On 20th January 2016, Oxfam International’s reports that the richest 62 individuals and the poorest half of the world’s population have a similar collective net wealth of US$1.7 trillion each.
The organization, which works to eliminate poverty, said that the top 62 individuals now own half a trillion US dollars more than they did 5 years ago. During the same period, the net wealth of the bottom 90% (i.e. the rest of the world) has fallen.
Without going into the details, it appears that inequality across the world is clearly worsening. The question then is whether Singapore is heading in the same direction, or whether we could possibly be exempted?
Did our government do enough to reduce the income inequality over the past few years? Or is it even their job in the first place?
Who Are Singapore’s Richest?
Forbes reported that the top 40 richest families and individuals in Singapore have a collective net worth of about US$87.3 billion (SG$117.9 billion). The companies that these people own are household brand names in Singapore, with the like of Robert and Philip Ng (Sino Group and Far East Organization), Kwek Leng Beng (Hong Leong Group) and Goh Cheng Liang (Nippon Paint).
Exhibit 1: Forbes’s Top 40 Richest Individuals and Families at 2015
|Rank||Name||Net Worth (SGD Bil)|
|1||Robert & Philip Ng||11.7|
|2||Kwek Leng Beng||9.7|
|3||Goh Cheng Liang||9.3|
|5||Wee Cho Yaw||7.4|
|9||Kuok Khoon Hong||3.4|
|10||Raj Kumar & Kishin RK||3.2|
|11||Chang Yun Chung||3.1|
|14||Ong Beng Seng & Christina Ong||2.4|
|15||Lim Oon Kuin||2.3|
|16||Lee Seng Wee||2.1|
|17||Asok Kumar Hiranandani||1.9|
|18||Tang Wee Kit||1.8|
|21||Choo Chong Ngen||1.7|
|23||Koh Wee Meng||1.6|
|24||Zhong Sheng Jian||1.6|
|26||Chua Thian Poh||1.5|
|27||Oei Hong Leong||1.4|
|28||Loo Choon Yong||1.4|
|29||Lim Chap Huat||1.1|
|31||Shaw Vee Meng||1.1|
|32||Tan Boy Tee||1.1|
|35||Cheng Wai Keung||0.9|
|36||Lim Hock Chee||0.9|
|37||Pter Fu Chong Cheng||0.8|
|38||Ho Kian Guan||0.8|
|39||Bhupendra Kumar Modi||0.8|
Note: Forbes reported the net worth in US dollar, which was converted to SG dollar at the rate of 1.35.
Singapore Is Not In A Dire Situation…YET
Total household net assets in Singapore are worth SG$1.5 trillion at Jun-2015. This means that all households in Singapore (even after including our billionaires) are still worth lesser than the 62 richest individuals in the world, as mentioned by Oxfam International.
The mentioned 40 richest Singaporean families/individuals control only about 8% of total household net assets.
On average, every person living in Singapore has net assets of about SG$432,600. The net assets consist of cash, deposits, housing, shares, insurance and CPF. Before thinking that this number is preposterous, do note that it is an average number, and the richer folks would have an exponentially higher amount of net assets than the less privileged ones.
Read Also: 3 Hard Truths About Poverty In Singapore
Exhibit 2: Total Assets of Singaporean Households at Jun-2015
Source: Department of Statistics Singapore
Income Inequality Is A Problem In Singapore
A 2008 Forbes Special Report showed that the richest 40 families and individuals have total net assets of SG$45.3 billion. Fast-forward 7 years later, the top 40 richest’ net assets have grew by 160%, no doubt supported by the arrival of Eduardo Saverin and his Facebook wealth.
Department of Singapore published in 2008 that the total net household assets in Singapore to be worth SG$917 billion then. This means that the average household net assets grew by about 64% during the same period. Once you remove away the growth created from the top 40 richest people, average household net asset grow by about 59%. This is in contrast to the 160% enjoyed by the top 40 richest families and individuals.
The net assets of the richest people are growing at a much faster pace then the average Singaporean. This is in line with what Oxfam International found in a global context.
Exhibit 3: Net Assets of Singapore Household and Top 40 Richest
Source: Forbes and Department of Statistics Singapore
If income and net asset growth for the richest Singaporeans were to continue at the trend we saw over the last 7 years, while the average Singaporean continue to enjoy limited growth, then there would be social issues that may appear in the future which cannot be mitigated by solutions such as the Pioneer Generation Benefits or GST rebates.
Image By Benjamin Lim. Used With Permission.
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