29 May 2007

In between ... evolving a "Bagel Class" of Singaporeans

Update on 7 Jun 2007:

As Shakespeare said: "Life is a stage ...".

From the time the Ministry of Law announced in March 2007 about the upcoming legislative review of the Land Titles (Strata) Act and the commencement of MinLaw's Public Consultation in April 2007, it was interesting to observe various en bloc happenings and the evolution of "The Bagel Class" of Singaporeans:

ACT 1 - Super-duper rush by various Sales Committees in a last-pitch push of hasty deals as if Apocalypse Now + Armageddon combined will soon be descending upon us!

ACT 2 - Vibrant cyber chatter even in official REACH Forum and AsiaOne Forum, fostering valiant active citizenry efforts by Owner-Occupiers who are facing or are being threatened with enforced en bloc sales in various parts of Singapore [do scroll down and click on the links to their blogs that I have created on the right-hand side of this blog-page].

ACT 3 - Journalistic integrity courageously manifested by the Today newspaper who took the lead to give voice to the Dissenters as part of balanced reporting to counter the hyped-up rah-rah of en bloc windfall! [Look out for The Straits Times' article (finally) on en bloc dissent tomorrow, 30 May, and followed up with another ST special report on 16 June 2007.]

ACT 4 - Anarchy finally hit Singapore with the latest fiasco of Watten Estate having two Sales Committees, each with their own marketing agent and lawyer - a scoop reported by The New Paper!

ACT 5 - PAP's INconsistency in fostering a "sense of community" as part of our nationhood in HDB estates versus private residential estates. Are Singaporean owners of private residential apartments 2nd class citizens in a way?

Compare this SCENE (i): At the completion of HDB Selective En Bloc Scheme (Sers) for Sembawang, Minister Khaw Boon Wan said that it is important "to try to keep the community intact" and "ensure that even as we modernise, we make sure that we don't unsettle the population" (Today, 4 June 2007).

Contrast this SCENE (ii): At the parliamentary sitting on 22 May 2007, Opposition MP Mr Chiam See Tong asked if the Gahmen could incorporate a provision into the law to enable SOME owners to exchange one-for-one in the same en bloc site. However, Senior Minister for State (Ministry of Law) Ass Prof Ho Peng Kee replied that "this is one area where we should leave it to the owners to decide, because not ALL owners may want a replacement flat. Different people have different considerations. But I know on the ground that owners who want a replacement, in fact, negotiate with the developers who are buying the property. This has happened in some of the developments. So, let the owners negotiate with the developers and get a deal that suits them".

Perhaps the good Senior Minister for State couldn't follow the thrust of Opposition MP's question which suggests a mandatory "OPTION" for SOME (not ALL) owners to select, knowing that their selection would then have the full force of legal protection to cap their multitude of key exchange risks. This is NOT (i) mandating it for ALL owners or (ii) leaving owners (especially Owner-Occupiers) in a lurch in a dog-eat-dog market infested by Developers who must account $$$ bottomline to shareholders and Investor-Owners who see quick $$$ or (iii) saddling en bloc exchange owners with very serious risks if the Developer-Buyer fails.

Ahhh ... maybe the good minister is NOT close enough to the ground to realise that exchange negotiation is either NOT on a level playing field OR NOT even entertained by the Buyer-Developer/Sales Committee/Majority Owners (A) if the 80% (90%) consent is likely to be hit or (B) if distribution of collective sales proceeds is to the obvious advantage of Majority Owners who reckon that the Developer-Buyer would reduce the price for the cash option if an exchange option is bundled with the en bloc deal or (C) if incremental development/profit potential is limited in certain sites due to small size land plots, new building height restrictions which may be lowered by the planning authorities or already maxed-out Gross Plot Ratio or additional pay-outs arising from Development Charge/development baseline issues, land premium for lease top-ups, etc. In the face of all these risks and challenges that seem to be blithely ignored by the Ministry of Law in giving this type of reply, surely the PAP must realise that it will be that much harder to move back to the same community space after an en bloc and thus preserve that "sense of community".

ACT 6 - Deja vu all over again when former NMP, Mr Shriniwas Rai, suggested in ST Forum that yet another Select Committee be formed to review the findings of MinLaw’s Public Consultation - Geez!


