26 September, 2020

Blog

Development Of National Housing & EPF 

By Rusiripala Tennakoon –

Rusiripala Tennakoon

‘Singapore’ has become a buzzword in the media circles today. Media speak is centered round many issues. Extradition of the fugitive Central Bank Governor appointed to the post on a recommendation by our PM, now missing and reportedly taken refuge in Singapore, is the main topic. A recent trade agreement alleged to be highly disadvantageous to Sri Lanka and entered into unilaterally with Singapore, is the other current issue. Politicians in the meantime are playing ball with the Singapore experiences regarding certain success stories there. 

But none have so far focused on the most important success story of Singapore behind its National housing program. In the current context of the shortage of funding requirements and the highly prioritized concerns about the housing needs of the country it is a pity that we do not share the Singapore experience. I therefore wish to open a dialogue which in my opinion may be of more fruitful to discuss than some hacked and jargonized topics such as the past corruptions to which our politicians remain confined.

When Singapore started as a separate country in 1959, achieving self- governance, the worst problem confronting the nation was the Housing issue. The British who ruled the country during the second world war  in one of their reports have stated that Singapore was one of the worst affected human colonies in the world and described  the existing conditions of the slums there as ‘a disgrace to a civilized community’. People did not see any high rise buildings there then. What they saw was thousands of slums with inhuman conditions and  to make matters worse the severely damaged buildings and houses during World war 2. The Pioneers of Singapore Government pledged, and truly devoted themselves to solve the then existing chronic housing problem.

According to their estimates they started with about 300,000 people living as squatters in settlements outside the city center and about another 200,000 living in virtual shop- houses in the city area. The new government elected to power with a firm commitment to address the housing issue, soon passed a new Act called the Housing and Development Act of 1960. They started building Low Cost housing units as a priority under a 5 year plan. Initially the low cost houses were given on a concessional rent and subsequently they introduced a scheme of House Ownership for the People. Within a spell of 5 years the Housing development Board was able to build more than 51,000 housing units. When we imagine the constraints Singapore had with regard to the land availability it was a miraculous achievement which succeeded due to their firm stand on the issue. The story behind housing development in Singapore is fascinating. Starting with low cost housing units they built housing estates, town ships, studio apartments, super-luxury units, high rise buildings and in the process also addressed issues such as racial integration and social stratification. The process passed through stages such as walk in selections, monthly and quarterly held e-sales, build to order and design, build and sell schemes. Upgrading programs were regularly and constantly followed maintaining standards along with improvement programs. To make a long story short let us have a look at the final statistics. In Singapore as from year 2014, homeless persons as a percentage of total population have become 0%!!

Isn’t it something worth emulating? Today we account for over 15000 shanty dwellers in our Capital City and most of them are below any respectable standard of human living. There are many who have lost shelter due to natural disasters, while there are several others who carry their little possessions with them  and sleep in the streets, in doorways and some such space wherever available. Isn’t this the state of affairs we witness in this country today amidst the sky scrapers and high rise buildings coming up? A thirty year old internal war has left us with several displaced from their homes and some of their properties are listed among war damages. Is any- body seriously thinking of the slum dwellers, squatters, and those who live far below poverty lines under horrible conditions?

Now let us take a look at our own EPF. There is a huge balance lying to the credit of this fund amounting to about Rs.2000 Billion with contributions from nearly 2.7 million actively employed persons. The fund has been steadily growing despite many nefarious attempts in the recent past to swallow it. Fortunately it survived the ruthless intervention of a former Governor of our central bank who masterminded a plot to plunder it under official patronage. There was a proposal haunting in the air those days to hand over the fund to an investment agency which was vehemently opposed by Trade Unions and others. It appears that the same issue has come up again after his disappearance establishing the fact that he was only a tool of some perpetrators who have bigger plans to rob the country’s funds. This time it has surfaced as a recommendation by the IMF. Be that as it may, since that has to be dealt with separately,   role that the EPF has to play in solving our housing issue is secondary to none, nevertheless.

