY LI XUEYING


OPPOSING VIEWS: MPs Low Thia Khiang and Chiam See Tong (next picture) challenged the CPF policy changes.

THE two opposition MPs yesterday called on the Government to do more for older Singaporeans.

Mr Low Thia Khiang (Hougang) asked for the setting up of a longevity fund to help provide for the elderly. He added that he fears the CPF policy changes may cause Singaporeans to perceive the old as useless, leading to the erosion of social cohesion.

Mr Chiam See Tong (Potong Pasir) also argued that the Government should contribute to the annuities scheme, echoing earlier calls by ruling party MPs Inderjit Singh and Josephine Teo.

In an impassioned speech made in Mandarin, Mr Low, secretary-general of the Workers’ Party, said in a droll manner that “the world is becoming a funnier and funnier place”.

It is one where “longevity has become a crime”, he said. “Singaporeans have worked so hard all their lives, they have contributed to the economy. Much credit must be given to them. But now if people live a long life and their CPF is exhausted…the Government wants to force them to buy annuities.

“I think this is an irresponsible act on the part of the Government,” he charged.

What should be done instead is to set up a longevity fund that will make payouts to those who live beyond 85 and are in financial difficulties, he said.

Mr Low went on to say that, for people to identify with their nation, “policies should not be formulated based on data and economic consideration alone”.

But his suggestion of a longevity fund was rejected by Second Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

“It will not be wise for the Government to do this or for Singaporeans to want the Government to do this,” he said.

“We know that these pressures will build up over time for Government to spend more, to grant more, to subsidise more. It’s in the nature of every society and every society, especially as it gets older.”

It was in anticipation of this that the elected presidency system was put in place, said the minister. “It is a system that makes sure that subsidies are paid for and funded on the Budget now, one way or another, not left to future generations to pay.

“This is the way we must run the Government. There is no easy way out.”

In his speech, Mr Low also stated his party’s opposition to the deferment of the age at which Singaporeans can withdraw their CPF savings.

While Singaporeans may be living longer, they may not necessarily be healthy enough to continue working, he said.

And delaying the use of CPF monies means that they are deprived of a chance to decide if they want a lighter job with less income.

“If we do not allow our people to start drawing down on their retirement account at the age of 62, it will result in Singaporeans having to work until they are old or even until they are dead,” he said.

This met with a rejoinder from People’s Action Party MP Cynthia Phua (Aljunied GRC), who accused the Workers’ Party of playing to the gallery. “(They) refuse to face the reality and are not prepared even to take and to shoulder the responsibility.”

Meanwhile, Mr Chiam called for the Government to manage the annuities scheme itself rather than farming it out to a private insurance company. This way, it could “top up the annuity accounts of poor citizens itself and not wait for the government surpluses to do so”.

He urged that the CPF system be “made simple and more transparent so it can be easily understood by the workers”.

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