S’pore’s pragmatic approach to human rights

I refer to the article ”Singapore’s approach to human rights ‘pragmatic’, says Govt in report to the United Nations” (Straits Times, Dec 11).

To build a fair and inclusive society?

It states that ”Singapore’s way of promoting human rights is to build a fair and inclusive society, by enhancing social protection and preserving social harmony.”

In this connection, let’s look at the Convention which relates to social security, like our CPF.

United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

The following may be some areas of concern with reference to specific articles in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)  and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) :-

Social security (CPF)

Singaporean workers have to make mandatory contributions of up to 38 per cent of their wages to their own individual pension accounts (the Central Provident Fund accounts).

The Government issues non-marketable government bonds at 2.5 and 4 per cent to take over CPF funds, by matching the interest rates of 2.5 and 4 per cent paid by the CPF Board to the various types of CPF accounts.

There is no transparency as to how the government uses CPF funds.

Presumably, most of these funds end up or have previously ended up in the coffers of the Government Investment Corporation (GIC) and Temasek Holdings (TH).

It was recently disclosed that CPF funds are managed by GIC.

We know that GIC and TH have indicated historical shareholder returns of 5.2 per cent (20 years’returns only, but not from inception) and 16 per cent per annum respectively.

Yet the CPF Board pays only 2.5 per cent on Ordinary Accounts (generally about two-thirds of CPF contributions) and 4 per cent (about one-third of CPF contributions) on Special and Medisave accounts.

An extra 1 per cent is paid on the first $60,000 and another 1 per cent on the  first $30,000 from age 55.

This discrepancy may undermine Singaporeans’ access to adequate social security.

Malaysia’s EPF?

In contrast, for example, Malaysia’s Employees Provident Fund (EPF) paid a dividend of 6.75, 6.35, 6.15, 6.00, 5.8 and 5.65 percent in 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009, respectively, and has historically paid a return of between 4 to 8.5 per cent.

This access is regarded as a component of people’s economic and social rights by the United Nations, as provided under Article 9 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

“Interference” to the right to social security?

In November 2007, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights clarified its interpretation of what constituted the State’s obligations with regards to ICESCR’s Article 9.

It said in paragraph 45 of its General Comments 19: “The obligation to protect requires that State parties prevent third parties from interfering in any way with the enjoyment of the right to social security.

Third parties include individuals, groups, corporations and other entities, as well as agents acting under their authority.”

“The obligation includes…adopting the necessary and effective legislative and other measures, for example, to restrain third parties from denying equal access to social security schemes operated by them or by others…arbitrarily or unreasonably interfering with self-help or customary or traditional arrangements for social security that are consistent with the right to social security…”GIC and TH, being sovereign wealth funds, are third parties under the government’s authority.

Their apparent access to CPF monies for the purposes of investment could result in interferences to the disbursement of returns on CPF accounts.

Indeed, the discrepancy in the returns enjoyed by GIC and TH shareholders and the CPF members may be regarded as interference.

The Committee added on paragraph 46: “To prevent such abuses an effective regulatory system must be established which includes framework legislation, independent monitoring, genuine public participation and imposition of penalties for non-compliance.”

The absence of transparency on the access enjoyed by the GIC and TH to CPF monies may arguably be in contravention to these obligations.

The ICESCR was first adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1966 and came into force in January 1976.

To date, there are 160 parties and 69 signatories to the treaty. Singapore is not a signitory to the ICESCR.

Leong Sze Hian

Check Also

Luxury Goods Scammer Was Born In China But Got His Singapore Citizenship

How can someone like him be given citizenship? His friends said he had a habit of gambling and even had debts. Why do we let a foreigner like him enjoy our privileges and then cheat us of all our money?