18 March 2010

Trilogy: Part B – The Generals said

When the Prime Minister of Singapore speaks, we must take his words seriously to heart. More so if the PM is your direct boss, you'd think, eh? Instead of making our dear PM fret over how “to fix the opposition” in future, it may be more worthwhile for the PM to “fix his own ministers and parliamentary secretaries in MinLaw and MND” now. If one can't multi-task, then one must focus on one thing at one time. But focus on the right thing, for goodness sake!

What are we citizens left to think when the PM’s right- and left-hand generals go around undermining his overall direction, contradicting what was said in Parliament, confusing the Judiciary and sending half-true messages via the Civil Service?

Since I don't hob-nob with ministers, what can I do but read the much-trusted Straits Times for PAP ministerial views, right? Here's what I gleaned with my beady two eyes and my wax-cleared twin ears ...

B-1  MND - Left-hand general. When interviewed about en bloc sales, Sunday Times (17 Jun 2007) reported that Minister Mah 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. … 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 … 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."] [Capitalization emphasis by The Pariah.]

Contrast the above ministerial comment with the Hansard record of what was said in Parliament for the passing of this law: Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (31 July 1998), vol 69 at cols 601-607, the Minister of State for Law said: "… 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 by The Pariah.]

The “for Singaporeans” bit totally escaped the conscience and consciousness of Minister Mah! Let's not forget that Mr Mah is obviously very much a "thinker" as he even urged us to do "Three Thinks" before committing to buy real estate (viz, "Think carefully; Think long-term; Think about the unexpected" – Straits Times, 2 Sep 2009). Such deep and thoughtful advice coming from a "thinker" minister to go to Woodlands if you can't afford Tampines after en bloc carry dead serious weight! Or is it dead weight?

Sorry, my two left feet get entangled at times. I recall that Minister Mah happens to be the Tampines MP within that GRC (Group Representation Constituency). So what was Minister Mah saying? Was he trying to get his Tampines constituents to move to Woodlands because that is nearer to Johor Bahru (JB) so that when these constituents grow old and fall ill, it'd be a shorter hop over to the JB nursing homes (that's the "option" as offered by his colleague, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan)? Hmmmm ... now that I "think" about it more deeply, it probably makes sense because when you are old and sick, you wouldn't want to travel very far. Sheesh ... they do think of everything, don't they?  Worth every bang for the buck we pay them, man! Or should I more accurately describe it as "mega-bang" for the "mega-bucks"?

“For Singaporeans” was purportedly the “primary” benefit, eh? Instead, what was “secondary benefit” morphed into “fundamental reason” and “people to naturally redevelop” ostensibly referred to corporate developers because ordinary citizens do not undertake redevelopment projects!

LTSA is pegged at kindergarten level (eg, "financial loss" formula is beyond the wildest dream of any financial adviser-accountant-economist rolled into one; how Reserve Price and Apportionment Method are set by volunteer laypersons without any substantiated basis by an independent valuer, but with guidance from savvy marketing agents who get no fee for no sale, and locked-in with vacuum-packed legalese crafted by professional lawyers who also get no fee for no sale, etc). Hence, it wouldn't be altogether inappropriate to go back to nursery rhymes that we learned in kindergarten! In line with the spirit of en bloc sales, let's clear our throats for the best collective falsetto that we can manage, eh? Ready? Here goes:

Twinkle, twinkle, little star
Little wonder that you are
Down and out for the owner
Up and away for dev'loper

– Down and out for the owners post-en bloc ... It would be "twice the price; half the price" as extant owners face the Hobson's Choice of being a Squatter, Refugee, Downgrader or Downsizer.

– Up and away for corporate developer-buyers post-en bloc ... Three years after 2006-07 en bloc frenzy, with progressive recognition of project revenue from developmental projects, we are starting to get headline news in Feb-Mar 2010 about developers’ profits at historic best:

- CDL’s 2009 net profit second-highest ever
- UOL net profit triples to $424.2 mil
- SC Global net profit increases 28%
- Koh Brothers’ revenue rose 55% … led by its real estate … divisions
- Heeton net profit up 144% to $17.2 mil
- Roxy-Pacific’s 4Q2009 net profit doubles to $5.9 mil

Do you get the picture now? So, what's your rating for the above picture?
- R(A) rated: Restricted (Artistic)?
- X rated: Artfully obscene?
- XXX rated: Artlessly obscene???

Oh dear, I hope blog readers are above age 21! Won't you get viral with these figures?
There are Fat Cats.
There are Cheshire Cats.
There are also Fat Cheshire Cats ...
in this place of Wonderland called Singapore that is not a country but a city ... not a city but a city in a garden ... not a garden but a hotel ... Hotel Singapore Inc! 

