24 February 2009

4. NUGGET: Why en bloc law was (and still is) needed?

The introduction of the concept of “majority consent” to sell other people’s homes was seminal in abrogating private property rights of Minority Dissenters. It was NOT introduced lightly – it went through Select Committee review and parliamentary debates. It took more than a year before it became law. However, in my opinion, the law regrettably carried (and still carries) too light a touch – having interfered with market forces by introducing legislation that effectively wedged a big foot into other people’s main door, you don’t just lightly dip your finger of law in the pie and blithely shrug: “C’est la vie – let’s leave it to market forces”. as said in many more words and different ways during the Sep 2007 parliamentary review of the Land Titles (Strata) Act and in the responses to the May 2007 Public Consultation exercise.

Now, let’s go back in time ... back to a decade ago.

At the Second Reading of the Land Titles (Strata) (Amendment) Bill in 1999, the then Minister of State for Law, Ass Prof Ho Peng Kee, said: “The current position is that a single owner, for whatever reason, can oppose and thwart the [collective] sale. ... As a result, these buildings cannot take advantage of enhanced plot ratios to realise their full development potential, which would have CREATED MANY MORE HOUSING UNITS IN PRIME 999-YEAR LEASEHOLD OR FREEHOLD AREAS FOR SINGAPOREANS. A secondary benefit is that these developments, especially THE OLDER ONES COULD HAVE BEEN REJUVENATED through the en-bloc process.” [Capitalization emphasis is by The Pariah.] NOTE: This 1999 parliamentary promise of “for Singaporeans” has been embarrassingly nullified by ministerial comment in 2007 and housing statistics in 2008, as substantiated in the above blog entry entitled "MOCKTAIL: Have we left our people behind?"!

At the Third Reading of the Bill, the then Minister for Law, Prof S Jayakumar, in discussing the change to include (instead of exclude) small strata title developments (ie, 10 units or less) into the fold of en bloc law reeled off these cogent statistics: “Many of these developments which have 10 or fewer units are old or have large areas which are underutilised, thus rendering them suitable for redevelopment. In fact, as at September 1998, developments with 10 or fewer units account for NEARLY HALF OF ALL STRATA DEVELOPMENTS in Singapore. Of the 2,272 strata developments which are freehold or close to 999 years, 47% are developments with 10 or fewer units. These developments ACCOUNT FOR 7% OF THE TOTAL NUMBER OF UNITS and ABOUT 80 HECTARES (10%) OF THE LAND AREA. Requiring unanimous decision will frustrate en-bloc redevelopment of these developments.” [Capitalization emphasis is by The Pariah.]

Sobering statistics, indeed! If we were to cast the net wider in 1998 to ALL strata title developments (ie, those larger than 10 units and/or those of 99-year leasehold) that have NOT fully utilized the plot ratio, we can understand and accept (even though some will still disagree with) the need for en bloc law in teeny Singapore from a national perspective.

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