Is Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew the world’s richest man?

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The most indebted countries (Fortune magazine)

The most indebted countries (Fortune magazine)

Tony Tan has been elected as Singapore’s next president. He won by the narrowest of margins, with 744,397 votes—only 7,000 some votes ahead of runner-up Tan Cheng Bock, who garnered 737,128 votes.

This was out of a total of 2,153,040 votes, which means that Tony Tan won only 35% of the votes cast. This is significant as it means that 65% of Singapore’s voters were against Singapore’s entrenched People’s Action Party (PAP)—the party of Lee Kuan Yew.

Interestingly, 37,826 ballots were rejected by the Singapore authorities. What Singapore needs are U.N. inspectors who could have made sure that the ballots were rejected properly.

Tony Tan, who lost billions as head of Singapore’s General Investment Corporation (GIC), and who has been plagued by scandals, will now be the country’s president. GIC is one of the guardians of Singapore’s national reserves, its sovereign wealth.

Maybe only a handful of people know the size of Singapore’s reserves. The amount was and is a closely guarded secret, known only to certain family members of Singapore’s de-facto ruler, Lee Kuan Yew.

Soon after his election to the presidency in 1993, Ong Teng Chong felt it was his duty to know the value of Singapore’s financial reserves.

The Singapore government resisted Ong, saying it would take 56 man-years to produce a dollar-and-cents value of Singapore’s immovable assets (real property) alone. Ong never found out the value of Singapore’s reserves. He completed his term as president in 1999 and died in 2002.

Now we learn from the August 15, 2011 issue of Fortune Magazine that Singapore has no sovereign wealth.

Instead it has a sovereign debt of US$254 billion, which is 95% of Singapore’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  This puts Singapore at 8th position as one of the world’s most indebted nations. Singapore is near the bottom of the pile; only seven developed countries are more in debt, in terms of GDP.

By this standard, France, Portugal, and nearly every developed country in the world is doing better than Singapore in terms of debt.

Apparently, Singapore has borrowed heavily from its own Central Provident Fund (CPF) which holds the retirement funds of Singaporeans. This explains why Singapore is not only raising the retirement age, but making it more difficult for Singaporeans to get their retirement funds even when they reach that age.

Like many Americans, it appears that few Singaporeans will ever be able to afford to retire.

The United States borrowed to pay for its continuing wars. That we know. Where, however, did all Singapore’s borrowed money go?
The Singapore government has always had a surplus of tax revenues over expenditures. It has virtually no social entitlements. You become poor in Singapore and all you may have is a cardboard box on the void deck, as the Singapore government will not be there to help you.

Only a few people control Singapore’s national reserves, in secrecy, and only they are in a position to use those reserves as they wish.

Maybe Carlos Slim of Mexico is no longer the world’s richest man.

Is Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew the world’s richest man?

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