At the last parliamentary sitting, I brought to light that we the people of Singapore collectively own $𝟭.𝟯𝟱𝗧 in financial assets. It must have been very reassuring and encouraging to most of you to learn that we have a safety blanket, especially in the current Covid-19 situation. I felt the need to bring up this very pertinent piece of information as not many people may have known this and in such crisis- ridden times any piece of good news goes a long way for the people’s peace of mind. Previously, these figures were published yearly in the form of “Government Financial Statements”, and a few hardcopies were made available at the National Library. However, moving with the times, the Government has made available softcopies online from this year, so it is very accessible now. The transparency, our government has displayed is indeed very commendable.
These assets produce a net investment return every year, and for 2020, it was estimated to be about $𝟯𝟳.𝟮𝗕. This has not changed since the Budget 2020 announcement in February because the financial markets have done well this year in sharp contrast to the real economy which has been ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is a big consolation that while we are drawing $𝟱𝟮𝗕 from our financial assets to pay for the Covid support measures, our assets are still earning a potential return of $𝟯𝟳.𝟮𝗕 this year.
In times of crisis, when emotions of insecurity run high and anxiety rears its ugly head amongst the people, it is important to let them know that their country’s finances are in good shape. When I say that the $𝟱𝟮𝗕 drawdown represented only 𝟯.𝟵% of our total financial assets or the $𝟭𝟰.𝟴𝗕 net decrease (after minusing the $𝟯𝟳.𝟮𝗕 from $𝟱𝟮𝗕) only 𝟭.𝟭% of our total financial assets, I am in no way downplaying the tremendous hard work put in by our Government, but rather commending their ability to have been able to shore up our economy so admirably in this grim times. I just want to put things in perspective.
By now, you should realise how 𝗶𝗻𝗮𝗰𝗰𝘂𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗲𝗹𝘆 the picture was painted by the former MP Lee Bee Wah on the poor 𝘈𝘩 𝘎𝘰𝘯𝘨 scrimping every day so that he could help his grandson 𝘈𝘩 𝘚𝘦𝘯𝘨 little occasionally.
I am not recommending that because we have the reserves we should pillage our savings now. I am also confident that Singaporeans would not want to do that either. This is because we are all very well aware of the fact that we are a city state without the natural endowment of resources or a hinterland to tap on.
However, despite all that we lack, we are blessed to be endowed with one of the best geographical locations that has allowed us to accumulate our financial assets. Just like Norway is well located geographically next to the North Sea oil, Singapore is well located as a port where people, goods and money congregate. Both countries are sitting smugly on trillion-dollar financial wealth now.
However, one important point we must not miss is, that both countries are also run by competent governments and have responsible citizens who do not ask for wealth to be immediately distributed whenever a catastrophe arises, but faith is put in the government to make the right judgment calls. So in this way the national wealth is properly managed, maintained and multiplied for its citizenry. There are innumerable examples in the world of countries endowed with rich resources but where the autocratic rulers treat the national wealth as their private wealth. We are fortunate that we do not fall under those regimes.
Both the oil reserves and advantages of our geographical position can be depleted over the long term, so we have the responsibility to save up for our future generations. However, we also have to take care of each generation well so that we can pass on a competitive economy and harmonious society to the generation that comes next. Norway, for example, is committed to use up to 𝟰% of the national wealth every year for the benefit of the current generation.
Put in that perspective, using 𝟯.𝟵% ($𝟱𝟮𝗕) of our financial assets to rescue us from a huge calamity like the Covid-19 is not that exceptional. In fact, we should continue to look at how to use part of the net investment return of over $𝟯𝟬𝗕 a year to transform our economy and society faster. There is a grave danger that the current generation of Singaporeans may not do well enough to pass on a strong Singapore to the next generation. The reliance on more and more foreigners for example is a misguided strategy. And the rapid induction of foreigners to become one of us, citizen, is an even more misguided one.
Conditioned by our own geography and history, it is close to impossible for Singaporeans to become xenophobic. We are aware that we need to stay open and attract foreign talent to help us be more competitive. We are not against foreigners but do not want to be swamped by them because after all, as masters of our own land, we need to be in control!
The way forward is to invest more in grooming Resilient Singaporeans. That is where we should be using a small part of our national wealth and not flashy mega projects. Resilient Singaporeans will be able to regain the pioneering and industrious spirit of our ancestors and open up a new era for our beloved country. One that has adopted Singapore as a stepping-stone for a better life can, never match the loyalty that a true-blue Singaporean can have for Singapore.
Dear Singaporeans, our future is bright, we can do better and deserve better.