In 1998/1999, NMP Shriniwas Rai spoke in support of this law and the present law came into being only after going through a time-consuming Select Committee process. Nonetheless, we ended up with the present law that has facilitated outright exploitation and unscrupulous behaviour.

INTERMISSION (go grab a coffee or a whiskey!) ...

I’d urge MinLaw to expedite review of the present law and gazette it as soon as possible to address the woes of the evolving "Bagel Class" of Singaporeans and prevent further anarchy and stop the blatant exploitation/short-change running into possibly six figures!!! SEE THE 30 MAY 2007 UPDATE IN MY OTHER COMMENTS UNDER "SHARE VALUES; SALES COMMITTEE".

Previously, the Government concocted HUDC and Executive Condominiums to cater for the “Sandwich Class” of Singaporeans who did not qualify for HDB flats but who could not afford private property.

Now, we have a “Bagel Class” of Singaporeans because collective sales of private property with freehold air-space entitlement based on 80% (or 90%) consensus are forcing dissenters to sell and consequently become a Squatter, Refugee, Downgrader or Downsizer. Like a bagel sliced along the circumference with a hole in the centre on both halves, Singaporeans are whacked with two holes:

1st Hole: Singaporeans are pushed out by foreigners (the really rich ones, not the so-called "foreign talent" employed on local terms) from the prime/central districts to the suburbs.

2nd Hole: Otherwise, Singaporeans have to make a yet bigger hole in our CPF/private savings to buy an equivalent replacement (ie, private strata-title property) where the price of disposal and the time of liquidation are both beyond the control of the CPF member (this makes it a Uniquely Singapore asset class!).

Can (and will) the Government redress the needs of this "Bagel Class" of Singaporeans in 2007 following the 1999 amendment of the Land Titles (Strata) Act? Following on from the predicament of the "Bagel Class" in the prime residential districts, the "Sandwich Class" of HUDCers/Exec Condoers is also finding out that they now need to revert to the "Roti Kaya Class"(bread with coconut jam) of HDBers where the heartlander ground is kept necessarily sweet but chocked-a-block with saturated fat from the very "shiok" (yummy) coconut milk that is not very good for the Heart! A happy "Roti Kahwin" (bread with a marriage fusion of butter + coconut jam) it does not make when the ex-HUDCers/Exec Condoers start competing with the Real McCoy Heartlanders for HDB public flats! Errr ... The Government Governs!

ACT 7 - Yeehah ... in gallops the dark horse with a cart trailing behind when during an interview about en bloc sales (Sunday Times, 17 June 2007), Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan advocated that Singaporeans should downgrade. He said: "If you can't buy an executive flat, buy a 5-room. If you can't afford central area, go to the suburbs. If you can't afford Tampines, go to Woodlands or Yishun." Ahem ... I thought the Gahmen has been goading us Singaporeans to be No. 1 in this and that, feeding into our aspirations of Up, Up and Away ...

Minister Mah did not say what happens if you can't afford Woodlands or Yishun. However, Minister for Health Khaw Boon Wan did say on Channel News Asia on 17 April 2006 (14 months ago to the day): "My personal view is, our land is expensive. But we have nearby neighbours in Johore, Batam and Bintan. The elderly want to reach their doctors within half to one hour. So retirement villages in neighbouring countries is possible, barring the cross-border hassle. It is best to find cheap land on short leases." ... now, I'm beginning to see where the "Up, Up and Away" is leading us to - 7th Heaven no doubt!

Tsk, tsk ... except that there are some knotty kinks in this scene:

(a) To live outside of Woodlands or Yishun in a retirement home in Johore, Batam and Bintan, you first have to be "retired".

(b) You may still be of active working age at the point of a successful en bloc - So how? UPGRADE your skills but DOWNGRADE your lifestyle??? Kind of sucks, doesn't it?

(c) You may already be of retirement age at the point of a successful en bloc except that they keep pushing official retirement to a later age and even if you are so "heng" (Chinese dialect for "lucky") to hit that magic number, you need to keep working to qualify for more of the "national goodies" that they strategically time in handing-out - Then how? Work till you drop dead, ugh? And if you must get sick before dropping dead, don't stay too sick for too long ... you know lah, your en bloc windfall Fixed Deposit won't last forever and now that you are left with a flat in Woodlands or Yishun (as helpfully suggested by Minister Mah), it ain't gonna worth much!

