In a recent crisis communications training workshop, I was asked my views about the ongoing saga concerning the CPF, the allegations of misappropriation by the PM and the raising of the minimum sum.
My response was that the government’s responses were addressing the symptoms (i.e. issues) and not the disease (i.e. concerns). This is because I do not believe that any objective Singaporean will believe that the PM has misappropriated CPF funds, nor will they believe that our government is bankrupt and are thus unable to honor the obligations of the CPF. All these are just “lightening rods” which rabble-rousers like Roy Ngerng are using to stoke public sentiments and to build political capital.
In my opinion, responding to these issues will be an endless (and fruitless) endeavor as they do not address the real concerns of the stakeholders. As such, they will inevitably resurface in another form. Additionally, responding to these issues will only pull the government down into a “tactical” battle that will not only suck up its resources but embroil them in a battle without any possible hope of victory.
As a crisis communications consultant, I have consistently advise my clients to look past the issues in a crisis and to only address the concerns of the stakeholders. In this instance, it is highly unlikely that any objective Singaporean will quibble over why the CPF is only paying 2.5 % interest while the GIC earns 6%; or that they want to withdraw all their CPF upon retirement and then starve in their twilight years. While I can appreciate that the Singapore government is on the proverbial ropes to show that they are listening to Singaporeans, a more effective response would be to understand the concerns of the public and address that. In this case, the concern is not so much the shape or form of the CPF (or even the minimum sum), but rather how am I supposed to live when I retire.
In my opinion, to end this “crisis” decisively, the Singapore government needs to address the concern about life after retirement.
Please note that this post is not a political commentary but is used to derive learning lessons with regards to crisis communications. I welcome discussions on the merits of the crisis communications concepts discussed, but will delete political commentaries.