5 Ways to Interpret Lim Swee Say’s latest CPF Gobbledegook

Minister in the PMO and Labour Chief Lim Swee Say’s latest statement about CPF has been feeding the flames of Mount Facebook since it was reported yesterday evening.

His easily-misinterpreted statement, delivered off-the-cuff on the sidelines of a Singapore Model Parliament event, has left many fuming, some puzzled, and others scrambling to defend the man.

The Man. photo: cabinet.gov.sg

The specific quote in question:

“Instead of thinking about whether you can spend your savings in the CPF at the age of 55, I think we should think about how can we help our Singaporeans to continue to remain employed, to continue to earn a good living, continue to have good jobs, and at the same time to continue to contribute to the CPF because the more money they have in CPF, the longer they defer the use of the CPF — this will mean they will have more for retirement.”

Mr Lim made a daring grab for the mantle of Captain Obvious from NMP Eugene Tan by, among other things, saying that people who put more into their account (by working past the ‘retirement age’) will have more money for retirement. There was also this nearly pointless quote: “You have your money, you have the account, and you receive the statement, the account on a regular basis. So, you know how much money you have in the CPF”.

Here’s five ways we can interpret his overall statement as reported:

1) You probably won’t have enough money in your CPF to retire, so it’s best to defer retirement. Ditch that pipe dream.

If this is true, that’s pretty in your face. While I personally agree that retirement is a myth these days, Mr Lim is known for making bizarre and confusing statements like “Cheaper Better Faster”, which took months for NTUC to clarify and is still being misinterpreted today, the “Little Frog” story from GE 2011, “better, betterer, betterest”, and of course, “I feel so rich”, the legendary proportions of which doubtless will colour every statement about CPF Mr Lim will ever make.

2) Those who don’t have enough money to retire should continue working.

Blunt, but true, if that’s what he meant. It doesn’t bode well coming from the mouth of the labour chief, though. This corroborates with the fact that some 50% of CPF Members today cannot meet their Minimum Sum and will not have enough to retire on.

3) Don’t spend your CPF savings on other things (like housing and education) so you have enough for retirement.

If that’s what he was trying to say, then it’s terrible advice. This interpretation, however is a little far fetched, although the reporter’s opening line “The best way for Singaporeans to prepare for retirement is to use less of their Central Provident Fund (CPF) money when they are young, said Labour Chief Lim Swee Say” lends some weight to this.

4) Specifically saying that younger Singaporeans should stay employed and earn more to have more for retirement.

It’s good advice, and a friend in NTUC tried to this as a defence by bringing up the example of someone she knew who was out of a job for several years before he was 40. This, however, doesn’t seem to be what Mr Lim is talking about at all.

5) People should plan to continue working and leave monies in the CPF account between 55 to the Drawdown Age (currently 63), even though they can, by right, withdraw monies in excess of their Minimum Sum at age 55.

This is possibly the best interpretation for Mr Lim, should he want to come out and clarify his statement. It makes sense, is sound advice, and doesn’t sound prescriptive. Too bad he totally botched the delivery, as he often does.

Here’s the kicker: in the same interview, Mr Lim was also reported to have said that “the labour movement has been watching the debate closely, and wants to ensure that what is discussed does not create confusion among workers and union leaders.”

Looks like he’s got some catching up to do.

UPDATE 23 June, 10:15pm: A clarification has been made on what Mr Lim said. It seems that his use of the word “young” to describe people aged 55 resulted in mass confusion. Point 5 is our winner.



  1. The visionary basically laid the foundation for a “sweet life” before the day of reckoning.

    People who have tasted sweetness still think we were being led into the promise land when it is turning out to be a wilderness of death experience.

    There is a way that seems right but the end is death – those who enjoy the ‘good life’ at the expense of the majority can not sleep in good conscience.


      1. Sabbath rest is one in seven. Most of us don’t even work 6-days a week. 🙂 Then I suppose a year every 7 years, and a jubilee every 49.

  2. Mr Lim makes a curious comment: we should defer withdrawing CPF in order to maintain the payout level and avoid it being eroded by inflation? The solution, surely, is to withdraw and invest in something with higher returns, given how CPF has (usually) under performed when compared against inflation rates.


  3. He think that everyone is like him earning big bucks so thats why he don’t need CPF monies for housing repayment and his children’s education.


  4. There has been a — wait for it — PAP ministerial clarification! Lim Swee Say has been quoted out of context, apaz


    In his words, this time round: “It is clear in this context that ‘young’ refers to those who are aged 55 and “less use” of the CPF money refers to the CPF cash withdrawal for purposes other than housing, healthcare and education for the children.”

    Yes. Much clearer.


  5. My Engrish not as tekong as Lim Swee Say, but I think that the use of “For example” in the following context does not at all bolster his clarification that “young” refers to those aged 55.

    “For example, instead of thinking of whether you can spend your CPF savings at the age of 55, I think we should think about how we should help our Singaporeans remain employed, to continue to earn a good living, a good job and at the same time, to continue to contribute to the CPF.”


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