With longer lifespans, Central Provident Fund (CPF) members should not aim to make withdrawals from their retirement funds at age 55, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on a radio programme last night.
He encouraged CPF members to work longer, until they are 65 if they can, saying they can take out some of their CPF funds to pursue their dreams then if they want to.
Mr Lee made these remarks as he sought to explain to a listener why withdrawing all or a sizeable amount of CPF savings at age 55 is not prudent, even as the Government moves to make the CPF scheme more flexible.
The listener called into Chinese station Capital 95.8FM during a one-hour programme with the Prime Minister.
The 53-year-old man, who said he worked as a delivery man by day and taxi driver by night, said he wished to use his CPF savings for travel. "I hold two jobs and work 365 days a year... I hope I can withdraw my CPF savings so I can see the world when I'm 55. Now, I can see that there is money in my CPF account, but I cannot use it," he said.
In response, Mr Lee said the man, who identified himself as a senior, was "still young", and that retiring at 55 would be too early based on current life expectancy.
Mr Lee urged the man to work until 65 if he could, adding that he could take out some of the money in his CPF account then to travel, invest or give to his children.
During this year's National Day Rally, Mr Lee had announced changes to the CPF scheme that would allow CPF members who are 65 and over to withdraw a lump sum from their Minimum Sum savings if they needed to, subject to limits.
Yesterday, Mr Lee brought this up as he acknowledged that the CPF scheme should provide some flexibility.
But he also noted that the CPF withdrawal age of 55 was set more than 50 years ago when life expectancy was around 63. Many Singaporeans now live past age 80 and even 90, he added.
Since CPF savings are meant for use during retirement, depleting the account too early would leave people with not enough in their old age, he said.
"I feel you should try not to dip into your CPF savings if you can help it, and depend on your other savings first. Because CPF is meant to provide security during retirement."
While CPF was a hot topic during the programme, Mr Lee was also asked questions about issues such as the Lease Buyback Scheme, immigration and the recent push to provide more opportunities for non-degree holders.
On the Lease Buyback Scheme, he was asked by a listener if this would be extended to private property owners.
Mr Lee said the Government would look into whether schemes for private property, available in some other countries, would work here. But he added that private property owners had other ways to monetise their property, such as by selling it and moving into a smaller place or a Housing Board flat.
Another listener asked if scholarship holders in the public service are promoted faster and given more opportunities than non-scholarship holders.
To this, Mr Lee replied with an emphatic "no". He added that public servants are judged based on their work abilities, and not on their qualifications, even if the qualifications may have got them hired.