Minister wants “credible and reliable source of news” but Singapore ranks 154th in Press Freedom?

By: Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the article “Critical for Singapore to continue to have a reliable news source: Chee Hong Tat” where the Minister opines that it is “critical for us to continue to have a credible national broadcaster that Singaporeans can turn to as a credible and reliable source of news”.

Yet, Singapore drops one rank from its 2015’s 153rd ranking to 154th in Reporters Without Borders (RWB)’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index. This new ranking place the city state at its lowest ever rank.

Here are some examples of how “credible and reliable” our “source of news” has been:

Example No. 1: The Budget and me: Aid office near home a boon to widower

It states that “Since his wife died of cancer in February last year, Mr Ang K.T, 59, has been the sole pillar of support for his three schoolgoing children.

The widower has his hands full caring for his 20-year-old daughter who is intellectually disabled and attends a Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore facility.

After knocking off as a part-time painter in the afternoon, Mr Ang rushes home to cook and do housework before tending to his children after school.

He has a son, 14, in secondary school and another daughter, 19, at the Institute of Technical Education.

As he needs time to manage the household, he is able to hold down only a part-time job, paying $850 a month.”

Take-home pay only $740?

His take-home pay after his employee CPF contribution is $740.

As to “Barely able to make ends meet, he has been getting financial help from the South West Community Development Council for the past few years.

Mr Ang gets $350 monthly under the ComCare Work Support scheme”

Including ComCar assistance – only $1,090?

– does this mean that his total income, including the $350 from ComCare is only $1,090?

Isn’t this amount kind of tight for his family of 4, with 3 children in secondary school, ITE and special school for the disabled?

ComCare assistance got increase or not?

Did he get any increase in the $350 Comcare support in the last few years, or has it remained the same?

How much utilities and S & CC paid for him?

In respect of “A portion of his other expenses, such as utility bills and service and conservancy charges (S & CC), is also being paid for”

– how much exactly is this “a portion of his other expenses”? If Mr Ang is living in a 3-room HDB flat, the S & CC rebates for 2013 was only for 2 months, not to mention that 7 town councils increased S & CC in late 2012.

Does he get additional S & CC rebates in view of his circumstances?

According to the MOF web site – “Those living in 3- to 4-room HDB flats can offset up to 4 months of utilities bills on average” – does he get additional utilities rebates in view of his circumstances?

Savings depleted by deceased’s wife’s medical costs?

As to “Mr Ang hopes this year’s Budget will give him some extra pocket money for a rainy day. “My biggest worry is what will happen to my special needs daughter when I am not around,” he frets. “I have depleted my savings over my wife’s chemotherapy sessions”

– why did Mr Ang have to deplete his savings to pay for his wife’s chemotherapy sessions? Whatever happened to our MediShield, Medisave, Medifund assistance, etc?

Example No. 2: “Jobless rate inches up amid tight labour market

It states that the unemployment rate for Singapore citizens was 3 per cent last quarter, up from 2.8 per cent, while that for residents (Singapore citizens and permanent residents) was 2.9 per cent, up from 2.7 per cent.

According to the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) Employment Situation First Quarter 2014 report, there were 3,518,700 persons in employment in March 2014.

An estimated 59,300 residents, including 52,300 Singapore citizens, were unemployed in March 2014 while the seasonally adjusted figures were 62,500 for residents and 55,700 for citizens. [Statistics from MOM report.]

Only 49.5 per cent of total workforce are Singaporeans?

So, although there is no breakdown of the employment statistics for residents into Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs), if we divide 52,300 unemployed Singaporeans by their 3 per cent unemployment rate, we get 1,743,333 Singaporeans in the workforce.

Divide this 1,743,333 by the total employment in Singapore of 3,518.700, and we get 49.5 per cent.

Therefore, does this mean that about 50.5 per cent of the workforce are not Singaporeans?

If so, then we may have reached a milestone in our labour statistics – with more than half of the workforce being non-citizens for the first time in Singapore’s history.

Whatever happened to the consistent rhetoric in recent years that the influx of foreign labour will be curtailed?

If we make an adjustment for the 133,033 new citizenships granted from 2007 to 2013, what percentage of the workforce are not originally Singaporeans? Is this about 55 per cent or more?

Example No. 3 (“HDB Studios subsidised … after MDA licensing starts?“, May 29, 2013)

“I refer to Raymond Ng’s letter “Reveal the actual cost of public housing” (Today, May 25, 2013).