(d) Oooops ... after galloping a few rounds, Minister Mah FAILED to notice why the cart is now suddenly before the "Ma" (Mandarin for "horse") - If they didn't force you into an en bloc in the first place, you wouldn't be in this unenviable position of not being able to afford "an executive flat, or in central area, or in Tampines" as mentioned by Minister Mah after putting the much-vaunted en bloc windfall in the cart - Neigh, neigh ... that's why horses say "Nay" although one may say "Aye"!

(e) Hey ... wait, our dear Minister did explain (quite rightly too) that "the fundamental reason behind an en bloc redevelopment is really to make sure that older parts of Singapore have a chance to be rejuvenated and redevelop themselves" and "if we don't have this, we are going to have a static situation where things are going to run down and there is no opportunity for people to naturally redevelop". [APPLAUSE please for Minister Mah who should take a Bow ...]. People, that's why we do en blocs - NOT for your own windfall at the expense of others but for the country ... Yeh! See, I told you so - SEE MY OTHER COMMENTS UNDER "MAJORITY versus MINORITY versus INDIVIDUAL" IN THIS BLOG-SITE. EXCEPT that our dear Minister also solemnly pronounced that "these people" in the central area "can take care of themselves". Excuse me, sir ... "these people" are also "your people" and they were also forced to sacrifice their homes FOR THE COUNTRY for, say, a grand sum of $2mn (increased to $2.5mn in July 2007) only to pay a more princely ransom of $3.75mn (increased to $4.5mn in July 2007) in replacement! Unless you are of ministerial calibre, I dare say that not many of "these people" earn $1.75mn (differential widened to $2mn in July 2007) in a year (or even five years) - in reality, "these people" are not that bright (and understandably, therefore, not that well-paid) to fork out a huge premium for "freehold air space" in the first place!

(f) Errr ... except that what does our dear Minister mean by "older parts of Singapore"? How "old" is old when the present law allows en bloc from Day 1 of Temporary Occupation Permit based on 90% consent which drops to 80% when the estate is 10 years old??? I may be wrong but I reckon there's a Bell Curve to the age profile of our en bloc blocks - after discounting the extreme ends of the Bell Curve, I guestimate that the likely age of apartments in this 2006-07 en bloc frenzy is in the range of 15-25 years. In this age of throw-away consumerism (never mind about the irksome issue of environmental sustainability), perhaps "15-25 years old" is terribly old for a building, eh?

SAGA TO BE CONTINUED ... The FINALE is "akan datang" (coming soon) when the legislative amendment is finally gazetted as law (process is likely to start in Sep, go through three parliamentary readings, home run by Dec perhaps)? Will it be a limp squid? Will good triumph over evil? Will the hero get the girl? Will those wailing now go home with less tears? Will those guffawing now go home more sobered?

After the curtain falls, will we move together as a more inclusive people? Or do we each go off in splinter directions, our disillusion reinforced that we are truly staying at "Hotel Singapore Inc", forever in transit as "A Nation of Immigrants, Migrants and Emigrants" except that we are now into the Third Wing?

[Immigrants as we continue to harbour the mindset of our Ancient Immigrant Forefathers.]

[Migrants as we now live amongst New Migrant Neighbours who do NOT share our Modern Singapore History, distinctly choosing to retain their native citizenship even after milking the perks of Singapore PR status for decades (our Ministry of Home Affairs hasn't caught on to the idea that Permanent Residence could potentially embed an expiry - no doubt, giving up one's native citizenship is a momentous decision but surely one needs to "commit" at some point after sponging on PR benefits and tasting for 7 years what life in Singapore is really like - I'm suggesting 7 years because of the "7-year Itch Syndrome" - shouldn't we separate wheat from chaff with an oxymoron "Temporary Permanent Resident" or would the Truth cut too deep for this Gahmen to publicly acknowledge that pathetically few PRs take up citizenship?).]

[Emigrants as we are losing Old Emigrant Friends who are increasingly moving to other shores not necessarily greener but definitely more edgy or gracious than ours.]

Without diminishing the other hard-nosed and technical issues raised in this blog ... May I also ask if there are still some things left in this world that money can't buy? Have we hit the stage where we know the Price of Everything but the Value of None? Sigh ...