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Plain Speak: Kenneth J on Town Councils, Pensions, “Overperformer” Roy Ngerng and PM Lee

“No member profits or gets favours in kind, they all volunteer and we bring in outside checks and oversight.”

That’s how Reform Party Secretary-General Kenneth Jeyaretnam says his party will run a town council proper. In this interview with Redwire, he also explains how he’s looking to fund his proposals for a pension for the elderly and whether he gets nightmares at night after making so many cutting remarks about our Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong.

As for why he NEEDS to be in parliament, Mr Jeyaretnam had this to say:

“No-one can deny that the PAP deny me coverage in the media and debating opportunities. That’s dodging on a grand scale and why I need to be in parliament, where I could get the important questions out there on public record.”

Read on for Redwire’s candid Q&A with the man who’s looking to give the PAP a run for its money in West Coast GRC.

(1) You’ve said you will your town council “like a tight ship”. Tell us more about how you propose to do that.

Thanks for giving me a chance to expand on this. A tight ship is  a safe ship. Everything in its place, no loose ropes. The crew can focus on their job of charting a course and sailing.

There will be no cronyism, no fat profits, no inflated salaries, no waste in our Town councils. Any profit will be re-invested in the residents. Town Councils aren’t meant to make a profit.

How do I know we can do this. In the Party we have several former WP members who worked with JBJ back in the day and  who have run town councils but left WP before they got into the present system.

If you go back to 2009 you will find a Today interview with me where I am quoted as saying RP was a rudderless ship when I was brought in. ( that sailing analogy again!)

What I didn’t  say at the time is that it was also rife with cronyism and plans to plunder the substantial funds raised at JBJ’s funeral. Nothing illegal but Party financial irregularities.

I put  a stop to that. I put the Constitution which is our equivalent of rule of law back on centre stage and this itself is a check and oversight function. But that’s not enough .We need an outside check to our internal checks. Our Treasurer is a business owner, financially independent and a volunteer. He gets paid nothing. He knows how to manage accounts and has done so very ably for several years now. So he has nothing to gain and gives to serve the Party. But we also brought in a professional book keeper and yearly a professional accountant to audit our books before we submit them to ROS.

Not because we don’t trust ourselves but because this check and oversight function is fiscal responsibility  – and it protects us from government attacks. We are never far away from the memory of what happened to JBJ, his picture hangs on the office wall. Party finances are too easy a target.

So this is how I run a tight ship on a small scale, reporting to ROS. No member profits or gets favours in kind, they all volunteer and we bring in outside checks and oversight.

But on a large scale I am a professional,  highly qualified and experienced fund manager. Most recently in the UK, where an outside body registers all such professionals, The FSA. My clean record is publicly searchable. Nick Leeson for example, couldn’t get registered by FSA so moved to work in Singapore and became the poster boy for rogue traders.

I have managed 100’s of millions of dollars for some of the biggest institutions globally. We have businessmen and ex PAP RC and grassroots professionals and caring professions and customer service professionals AND a top constitutional lawyer in our teams.  Mr Appavoo for example runs a construction business with contracts in the tens of millions of dollars. We can run the Estates.

We will run great surgeries and a well managed town council.

(2) Many eyes have been on the RP’s two new AMK GRC candidates, Mr Roy Ngerng and Mr M Ravi, both of whom have been in the spotlight in recent years for their advocacy work. How would you rate their performance so far?

We are a team, a family of sorts. I judged them all capable of being good MPs which is how they made the cut.  I am pleased with everyone’s performance. There is no ranking internally.  I have worked with Ravi for many years, he spoke at our rally in GE 2011 and he will stay with us and work on constitutional law reform.

Roy outperformed even my expectations on the ground. He is very caring. I only wish he had started sooner so that he could have met more residents.  I think the political process has been a bit of  a shock to him. You’re basically playing an away game in the PAP’s stadium. Real life hecklers are a lot different to online comments. And of course there is endless paperwork and compliance regulations and we took that burden and the burden of finance away from Roy, so he could focus on his campaign.

By fielding him I hope I have sent a strong message that I and the Reform Party won’t tolerate institutional bullying and that the only way to deal with fear is to meet it head on.

(3) The RP has proposed to give a S$500 monthly pension to those aged 65 and above, and a S$300 monthly benefit to children up to the age of 18, financing this through the use of Net Investment Returns Contribution. Could you explain this concept simply so that most can understand your plan better.

