SINGAPORE, June 9 Singapore witnessed one of its
biggest protests at the weekend, over the fate of hard-earned
pension savings, throwing a spotlight on one of the most
sensitive political issues facing the tightly regimented
Having enough to live on in old age is a big source of
concern in Singapore, one of the world's most expensive
countries, with the number of people over 65 projected to triple
to as many as 900,000 by 2030.
A falling birth rate means there will be a proportionately
smaller pool of working age people to support them.
Singapore is seeing growing anger over issues ranging from
immigration and rising living costs to gay rights - all in a
country where most media are state-linked, dissent is actively
discouraged and political gatherings require a permit regardless
of how many people are involved.
A record 21,000 people attended "Pink Dot" rally a year ago
in favour of gay rights, only months after the High Court
rejected a petition to repeal a law which criminalises sex
Critics of the Central Provident Fund, a mandatory saving
system which people and their employers must contribute to while
working, say they do not know enough about what happens to money
they place in the scheme and that it should be bringing them
"In Singapore, we have no transparency and we have no
accountability," said author and columnist Leong Sze Hian at the
'Return Our CPF' protest on Saturday which attracted about 2,000
Most funds are invested in risk-free government securities.
In the current low-interest rate environment, that means they
currently pay the legislated minimum annual rate of 2.5 percent,
or 4 percent for funds in an account used solely for retirement.
Many of those protesting argued that the returns were not
keeping pace with the rising cost of living, meaning that in
real terms they will be left with less money when they retire.
The government says that those kinds of returns are higher
than equivalent risk-free investment products available
privately, and that higher returns would lead to more risky
"The people want higher guaranteed returns, and if the
market cannot give that kind of guaranteed return, then whoever
is investing the money has to take more risk," said Benedict
Koh, a professor of finance at Singapore Management University
"Then the question is, who is going to bear the losses?"
The debate has also raised further questions for the
government about how it deals with online criticism. The issue
only became high profile after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
sued a blogger for implications of impropriety in connection
with the pension funds.
Some commentators said that Lee is risking losing further
ground with the votes by taking such a move, regardless of
whether a suit is justified or not.
"Singaporeans see the defamation suit itself, and not the
act that has entailed it, as the very cause of the erosion of
trust," said writer Catherine Lim in an open letter to the Prime
The blogger, Roy Ngerng, said he had raised more than
S85,000 ($68,000) from public donations to pay for his legal
fees, after an offer of an apology and S$5,000 were rejected.
Lee has not commented publicly on the case, though he did
flag in a recent post on his Facebook page that "freedom of
speech does not come free from the need to be responsible for
what one says, either online or offline."
($1 = S$1.25)
(Reporting by Rachel Armstrong; Editing by Nick Macfie)