The EFP fund monies are invested according to an accepted policy guide line set by the Monetary Board which is the trustee of the Fund according to the provisions of the Act. During the past the investment portfolio was managed within this framework. The following report in respect of the accounts of the fund indicates this basis generally and quoted below as an example of the application of the investment policy.

“The investment policy of the Fund continued to focus on providing a long-term positive real rate of return to the members while ensuring the safety of funds and maintaining a sufficient level of liquidity to meet refund payments and other expenses of the Fund. Accordingly, the investment portfolio consisted of 92.5 per cent in government securities 5.8 per cent in equity and 1.2 per cent in corporate debentures. The remaining 0.5 per cent was invested in high liquid assets such as Reverse – Repos on government securities to maintain day to day liquidity requirement.”

It follows that the equity investments of the fund have been curtailed and limited to about 5% of the fund balance. But this amounts to a significant money value of about Rs.100 Billion. When we examine some annual reports we find that the investments effected in equity shares of private companies has not generated any significant market value appreciations compared to the purchase cost.

 Eg. Total purchase cost of stock as at 31st December 2015 is Rs. 1,925,284,649/= million. The market value of this stock is reported as Rs.1,717,657,461/= million and the accounts indicate a book value of Rs.1,717,657,,461/=.

This leads to the need for considering options more advantageous to the economy of the country in deciding the investments in equity. Singapore’s success in the national Housing program is a result of prudent planning under a stable government with effective governance. They considered Housing to be integrated with economic development.

We too can use a well-planned housing policy based on social security to achieve the goals of economic development. The government can promote macro-economic objectives by directly linking housing and social security with the economy. Housing policy has a direct link to economic growth since housing investment constitutes a substantial portion of the GDP through its fixed capital formation. 

Therefore what we need today as a priority is not to go after marketing strategies to enhance investment income of the fund by taking huge risks, but to adopt and develop a sound policy combining the social security aspect and the solving of the housing problem using the EPF monies administered in safe proportions. The return will be much more favourable to the economy of the country in the long run. The best that can be done is allocating a small percentage of the EPF funds for the construction of a mix of housing units to meet the needs of all sectors of the society. A very small percentage of the low-cost units will be a little burdensome while that too can be compensated with a build to order or design ,build and sell scheme through those who could afford  the purchase of such units using their EPF balances or their own resources.

The use of EPF monies to rescue sinking private operations ,or to prop-up declining stock markets  or to open its doors for corrupt activities such as the CBSL Bond scam, have shown proven disastrous results which should caution the stake holders of the Fund against any shady operations planned. We have to give a red signal to anyone who dares to disregard such opinions with the warning that the country and the social elements will be ready to expose several not only questionable but even punishable acts perpetrated at the expense of the EPF even during recent times, which remain as skeletons in the cupboards. 

It is therefore pertinent to Consider the setting up of a Housing Development Board or Authority directly linked to the EPF and bring it under the Megapolis Ministry where a comprehensive  housing plan is already in place. Such a step will be safer than inviting sharks in the form of ‘investment managers’ to enrich themselves at our expense. The Megapolis Minister, Champaka Ranawaka is apparently going solo with a master plan designed by him to address some of these grave issues. He seems to be struck against the wall, the usual harangue, lack of funds! If we look at the Singapore experience, their achievements to solve their burning housing problem, they have utilized the Central Provident Fund monies in a very significant way to solve the issue. As an eye opener we urge the Megapolis Minister not to be subdued by this crap such as the restriction of funds.

Many questionable manipulations declared as unwarranted by the Commission of Inquiry appointed to investigate the Bond Scam have taken place during last two years. The Central bank bond scam was virtually centered around the EPF. There are instances where EPF monies have been used to cover up financial misdeeds of both regimes, now and earlier. This fund should not remain exposed to such misdeeds or be subject to any threat of devastation under external asset managers and fund investors.

