Heng Swee Keat’s Truly Terrifying Slip About Our Reserves.
Heng Swee Keat has chosen not to reply to my open letter of Friday which I think we can all agree is very rude and speaks volumes about the Government’s determination to bully its citizens rather than show the slightest degree of openness and transparency. Nor has he issued me with a POFMA. Presumably because he is too afraid to answer my questions.
Instead he chose to deal with the issue of our reserves in answer to WP’s Pritam Singh’s speech in parliament on Monday. See if you can watch a video clip of the exchange because it is odd. Pritam does not appear to have asked directly about the size of the reserves (I say appear because the official Hansard report of his speech is not yet out). Instead, according to state media reports on CNA, Pritam asked about whether the draw on past reserves would mean that the Government would have to introduce belt-tightening measures once the Covid-19 pandemic has passed.
Is Pritam for real? He does not seem to know much about Singapore’s finances. Why would a country with 3.6 million citizens and conservatively over $1 trillion in net assets in past reserves (excluding the value of 90% of Singapore’s land which is owned by the Government-worth at least several trillion dollars) need to introduce austerity measures? As I pointed out, the $17 billion extra spending proposed in the Resilience Budget is easily covered by the $18 billion Net Investment Returns Contribution which Heng did not spend but using his customary sleight of hand transferred into long term funds. The $18 billion in NIRC is less than half the estimated long term return so theoretically Heng has no need to dip into capital at all.
Like a planted stage question for some fake magician, Heng used Pritam’s innocuous and even obsequious speech as an opportunity to deliver the PAP Government’s standard response when asked about the reserves. Singaporeans all know this answer, it was the one given to the first elected President Ong Teng Cheong and the text varies little from decade to decade. The size of the reserves is a matter of national security and it would take too many man hours to count them anyway.
On this occasion Heng said, “No country’s armed forces will ever tell you exactly how much ammunition and weaponry they really have.
There is a world of difference between telling the world the exact details of what weapons you possess , down to the last ammunition shell or cruise missile, and letting your enemy know that you have such powerful weapons that it would be foolish to attack you. As a trader and former hedge fund manager, Heng’s answer would have the opposite effect. It would trigger alarm bells and make me think that the reserve situation was much much worse than the Minister wanted you to believe. If you have nuclear weapons you would want your enemies to know so that they would not risk attacking you. The US, Russia and China are not shy about letting the world know the truly terrifying weapons they have in their arsenals.
Heng used the Covid-19 crisis as an excuse to reinforce the PAP Government’s attitude of stonewalling when it comes to information about the reserves (or the PM’s wife’s salary!):
“It is neither in the interest of Singapore, or Singaporeans to repeatedly ask about the size of our reserves. We are in the middle of a storm, and I am very disappointed that Mr Pritam Singh has used this occasion to raise this question again.”
Again this suggests weakness not strength.
Heng says he is very disappointed that Pritam has chosen to raise this question again. When it comes to Singapore’s finances I would suggest that we are in the middle of a fog, not a storm, with not only no one to ask for directions but a Government that is intent on either giving no or misleading information. While Workers Party may feel that they have done enough by a few mild questions and can now give up, I will continue to press the Government for answers though as I am not in Parliament the Government will continue to ignore me. I will also continue to press for Ho Ching’s salary to be revealed though with as little chance of success. By extension, Ho Ching’s salary is presumably so enormous that for anyone to find out would destroy confidence and hand our enemies abroad a weapon to destroy the PAP and Lee family rule, which the PAP want you to believe is synonymous with Singapore.
As I said back in 2012, there are only three possible conclusions to draw from Heng’s refusal to tell us what the reserves or to explain why the figures in the SAL are so low:
- There are substantial hidden reserves but this would be in breach of the Constitution;
- A substantial part of the reserves has been lost; or
- They have been siphoned off.
During the next few months Singaporeans need to maintain social distancing and observe the lockdown, sorry circuit-breaker. If everybody does we can come through this together. However we cannot say the same for the reserves and our CPF.