Some Muslims seek option to tap CPF at 55 to go on haj

Some Muslims would like to withdraw a larger portion of their Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings before turning 65 to perform the haj - and Minister of State for National Development and Defence Maliki Osman hopes the Government will consider this wish when it reviews its policies.

At a post-National Day Rally dialogue attended by over 100 Malay residents of the East Coast GRC on Wednesday night, participants asked if they could be given the option of tapping into their CPF savings at age 55 to fund the pilgrimage.

"We don't know whether we'll be well enough to do our haj, or if we can even move if we wait till 65," said a 50-year-old Changi resident who wanted to be known as Sofea.

According to the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, haj packages cost from about $7,000 to over $13,000.

Speaking in Malay to reporters after the dialogue, Dr Maliki said: "This is a concern in our community, and we can channel these worries... And I hope when the Government tries to draft new policies related to the CPF, the concerns voiced by our residents will be taken into account."

The Government, he added, acknowledges that people want more options when it comes to their CPF savings, "but this choice must also be limited, so it does not reach a stage where people don't have savings after they retire".

As residents discussed the announcements Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had made in Sunday's National Day Rally, some were still riled up over retirement funds.

There were raised voices and demands to know how many Singaporeans could meet the CPF Minimum Sum.

But dialogues like this are a platform for the Government to soothe such fears, said Dr Maliki.

"When I clarified the reasons and ways we draft government policies, they showed understanding... their feelings of anger started to recede."

He told participants about his late father, who died this February at age 91.

There was no Minimum Sum in place for his cohort - when life expectancy was 65 years. He withdrew all his CPF savings at 55 and spent them all by age 60, when he stopped working.

"He had nine children to help him... but how many children do you have, and do you want to continue depending on them?" asked Dr Maliki, adding that life expectancy has gone up, making the Minimum Sum scheme necessary.

Residents also asked about the future of young Malays without university degrees.

Ms Mardina Aziz, 27, who has a polytechnic diploma, said she has the skills and hands-on experience some university graduates lack.

But she cannot qualify for most government jobs, which require degrees.

At this year's rally, Mr Lee said the public sector will take the lead in shifting the focus away from paper qualifications to take skill and experience into account in hiring and promotions.

Dr Maliki said parents and students also need to change their mindsets.

"We want (students) to change their mindsets, to ensure that they keep on believing that they are able to succeed."