Instead, the prudent proven system of ensuring a long term positive rate of return maintaining the safety of funds should be continued while opening up new avenues to facilitate funding through a duly constituted State Body to engage in the housing development activities. The negative answer that may come up is regarding provisions in the Act which may not support such a move. But the answer is simple. In a country where the constitution itself has undergone 19 amendments, should there be any difficulty in amending the EPF Act if it becomes necessary for a matter of National Importance? But it appears that the Monetary Board is empowered under section 5 of the Act.to have custody of the monies and to invest moneys of the fund. So the Monetary Board can decide to provide the funding as required by any Government Body authorized to avail such funds as stipulated by an Act., consolidated for such an objective.

*Tennekoon Rusiripala, Member of the Colombo Municipal Council, Former chairman of Bank of Ceylon and national gem and Jwellery Authority And former  President  Ceylon Bank Employees Union

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Latest comments

  • 5
    1

    Mr. Rusiri Pala has launched another of his one-sided diatribes on the alleged bond scam, this time thinly disguised with a very poorly researched piece about housing policy in Singapore.
    For the umpteenth time, I challenge him to provide a breakdown of the so-called losses from the bond issue, for us mere mortals.
    Coming to the housing issue:
    “When Singapore started as a separate country in 1959,”
    Singapore only became independent in 1965.
    “walk in selections, monthly and quarterly held e-sales”
    E-sales in 1960??? So Singapore had the Internet 40 years before anbody else? Wow!
    However, the problem is the BIG LIE that Mr.P is trying to sell us about the Singaporean CPF. Even though he is dogmatically opposed to our EPF investing in the stock market, THAT is exactly what the CPF does, with the concomitant risks. In 2015, 58% of members made a LOSS, and 29% in 2016.
    https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/most-members-in-cpf-investment-scheme-made-a-profit-in-2016.
    Why is Mr.R trying to hide this, or is he not aware of it? What a hoo-ha if some our EPF members got a negative return!
    Our local investment funds routinely deliver much more than the 2.5 % that Singaporeans get. Surely he knows that the markets rise and fall. On average, the gain is more than from govt. securities. For example, a share of Distilleries bought in 1992 has appreciated about 100 times! The key is in good fund management, and only the private sector can deliver that.
    Mr T is apparently opposed to the EPF buying CB bonds (Bond scam!!!!!) and he is opposed to it investing in the share market, Pray tell us, O great banker, how it should get a return on investment?
    Oh, By the way, Mr T has revealed that he is a member of the CMC. Would he be kind enough to tell us which party he belongs to?

    • 5
      1

      Raman,
      You have said it all. Mr. Rusiripala is stuck in some protectionist/ socialist past and wants the EPF to invest in Champika Ranawaka’s Utopian schemes. How will the EPF get any return from these? Free lifetime passes on the metro railway? If the EPF wants an income, it has to invest in something. Government securities were a good bet in the days when rates were sometimes over 20%. Now they are going down, and Rusiripala thinks that the EPF buying bonds is some kind of scam! Mr. Rusiripala of course sees a scam behind every bush, but not pre-2015 bushes.
      “safer than inviting sharks in the form of ‘investment managers’ to enrich themselves at our expense.”
      Well, I would invite Rusiripala to look at the performance of the various Unit Trusts on the market. Investment managers can only enrich themselves if they deliver the goods first. Mr. Rusiripala should remember that letting amateurs like Nivard Cabral invest in Greek bonds and hedging caused far greater losses than any alleged bond scam.

      • 5
        1

        Tsk tsk ……….OC,

        Be careful of getting into a tussle with Mr Rusipala ……….. Good ol’ PUK might spring out of the box ………. :))

        I was threatened by a guy who was trained by MOSSAD to keep my mouth shut …….. Boy! cant fault Lankans of lacking imagination!