OK. Help! I hate simplifying. if I grossly simplify 10.5 + 8.5 it’s going to be 20. Then the PAP will jump at the part that is rounding up. That’s also how I don’t get sued. Sometimes dumbing down is just an invitation to be discredited. We do have a series of videos  with infographics in the pipeline for after the election though.

So with that caveat. In its simplest form NIRC are not currently being spent. Not being spent in real terms, in real time. They are allocated to funds. Some of these funds then disappear from the public record. I suspect that may even be the reason for the funds. They don’t even show up in the government statement of assets and liabilities. They are audited randomly and selectively only on the invitation of the Minister. The productivity fund has never been audited over 5 years. You see, even our Party accounts have more checks built into them than this tax payer money.

This is the question (about where the money in the funds is) that I was asking at Hri Kumar’s forum which he then dodged. He’s no longer an MP BTW

So at a very basic level I haven’t been able to establish where the money is and this is why they don’t want me to go to parliament. I also asked Tharman and the President multiple times and took the government to Court in an effort to get answers.

So the NIRC funds are not being spent and are not being accounted for.

NRIC is the 50% of the  long term returns of Temasek and GIC which is given to gov for spending.  The PAP have been making derogatory remarks about hundreds of millions of dollars but I’m very comfortable with large sums.

So let’s just look at the numbers.

Remember the government pledged about  S$ 5.5  billion to the IMF to bail out  countries like Greece. Clearly there are funds available.

The surplus on page 85 of the Government monthly digest of statistics shows that the cash surplus is about S$ 25 Billion a year.

The government buries about S$ 7- 8 billion a year in the funds.

CPF is separate. It doesn’t require any expenditure (we hope).

I estimate :

Child benefit is a spend of about S$ 3.0 Billion (to go to the parents or guardians not to be paid to the child directly)
Old age pension is about S$ 2.5 Billion
Medishield proposals another S$ 250 – 500 Million.

So not much different to the S$ 7- 8 billion currently going into funds.
And nowhere near 50% of the surplus (S$25 billion)

As there is no transparency,  the figures for what is available are what I have been able to dig out to the best of my ability.

Does that explain how we would finance it.

An added benefit is that investing the excess surplus in health, education, pensions,  our people, will improve fertility, reduce medical costs down the road and lead to a more productive work force that will continue giving higher returns in future generations.

There is a big flaw to this. Iswaran has said that a spending of S$ 6 billion dollars a year would jeopardise the whole system. So is there no money left?

So are Temasek and GIC actually insolvent? Is that why the surplus essentially goes back into Temasek/GIC or stays there year after year?

(4) You’ve made some pretty damning comments about PM Lee Hsien Loong.  To quote: “To be fair to Mr Lee, he is a very talented sportsman. He knows how to fix the electoral game and is a very good player at dodgeball” and “Lee Hsien Loong has never had to take a job interview in his life! His only job is “Professional Son” and “Professional Heir”. You’ve said that you’re looking to give the PM nightmares…

I said people call it a nightmare. I call it a dream team. I sleep well at night thank you, knowing I’m doing my best for Singapore. I’m not going to be sued. I’m not stupid, I’m not reckless and I tell the truth or ask questions when facts are not available. No one can deny that the electoral process is fixed by which I mean that the elections department is within the PM’s office not independent. From the knowledge of when an election is going to be called onwards the playing field tilts dramatically in favour of the government. Holding elections isn’t enough to qualify us as a democracy. They have to be fair.

The government controls or directly owns the media and no one  can deny that they dodge any meaningful debate with me. They dodged my law suit.  No one  can deny that Hri Kumar dodged my questions about these disappearing funds.

No-one can deny that the PAP deny me coverage in the media and debating opportunities. That’s dodging on a grand scale and why I need to be in parliament, where I could get the important questions out there on public record.

My blog is much harder hitting than my rally speeches and I have never even had so much as a letter.

I am the one who is suing the government.

Can you point me to any job that The PM had to interview or strive for?

I’ll indemnify you if you like,  against being sued for quoting me. 🙂
That was a very candid Reform Party Secretary-General Kenneth Jeyaretnam speaking to Redwire.
If you’re interested to read more of his take on issues, you can visit his blog at The Ricebowl Singapore.

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