The Poor's Curse Of Instant Riches

The Straits Times wrote of how the wife of the Indian cleaner, who was killed in an accident last year, squandered her $1 million dollars that came from insurance and donations in less than a year. 

Some have criticized that Straits Times reported this story to remind Singaporeans that getting one's full CPF could lead one to spend all at once and leaving one broke from retirement till death. 

I have to admit the CPF scheme is useful but the biggest problems are that the rules are too rigid and goalposts keep changing, that results in the people asking,"why?". 

Like a broken recorder, the answer is always "it is for your retirement" and this has eroded the trust between the people and the current government.

The story of the Indian lady is one I have heard many times duringy my six months in Koh Samui.

Prior to being a tourist island, Koh Samui was more known to be the main exporter of coconuts. Thus, the inner land was considered more valuable than the land by the beach.

As such, it was the eldest son or the most favorite child who inherited the inner lands. It was the rotten apple, the least favorite child or the youngest daughter who will get the beach front land. 

When the island was converted in a resort island, hoteliers paid big money to own the beach land. Guess who got rich instantly?

For some,the instant windfall actually proved to be their downfall. One story I heard that this real gangster of a son got so rich after selling his beach front property, he bought expensive cars and drank all day and night.

One month later, after a night of drinking, he danced on the open road and got knocked over by another drunk driver. He died on the spot.

Some of you reading this might go "See, that's why you can't release all the CPF monies at once." But, I haven't spoke about the culture difference yet.

One of the things I learnt about Thai culture, especially poor folks, is their attitudes towards life. They live for the day. Fortunately or unfortunately, this attitude is from the Buddha's teaching of impermanence. The Buddha also taught that things should not be taken in extremes dosages but somehow for this hero above, it never sank in.

Thus, whether it is the story of the Indian lady or the Thai dude, it is unique to the circumstances.

Will Singaporeans behave as such? A small minority will, but not a majority. The money gotten from CPF is not a sudden lottery win, but had work throughout the years. 

Furthermore, Singaporeans are also educated and exposed to various insurance and annuity schemes that they can look at to invest in.

If the money in CPF belongs to Singaporean, let them too have some transparency and control over the use, especially after retirement.


  1. Anonymous  

    June 9, 2014 at 1:50 PM

    With transparency, I think they are afraid that it will be a blatant error for Mrs PM to remain in her job and that Singapore's vaunted meritocracy is but a sham.

    See Dr Barr's "The Culture of Elite Governance"

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