        You won’t enjoy the ride in the White-Van …………… it won’t be as comfortable as your Veyron ………..


        So good ol’ Mr Rusipala ………. is the latest Lankan with a brilliant idea how to utilize the hard-working-man’s EPF ?

        Perhaps he didn’t get enough the first time around; too bad ………… sorry buddy, in this business you only get one chance …………… grab as much as you can when you have the chance ………. no second chances


        I would’ve put the whole damn lot in BRK.A and BRK.B ………20> compounding per annum …………. would’ve bought the whole land-mass of Lanka ………… and build an island for the Tamils to have their independent homeland

        People with the know-how never gets a chance ……….. while a Conga-line of Einsteins like Mr Rusipala struts and frets their hour upon the stage, and then heard no more ……………..


        Eh …….. such is life …………

        • 3
          1

          Nimal F,
          It gets my goat when politically motivated “experts” like T.R. see nothing but evil in this “bond scam” which if we accept all claims costs each of us just Rs.14 per annum, while studiously ignoring real losses such as Sri Lankan Airlines (Rs.640 each).

          • 0
            0

            OC,

            I think Ranil is a bloody imbecile ………when it comes to false-propaganda …….. he is in the kindergarten compared to the Rajapakses ………… Ranil should assemble his own team and send them out to spread the truth about Rajapakses’ scams/robberies/murders ………. like what Dayan Rusipala et al are doing for the Rajapakses …………. aggression and lies have to be met forcefully with counter-propaganda without cowering in fear …….

            People just get hung up on Trump’s words in Helsinki……….. but just observe how Putin had Trump meek like a dog ………… Trump would shamelessly attack anyone (including women) who cower in fear – no one has yet confronted him using his own methods, I think he’ll just run away; coward always do – but he was so meek and docile with Putin; I think Putin is a very smart cookie ………. It’s time for the anti-Rajapakse forces to do the same ………. starting with Mr Rusipala :))

  • 2
    1

    Not only housing, for the full gamut of the development of the country, they don’t need to reinvent the wheel but follow the examples of the successful counties like – Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. If our leaders and people have the will, it’s possible, and not a rocket science.

  • 1
    0

    Mr. Tennekon: Even President Maithripala Sirisena knew it and when he approved it he had said in the cabinet, IF you get a lot, give me some too and that happnened. IT says, PResident Mahinda Rajapakse had done similar things. IF not how come 29% interest is offered. Only thing savagely unethical things can be legal. Country’s Prime minister and finance minister and the govrnoer is involved. Even to date they talk different language as nothing happened. one fradulent govt went and they are coming again. most of these are trying hard to get into that govt. they want allow another govt to come. I think the those retired army fellows are the best lost. Gotabhaya Rajapakse may be buddhist but he will not do anything to stop corruptions. He has not talked anything like that and it is well known he is connected to many rackets such as avant guard, MIG, building memorials in the south. There are so many files I suppose. IT is ranil and maithripala who keep those secret. Gotabhaya’s wiyathun and his economic program are all look farce.

  • 4
    1

    Mr. Rusiripala: These two funds, “Managed” by the SLCB viz. the E.P.F. & E.T.F. are in “TRUST”. That TRUST has been placed on the SLCB by the entire work force of this country, because those funds running into “Billions” BELONG to the workers. First, please don’t forget that fact of “IN TRUST”. Now consider, whether the “Management” of these two funds has “Lived” up to the expectations of the OWNERS of the funds. You will agree that expectation of TRUST has been, in many occasions violated causing huge losses to owners of the funds. Those losses were caused on many occasions due to “Incompetency”; “Neglect” and “Wilful” frauds committed by its “Management”. A case in point was during “MR’S Regime” a company involved in “Gas Supply” sold shares at a “Inflated” price and the E.P.F. Management RUSHED to buy using EPF money. The next day the “Share Value” tumbled causing a loss of millions. Same “Wilful Fraud” has taken place connected with the “Bond Scam”. You know it well. What I am telling you is: Hang on with your NEW PROPOSAL” for the present; but FIRST , I emphasize FIRST take a very analytical view of the “MANAGEMENT” ( both the CUSTODY & INVESTMENT policies) of these two funds and REVAMP the whole mechanism of generating an INCOME to the Share Holders i.e the EMPLOYEES. Unfortunately, Trade Unions or any other Political Parties are NOT moving in the right direction to safeguard these two funds. You are now a “Politician” and isn’t it your responsibility to look into that aspect, I stressed here?