Formula for HDB subsidies?

Mr Ng asked “how the Housing and Development Board (HDB) derives its formula for “subsidies” for each housing type and the profit margins”.

Well, I thought that a good starting point in trying to dwell deeper into this question (since years of repeated calls by MPs and citizens for this “top secret” information has fallen on deaf ears!) may be to examine the cheapest HDB flats that one can buy.

I refer to the booklet “Enhancing Your Retirement Income”.

Sell flat buy studio?

It states that “Move to a smaller flat or Studio Apartment – when doing so, you can choose to sign up for the Silver Housing Bonus (SHB), which provides additional financial help to lower-income elderly, who sell their flat and buy a smaller one”.

Why 30-year lease so expensive?

Since a Studio Apartment has a lease of only 30 years, why is it that it cost almost as much as a 2-room flat with a 99-year lease?

Can’t be sold in open market?

Moreover, a Studio Apartment cannot be sold in the open market like 2-room flats, and as I understand it, can only be sold back to the HDB after a Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) of 5 years.

Higher profit margin?

So, in view of the above, is the profit margin higher for Studio Apartments compared to 2-room flats.

If this is the case – why?

Helping lower-income retirees?

Arguably, are we really helping lower-income retirees to monetise their existing HDB flat, by selling Studio Apartments to them at such “relatively” high prices?

In this connection, the lowest priced BTO Studio Apartments in Choa Chu Kang were from $58,000 to $66,000 (December 2008 BTO) and $77,000 to $104,000 (January 2012 BTO).

PSM – Studio cost as much as 3-room?

For 3-room flats in the same January 2012  Choa Chu Kang BTO, the price range was $146,000 to $172,000.

Using the floor area of 37/47 sqm for studio and 68 sqm for 3-room, the psm is $2,081 to $2,213 for studio and $2,147 to $2,529 for 3-room.

So, on a psm basis comparison, Studio Apartments can cost as much as 3-room flats. Why?

In mature estates like Queenstown, prices were from $113,000 to $168,000 (November 2012 BTO).

Breakdown of costs?

In view of the 30-year lease, what is the breakdown of the construction and land costs for Studio Apartments?

Top-up CPF $90,000 to get SHB $20,000?

In the booklet’s “SHB Example 3 – A couple sells their 5-room flat to buy a Studio Apartment for $100,000, and top-up their CPF accounts to enroll in the CPF Life Scheme.

They use $90,000 of their flat’s cash sale proceeds to top up their CPF to get a $20,000 Silver Housing Bonus.

Where does the money go?

Since the CPF Life annuity payouts are projected (in this example – $975 to $1,071 (husband) and $764 – $843 (Wife)) at the average yield of the 10-year government bond plus 1 per cent, in a sense the Government gets to utilize $70,000 from this couple.

So, what happens to this $70,000?

What returns on the money?

Well, since the total sum of our reserves and the rate of return on our reserves is not known, we can only look at Temasek’s 17 per cent per annum return over the last 34 years or so, and GIC’s 6 per cent per annum in US$ over the last 20 years or so, as a guide.

What happens to excess returns?

If the average return that is derived from this example of $70,000 from this couple exceeds the 10-year government bond yield plus 1 per cent, in the future – then, in a way, the Government gets to keep the excess.

Who’s making how much for what?

In the final analysis, can the experts give us some ideas about how much the Government makes or lose from Studio Apartments and CPF Life for the entire population of Singaporeans now and into the future?

One-way ride to oblivion?

Since the accumulation of our reserves are like a never ending one-way ride that never seems to be returned to benefit Singaporeans, is the Government’s gain in a sense a loss to Singaporeans?

Studios subsidised?

Or, are Studio Apartments subsidised at a loss, as we have always been told about the Market Subsidy Pricing of HDB flats?

Are there any countries in the world that helps their retirees to retire, by way of the above?

Press freedom dying a slow death?

You wanna bet that Singapore’s press freedom ranking will fall to yet another record low from the current 149th – thanks to yet another draconian rule to dampen free speech and freedom of expression in Singapore!

Majulah Singapura!

You can kiss goodbye to Article 23 –  Every person has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information, whether orally, in writing or through any other medium of that person’s choice” of the ASEAN HUMAN RIGHTS DECLARATION – which also states – “REAFFIRMING FURTHER our commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Charter of the United Nations, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and other international human rights instruments to which ASEAN Member States are parties””.



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