7 December 2019 | By DF

Singapore's CPF is "a comprehensive social security system that enables working Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents to set aside funds for retirement". It is administered by the Central Provident Fund Board, a statutory board operating under the Ministry of Manpower.(CPF Board Official Website, https://www.cpf.gov.sg/Members/AboutUs/about-us-info/cpf-overview)

From its inception under the British colonial government to its substantial evolution under the PAP government, CPF policy is a window into Singapore's transformation from colony, to developmental state, to first world country. Closer inspection of CPF policy from this part-historical, part-policy perspective results in a surprisingly crisp portrait of a Singaporean style of governance: pragmatic, paternalistic, and technocratic.

There is not enough space in this short paper to go through the fine details and convoluted history of CPF policy, of which lengthy books and painstaking studies have been written. Nonetheless, hopefully sufficient detail and historical context have been included to support the higher level points being made.

The structure of this essay is as follows.

Part 1 will provide a historical overview of CPF policy. First introduced by the colonial government, CPF policy evolved significantly after Singapore's independence. While originally conceived as a relatively straightforward provident fund, its subsequent evolution intersects with many other areas of policymaking and created new, overlapping layers of complexity.

Part 2 zooms out and considers the non-social policy aspects of CPF policy. It looks at how CPF has been used as a macroeconomic lever and its place in Singapore's management of its public finances.

Part 3 considers the central paradox between paternalism and individual responsibility that lies at the heart of CPF.

Part 4 considers the problem of complexity, specifically vis-à-vis CPF but also more generally.

Finally, this essay concludes with some parting thoughts.

Part 1: Historical Overview

Part 2: The Big Picture(s)

Part 3: Paternalism vs Individual Responsibility

Part 4: Complexity