BY WALTER SIM, Straits Times

SINGAPORE – Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam defended the Central Provident Fund (CPF) yesterday, saying it is recognised internationally as a robust and sustainable system.

“We’ve provided a guarantee and a very fair rate of return that is not easy to beat in the market,” said Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister. “The difference in our case is that we take risk away from the ordinary citizen.

“If you’re wealthy, you’re well-off and you know how to manage a large amount of finances, then that’s a different matter.

“But experience has shown in the United States, Europe and United Kingdom that for most people, it’s not wise to put too much investment risk on them.”

Following recent calls for more transparency about the CPF system, he said that it currently provides “very significant flexibility”.

Members can use funds to pay off housing loans, while in retirement it provides MediShield cover. “Not everyone realises that the minimum sum is not $155,000 but it’s half of that if you use your housing pledge,” he said.

“Significant amounts of money can in fact be taken out to be used, to be saved as you wish or to be used to meet immediate means.”

He further explained that the CPF Board invests entirely in Singapore Government securities, of which the interest rate is known.

The Government then takes on the risk itself through investments, mainly in the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC), as well as in the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Even with the GIC publishing its returns, Mr Tharman said: “It doesn’t affect the CPF member because he or she is assured of a fair rate of return with no risk.”

This, he said, is unique among social security systems around the world. He cited pensioners elsewhere who have had their retirement savings wiped out because of the global financial crisis.

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