There was an interesting item in this newspaper the other day noting that at least one big fund-management firm pitching for Mandatory Provident Fund business had not yet set up a pension plan for its own employees. The reason given was that the firm had offered its employees the choice of a pension fund or of taking the money in cash as part of their monthly pay, and they had all opted for the cash. Now you may lift your eyebrows at this and say 'Yeah, yeah, yeah, they must have had public relations burning the midnight oil to come up with that excuse'. It does sound a little odd. These people buy advertisements on TV every night to tell you what a good idea it is that you will have a pension and how good they will be at investing that money before you finally get it, but they don't want to put money into pensions themselves. Hypocrisy, you say. Or maybe you don't. Think about it. This town is known for its entrepreneurial spirit, and the biggest predicament entrepreneurs encounter when they start coming up with bright ideas in their 20s and 30s is that they don't have the money to turn these ideas into reality. They spend years whining that the banks are a bunch of tightwad pawnshops that will only lend money to people who already have it. Every penny they can find goes into building the business, and it's not fun depriving the kids in the hope that things will eventually work out. And now, while they are still working for salaries, they are told they must put some of that badly needed income aside for a time when the businesses they are starting would provide it for them. We'd rather take the cash now, they plead. Those fund managers are not the only ones saying it. You may protest that many of the businesses will fail, and where will these people be when they grow old? Let's have some assurance now that they will be able to feed themselves rather than having them line up at the public trough later. This is a well-meaning, but also very pessimistic, view. By making this provident fund mandatory, we implicitly assume that a large proportion of our population consists of wastrels who take no thought for their later years. It's not true. There may be a small number of wastrels, but we will be feeding them at the public trough anyway. Some people can never hold down jobs or money, and we just have to grin and bear it when they ask for social welfare. If their number grows, however, one reason will be the growing cradle-to-grave support we give them. Nothing is more corrosive of entrepreneurial challenge than not having to face the challenge, particularly when the challenge is made more difficult anyway by the revenue demands of a bloated public sector. Almost all people do take a keen interest in their own welfare and balance forethought for their later years with present needs. They are also the best judges of what is best for them. Even if they are not, what business is it of others to decide that for them? But the biggest irony here is that while our Government professes great concern for small and medium-sized enterprises, it is depriving these SMEs, through the MPF, of what they need most and giving it for years to big institutions which do not have SMEs at the top of their lists of investment choices. Granted, the MPF has some strengths. Although still restricted by enough rulebooks to fill a library, the fund managers will be given independence of investment choice. Many pension funds, Singapore's Central Provident Fund for instance, produce very low returns because their investments are instead dictated by government. Yet, some of these fund managers clearly know the truth. Give us the cash. We can do better ourselves.