Granted that these developers are buyers in Government Land Sales (“GLS”) and their projects are not limited to only condos. But they are also active en bloc buyers, eh? In property development, the most significant costs are land cost and the consequent financing cost. Oi, don't forget that such “developers' windfalls” were achieved despite the unprecedented financial/economic meltdown in 2008, hor? Hence, I’d leave it to your collective "freefall" imagination as to how much more "sexy" the "windfall" figures would have been without such global meltdown.  Even with the credit "freeze" in varying shades of white, things got matchingly "white-hot" in the bedrooms (I mean, boardrooms after they sold the bedrooms)! Hey, hey, hey - Hold your horses please! Although Singapore is a wannabe Buzz, let's not get too salacious in the sordid sleaze - OK?

Did such situations transpire wittingly? If so, then isn't it Progressive Corporatism at its zenith (viz, unlocking land value for corporate developers), and not Government for the People as it ought to be?

Or did they occur unwittingly? If so, then what is the Gahmen doing about it?

Multiple choice answers:

(a) watch haplessly whilst sitting on its hands (they have already sat on their hands for the past 2.5 years since Oct 2007 legislative amendments; how long more are they gonna make us wait?),

(b) continue to tinker with LTSA when the last tinkering in 2007 created new issues, resolved some old issues and skirted around other crucial old issues, or

(c) significantly reform LTSA (eg, boldly mandate one-for-one ("1-4-1") exchange by calibrating and customizing South Korea's Hapdong Redevelopment model of urban renewal, or find a better solution to outclass the South Korean model and thus honour the "for Singaporeans" objective of LTSA).
B-2  MinLaw - Right-hand general. Two ST Forum replies from MinLaw were pretty revealing. See what I mean about re-reading "old news", eh?

B-2.1 “Viable alternative for owners”. In ST Forum (21 Aug 2009), MinLaw said: “Collective sales also offer a viable alternative for owners to seek new accommodation with new and better facilities.”

Hence, it begs the question as to who are these “owners” who will enjoy such “viable alternative”?

Target population of 6.5mn in 40-50 years’ time was announced at the time when Singapore’s population stood at 4.6mn as at Jun 2007. Population ramped-up to 4.99mn as at Jun 2009. Based on the aforementioned Department of Statistics’ numbers, it would be reasonable to extrapolate that, at same rate of increase over the last two years, target population would be hit in 10 (not 40-50) years’ time! [Geez, would this be another instance where it could not possibly be foreseen with ministerial vision? If people who deservingly earn millions of bucks can't see, then who else can see? You and I? You must be kidding!]

Hence, “owners” with this “viable alternative” must be from part of this foreigner deluge - please read on for the explanation.

This foreigner segment is NOT the S Pass holders and entry level Employment Pass holders who are more likely to partake of the HDB housing pie – much to the heartlanders’ chagrin. Instead, these are the foreigners who can afford to buy at the rates that yield developers the stratospheric profit levels cited above. Some may even be part of “hot money” inflows given the level of investment purchases despite the persistently poor rental yield (please see the graph in Part C-3.4(j) of this trilogy). http://singaporeenbloc.blogspot.com/2010/03/trilogy-part-c-pm-said-i-am-saying.html

It is NOT extant en bloc owners who are more likely Singaporeans before this influx. The alternative for extant owners is anything but “viable” based on (i) the consistent trend of “double the price; half the size” post-en bloc and (ii) URA’s statistical confirmation of the displacement of Singaporeans in new property purchase transactions (please see the tables in Part C-3.4(d) of this trilogy). This is how Singaporeans are displaced from prime/popular areas under the Bagel Effect of en blocs. And they then expect us suckers to happy-happy "integrate" with these foreigners!!! Who's kidding whom, I wonder.

B-2.2 Communism, Counter-Feudalism, Democracy. Nearly a fortnight passes as the moon waxes towards being full, in ST Forum Letter (4 Sep 2009), MinLaw said: “The Government's land acquisition schemes have mostly affected land owners. The general public, on the other hand, have been the primary beneficiaries of such acquisitions, through public housing, building of infrastructure for public benefit and various other developments, including the building of condominiums - the latter allowed condominium owners to enjoy the land which was originally enjoyed by land owners.“

Surely, this is not the full-moon effect? Read MinLaw's reply carefully and you may detect the undertone of MinLaw’s reply - It smacks of Counter-Feudalism to justify en bloc law. From a citizen’s perspective, MinLaw seems to be saying: In the past, had it not been for Land Acquisition Act, condo owners today won't be enjoying their "air space" built over land previously owned by attap hut/shophouse owners.  Likewise for the future, if not for the en bloc law, all these owners with poorly optimised condos that look dated and dowdy will pass them on to their kids. How else can we squish 6.5mn target population to live, work, play and shit on this teeny 700 sq km patch – not in the next 40-50 years by 2047/2057 but in the next 10 years by 2019? So please get real, people - make way for others and share ... sharing is good for your soul!

