NMP Chia Yong Yong says CPF members have moral obligation to spend wisely

Nominated MP Chia Yong Yong's speech on personal responsibility won praise from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Here is an edited excerpt.

There has been a lot of talk about collective responsibility and I do respect and I do agree that it is important but what I want to share is that we need to talk about collective responsibility in the context of each person exercising their personal responsibility as well.

If we take SkillsFuture, there's been a lot of praise for that and I like that and I don't like to be negative but unfortunately I am. I am afraid that if we do not run SkillsFuture properly, then for the every $1b that we are going to spend for the next five years, we are going to have it go down the drain. How can we ensure that the SkillsFuture investment that we are going to make will yield positive, significant impact? I don't know, I don't have the answer and perhaps it may be premature to ask for answers at this moment. But I do want to say that the people who are going to be running the curriculum, the people who are going to be conducting the training have to exercise integrity and professionalism and they have to look at the picture at a macro level. It would be a sad day indeed if people were to say: Let's spend it, we have got the budget anyway. It doesn't matter what course we do, just give them a certificate. It's going to defeat what we are going to do because we are going to be investing in long-term development of the employment skills of our people, because we are talking about moving into the future.

I have other concerns and that relates also to the research and development budget. We're going to be putting $1b into the National Research Fund. It's a good thing. I believe in the importance of intellectual property but I also believe that we need to understand the nature of intellectual property very clearly before we work out the KPIs to measure the success of each investment. In every collaboration, and I do believe that our national research initiatives are mainly collaborative efforts, there will always be negotiations on who owns what at the end of the day. I bring in this, you bring in that, and then how are we going to be differentiating? How are the researchers motivated? By the production of research papers or by the production of intellectual property, foreground intellectual property that is of strategic importance to Singapore? How do we ensure that we are able to isolate in our negotiations with our collaborators the items, the desired outcomes that we want? How do we know which parts of the foreground intellectual property would be relevant to us, would be useful for us, would be strategic for us?

I do know again that the answer is likely to be that the people who run the programmes would be the best persons to tell us but I do also ask that perhaps we may want to exercise a little bit more diligence. I am not sure of the full process that is involved and perhaps the government can clarify this. But let us not put $1b and end up with insignificant IP.

In relation to the issue of CPF, this was just mentioned barely in passing and the WP has also spoken about that. I believe that we have the right to spend the money, our money any way we want it, whenever we want it. I believe also that we can do anything we want whenever we want but when what we do is going to have a foreseeable effect or cause foreseeable loss or injury to another person, there is merit for us to argue that that right has got to be circumscribed.

And so in relation to the use of CPF monies, we have heard proponents who argue that CPF money is theirs. It's our money, it's in our account, it's our retirement money, I want it out, I will spend it any way we want. Fine. Is it our money? I'm not sure if I want to go into legalese and I certainly don't want to argue about ownership rights. Our CPF savings are enhanced, enforced CPF savings which are accumulated through our own deferred consumption, through co-payment by our employers and through top-ups from public funds. Is it really my private money? Do I have the right to spend it the way I would spend my own salary? I'm not entirely sure but I know at the end of the day that because I am not the only person contributing to that fund, I cannot be the only person to call the shots as to how I'm going to spend it.

At the very least, I have a moral obligation to spend it wisely. Why do I say that? Because if I am not judicious in my spending, at the end of the day who is going to maintain me in my twilight years? The state? Who? Ultimately it means someone else is bearing it, right? Another taxpayer.

So if I'm not judicious and I'm arguing, "this is my money, I'm not going to be responsible in my use" and if I argue, "this is your money, you use it any way you want", I'm not responsible as a citizen.

There is also the role of the family too. We talk a lot about educating the members as to how, you know, they can withdraw their money, how they should use or should not use but there must be a lot more education on whether or not the family should support their retirees, support their parents in retirement. Is that going to feature when we allow the flexibility in the withdrawal?

Madam, I have great unease and I cannot support this recommendation that we allow such flexibility to the people. I have unease because I think we are placing a very great fiscal obligation upon our future generations living off what our forefathers have built for us. So we have, in conclusion, Madam, a budget that is arguably very generous and for which I am also very thankful, we have a budget that has been praised and approved as being leaning to the left. But I would also argue that if we lean too much to the left, we will not have much left.

When we talk about collective responsibility, we need to understand that collective responsibility must also be exercised responsibly on a collective basis as well as a personal basis. So when the Government talks about redistributing wealth, we welcome that. Then the people who are going to be implementing the schemes, conducting the training, doing the assessments and evaluating the curriculum and whatever we are doing, the people who are dispensing the funds have to exercise personal responsibility to ensure that there is no wastage. There will always be inevitable leakage.

The people who benefit also have to ensure personal responsibility in acting with integrity in their claims for the money. When we talk about personal choice, choice always comes with responsibility. Benefits come with obligations. And when we exercise our personal choice, there is a price to be paid. And Madam, I submit that price should not be paid by someone else.