  • 1
    0

    We can continue complaong about the Issues. what we need is a system change. Understand that they are real thieves, Alibabas and Mafia. theyc ontinue to swindkle the country and see how others are lining up to be elected again.

  • 1
    1

    Thank Rusiripala Tennakoon for bring yet another issue for debate – namely the housing issue.

    • 1
      0

      Thank you Pillai and Nimal
      Let them debate the issue and not me the writer

  • 3
    1

    Mr. Rusiripala: Your comment: “Let them debate the issue and not me the writer”. What does a “writer” do? Who brings the issues and solutions? What is the MISSION of a writer? Before you becoming another “Politician”, you were a Chairman of a State Bank and more than that, a “Trade Unionist”. Is this how you present “Public Issues” and generate “Debates”. I think, since becoming a “Politician” you too has obtained that “Elite” club Membership and obviously avoid “Debate” “Issues” and “Solutions”. One writer asked from what Political Party you contested to become a Local Government elected member. Please reply, because then only we can judge you and your vision and mission. Thank you.

    • 2
      0

      Douglas Man

      “What does a “writer” do?”

      Isn’t the writer’s responsibility to respond to his chosen/ favourite/all powerful/con-mander in chief’s orders (imagined or otherwise) with AYE, AYE, SIR – when they receive/not receive a con-mand, bend over backwards or forwards and they will have to say, “aye aye sir”, take one step back, render a salute, by kissing his ****** whatever is convenient, then execute an about face and expeditiously leave?

      Man you don’t challenge the chosen/ favourite/all powerful/patriotic con-mander in chief’s (former or present) and his clan and cronies in this island.
      All debates are meaningless. Basically they are shouting matches.
      We are a proud country of ‘One People, One Nation, One Leader’. One cannot have diverse opinions, ideas, concepts, …………………….

      Why the hell you want honest debates, you already sound like a Yankee Dick?
      Next government should deport you “the man who asks more”.

  • 0
    0

    Rusiripala highlights corruption/nepotism/impunity. He is greeted with silence or is foul-mouthed.

    The outburst whenever LTTE is furious! Are we barking up the wrong tree?

    • 2
      0

      “Rusiripala highlights corruption/nepotism/impunity.”
      Yes, but he doesn’t complain about Rajapakasa corruption.
      And he goes on and on about the bond scam when there are far greater issues from the Rajapakses.

  • 2
    0

    In SL price of building materials and hardwares are extremely high. For the cost of one litre of paint in SL. one could buy a 5 litre drum in Malaysia, and all the rest of hardware are too very cheap. Construction is one of the major contributors of the economy, and great wealth generator as well. Lobour too a big issue in Sri Lankan. Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand use foreign labour for 3D jobs – dirty, dangerous and demeaning. In those countries complete house building is done in 90 to 120 days. Malaysia uses Indonesians, Pakistanis, and Myanmar nationals. Thailand uses Cambodians and Laosians, Singapore uses Indonesians and Indians. Japan and Korea use Russians and people former Soviet countries. Why don’t we use foriegn labour when our workers are not interested in these jobs. In Thailand, lot of wemon workers from Cambodia and Laos are working. Why are we not employing our wemon in these high paying jobs instead of sending them to Middle East to wash the Arabs toilets.

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