Is our CPF the highest “implicit tax” in the history of the world?

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Secretary-General of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) Lee Hsien Loong gestures as he speaks during a rally in Singapore September 4, 2015. Singaporeans will go to the polls on September 11. REUTERS/Edgar Su

I refer to the article “Taxing CPF, SRS savings could raise $1b” (Straits Times, Jan 12).

It states that “Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat have warned that the Government needs to raise revenue to fund increasing social expenditure.

Actually, this begs the question of whether the Government should fund the expenditure from financial reserves accumulated by past governments or by raising taxes from earners today.

Both options involve real costs. Society must pay today or in the future. But leaving aside this issue for another day and assuming that the preference is to raise tax revenue today, let’s consider how additional revenue should be raised.

Our second suggestion is: Rescind the tax relief on contributions to the Central Provident Fund (CPF). CPF contributions up to specified limits are exempt from income tax, and the returns on CPF investments accumulate tax-free.

Again, like the SRS, this sounds helpful for retirement. But there is a cost – in foregone revenue to the Government.”

Difference between CPF % and CPF returns?
Whilst there may be many different issues relating to our CPF, perhaps the most significant one may be how much Singaporeans have in a sense, lost due to the difference between the returns derived from CPF funds and the interest paid on CPF accounts?
Transparency and accountability on CPF?
Of course, if the Government is transparent – it should disclose the historical yearly returns of say the GIC, yearly weighted average CPF interest rate on all the CPF accounts, yearly total cumulative CPF balance, yearly net surplus of annual CPF contributions less withdrawals, etc.
“Cumulative loss” of Singaporeans’ CPF?
From the above data, we can try to estimate and derive what is, in a sense – the “cumulative loss” of Singaporeans’ CPF since the inception of the scheme. It would be even better if the Government computes the figure. Let’s attempt to estimate this amount.
$8.8b excess returns in 1 year?
The excess returns of the GIC over the CPF interest in just one year is estimated to be more than $8.8 billion, on the current CPF balance of about $353 billion as of September 2017 (2.5% x $353 billion).

Since we know that the current CPF balance is $353 billion – let’s make some assumptions…. historical annualised returns of GIC – 6.0 per cent… historical weighted average CPF interest rate – 3.5 per cent… start date of 1981 – the year GIC was formed… historical annual increase in net CPF contributions less withdrawals – 4 per cent

Difference between 3.5 and 6.0% is about $180b?

From the above, computing the CPF balance now assuming 6.0 instead of 3.5 per cent, is estimated to be about $500 billion.

Does this mean that the “cumulative loss” of Singaporeans’ CPF may be about $147 billion ($500 billion at 6.0% – $353 billion balance now)?

And what about the loss to Singaporeans, from now into the future – as long as the CPF interest rates are much less than the actual returns derived from our CPF funds?

Underestimate?

The above may be an underestimate as Temasek started in 1974 (not the 1981 used in the computation), and also the CPF interest rates and returns derived from CPF funds in the early years, may have been higher than the assumed 2.5 per cent differential between 3.5 and 6.0 per cent.

Any Govt keeps pension fund returns?

Are there any national pension funds in the world that keeps so much of the returns derived from its citizens?

Lowest real rate of return in the world?
Is our real interest rate on the Ordinary Account the lowest in the world since 1999 – when it had remained at just 2.5 per cent till now?
According to Phillip Ang – CPF interest rates were generally below the rate of inflation from 1972 to 1981 – “In 1982, Minister Toh Chin Chye confirmed that our CPF was used for “the construction of new factories, installation of new plant and equipment, expansion of infrastructure such as roads, ports and telecommunications, the building of houses and so on.”
On a cumulative simple interest basis, it was 63.5 per cent (CPF interest) against 65.4 per cent (inflation) during this period.On a cumulative compound interest basis. it was 85.1 per cent (CPF interest) against 98.5 per cent (inflation).
The mother of all our problems?
In the final analysis – is the “cumulative loss” of Singaporeans’ CPF – arguably, the mother of most of our problems today?

In this connection – I agree with the remarks “listed three things that leaders must do to build trust with their people.First is to be upfront and help people understand the issues at stake and the trade-offs involved in policy considerations.Second, they must keep finding new ways to communicate with people, especially in an age when “inaccurate or misleading information can ‘go viral’, possibly clouding a person’s view on an issue”.

Third, they must be accountable and responsible, he said, adding: “That means making good on our promises. And when there are problems, we work hard to put things right immediately.”” (“Leaders must be upfront with people, says Minister Chan Chun Sing“, The New Paper, Jan 12).

16 COMMENTS

    • Jason Chan You don’t know what a haircut to bail in the government would be like. It could mean 50% of your CPF disappearing, not just kept in abeyance, officially and legally, which means you have no right of recourse.

    • Can always sue CPF Board as a manner of public interest if you see your CPF account balance not tallied. They are not so cheap. Actuarial industry has so many more degrees of freedom to reduce payout. Like increasing your projected life expectancy.

    • Jason Chan When we talk about bail in laws, the government can pass laws that say for every dollar in the CPF, 50% goes to the government. Remember one NMP who once said that your CPF is not yours? She is probably having this in mind.

  1. …..吉宝岸外与海事公司2001年至2014年间,为了赢得巴西国营石油公司和其他相关公司的合同,向有关公司员工行贿。吉宝去年底被令必须美国、巴西和新加坡支付4亿2200万美元(约5亿6700万新元)刑事罚款,我国总检察署和贪污调查局也已着手调查涉嫌贿赂的职员。no enough to pay penalty….

  2. Whatever you do in this life to other people, whether it is good or bad, the same will return to you.
    Maybe not in the exact same way, but trust me, payback is a big mess

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