But isn’t Communism also Counter-Feudalism? So are we Commies now? Have we gone stark raving mad?

Of course not, going by MinLaw’s ad nauseum assertions of the super-majority of 80% (90%) consent obtained in each en bloc sale. Nobody forced the requisite majority to sign the CSA. So it must be Democracy – except that it is over private property. Because strata-title is communal living, the law now empowers (i) your neighbours to sell your share of communal property and (ii) STB to force you to sell your private property. After you hand over your house keys under vacant possession, where do you house your family is your problem solely and wholly.  Why would it concern anybody else since everything is according to the rule of law?  Ahhh ... the rule of law - more or less, as the French would wryly say. It is all seemingly sane and civilized. Excuse me, we are Singaporeans, you know.

B-2.3 “Modernisation, rejuvenation and optimisation”. So, seemingly satisfied by the due process of Democracy, MinLaw continued with bated breath in the same ST Forum Letter (4 Sep 2009): ”In finding the appropriate balance, we also need to take into account the need for modernisation, rejuvenation of estates and optimisation of land use.“

I beg your pardon but what happened to the “for Singaporeans” bit? “Modernisation, rejuvenation, optimisation” – Kind of reminds me of the old Richards song “Congratulations … Celebrations …. Jubiliations” EXCEPT ... that MinLaw is catapulting us over the sheer cliff with their “-tions” in the face of “double the price; half the size” post-en bloc. En bloc owners do not land with "-tions" but with "thuds" as we implode and hit Ground Zero! Adding salt to wound, MinLaw cites "appropriate balance" in that same ST Forum Letter of 4 Sep 2009. Between DOUBLE the price and HALF the size, where exactly would MinLaw pin the point of "appropriate balance", pray?

Likewise, with such MinLaw public replies, does it mean that Law Minister K Shanmugam has forgotten what his own ministry said in the House?  Without a doubt, Mr Shanmugam is an honourable man and would not even try to justify that he wasn't the Law Minister at the time when the "for Singaporeans" bit was uttered in the august House back then. 

Given MinLaw’s 4 Sep 2009 ST Forum Letter with its commie undertone of Counter-Feudalism, I can’t resist the perfect irony to invoke Vladimir Lenin: “A lie told often enough becomes truth”, EXCEPT that in this case, it is NOT a LIE but a HALF-TRUTH, or - to be precise - a TWO-THIRD-TRUTH (ie, choosing to remember only two out of the triplet objectives and conveniently omitting the primary objective of “for Singaporeans”)!

B-3  Judiciary - On top of it all. Surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly, given the ministerial weight of authority and power), even the sharpest and the best minds on this land (ie, some Supreme Court judges) have been seemingly misled into effecting incomplete parliamentary intentions in their rationes decidendi as they apply the purposive approach in en bloc legal suits, turning the “secondary benefit” recorded in Hansard into “main purpose” of the bill in their grounds of decision. http://singaporeenbloc.blogspot.com/2009/03/executive-legislative-judiciary-sans.html

B-4  Civil Service - Underneath it all. If the Judiciary can be misled, then what more of the Civil Service even though it is another leg of the INSTITUTIONAL CHECK-AND-BALANCE? Will civil servants be allowed to play that institutional role and thus “serve the public”? If yes, do they? If not, is there a deeper and more insidious malaise?

But let us take heart. Today (11 Dec 2009) reported that at the Harvard Club of Singapore’s annual dinner, no less a man than our Law Minister K Shanmugam proclaimed that "all civil servants have to be accountable, as they are 'exercising power on behalf of people'. Accountability is when 'most of your actions have to be accounted for and explained in a public forum', he said." .

And let us not lose our heads too. The man said "MOST" of the Civil Servants' actions have to be accounted for and explained in a public forum. Since LTSA does NOT impinge on national defence, religion, race or triads, can we "lesser mortal" citizens reasonably expect that it will be "accounted for and explained in a public forum" by our Ministers and Civil Servants, you think?

You know, sometimes I just ain't that sure about the "triads" bit - What with en bloc flipper consortia in operation, or the criminal acts being unleashed in some en bloc estates, or the hooliganism exhibited at en bloc EOGMs, or the deals being gagged under private treaties, or the reverse engineering of LTSA, or the purported arm's length deals transacted in the open market around the tipping-point time, etc, etc, etc! I reckon there are likely more "thugs" in the en bloc market than there are triads pan-island ... but the authorities ain't doing much about such "thugs"- so how???

No comments: