11 June 2010

When people with no-balls play e-football .....

With the FIFA World Cup kicking off on 11 June 2010 in South Africa, it is only apt to draw an analogy with how LTSA 2010 e-football (ie, en-bloc football) game is being played in Singapore by people with no-balls! Here’s how:

=  Defender recruits can hibernate for 12 months and ...
As defenders in e-football, Sale Committee members are recruited but they don’t need to get into play pronto. Instead, under the amendments to the Land Titles (Strata) Act (LTSA) recently passed in Parliament on 18 May 2010, these volunteer recruits could lay in hibernation for 12 months and may likely sleepwalk in perpetuity, depending on the final version of the LTSA 2010 amendments.

In comparison, in the barren Arctic wintry cold, polar bears only get a walking hibernation of 6 months and no more. One would have thought that some degree of kickass is called for, eh? NOT SO! Why, why, why, Delilah?

Because the longer the hibernation, the more likely it will fuel serial condo raiders or en bloc flippers to target the estate and tear apart any remaining shreds of estate's neighbourliness. As the atmosphere gets poisoned and neighbourly relationships turn acrimonious, it makes it more likely for Owners (except the die-hards) to cave-in to such en bloc attempt. In addition, estate maintenance will likely be held in abeyance for the next 36-48 months after formation of Sale Committee and pending resolution of any en bloc battle. Only relentless rounds of reporting to the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) about Management Council's dereliction in executing its duties would elicit barebone estate maintenance. This further aggravates neighbourhood peace and accelerates deterioration of facilities within the estate and goad owners to say "yes" to en bloc.

This is no "conspiracy theory" - It's mere Behavioural Economics! Who wants to come home and quarrel with neighbours or be at the receiving end of dirty looks and snide remarks made loud enough within earshot? Who wants to fight for even basic estate maintenance at the end of a long day or live amidst slum-like conditions of disrepair? With the above 12 months of potential hibernation and the following 12+12 months aggregating 36 long months of unit/estate maintenance in limbo (NOT counting another 12 months possibly for mediation/court proceedings before getting a final adjudication), the jig-saw puzzle pieces all fit in nicely with the Gahmen's PRO-SALE agenda, eh?

= Shifting goal posts over a period of up to 12+12=24 months
Market is likely to be volatile and shifting. Prices are usually on the uptick move to spark en bloc interest during the first 12-month period to collect signatures of Collective Sale Agreement (CSA) to meet requisite Majority Consent level and the second 12-month period to find Developer-buyer, sign Sale and Purchase Agreement (SPA) and apply to Strata Titles Board (STB) for collective sale order. Between the VIX (Volatility Index) and the ticks, you would have been nicked (and licked)!

= Ball is more or less transfixed
The Reserve Price and the Apportionment Method, both of which establish the en bloc sale proceeds to be received by each unit, are set WITHOUT factual basis and WITHOUT independent valuation report. Yet these two elements determine the level of signature of CSA to cross the Majority Consent tipping point. Under the CSA, Apportionment Method is deep-frozen and Reserve Price is semi-thawed but it may be hit long after the first CSA signature was obtained, say, 22 months later vis-à-vis a market that is in a constant flux assuming that it took the full 12 months to cross tipping point. When the ball is transfixed, the game has been fixed, don't you think?

= Defenders place bets for e-match
Things get even more brazen!!! Not only has the game been rigged with a transfixed ball, the en bloc flippers even have the gall to place bets in broad daylight even as they are playing in the match game - whether as defenders in the Sale Committee, as morphed-strikers during private treaty negotiations off-the-field, or as bumbling goalies who sheepishly score own goals with a vengeance! The Gahmen as FIFA organizer do absolutely nothing to deter (much less pre-empt) such bets from being placed by en bloc flippers even as they enthusiastically enroll to join the squad because it is all about "free market forces", they say. What else is new eh, my dear Johnny-come-lately?

Under LTSA 2010, the Gahmen go through the motion of introducing declarations of conflict of interest but omit to require independent searches and statutory declarations by the no-sale-no-fee referee lawyer. C'est la vie ... excusez-moi, it's only an error of omission (as opposed to an error of commission)! As for the time-tested concept of "we will trust but we will verify" – Trust that the Gahmen have NOT heard of this concept? Ahhhh ... do verify it, ok?

Ordinarily, a foul is a foul. But in e-football (en bloc football), the flippers' foul (ie, non-declaration of conflict of interest) committed BEFORE appointment to Sale Committee versus AFTER appointment only smells like an pair of worn socks unwashed for 45 days or 45 minutes - take your pick! Conveniently, the Gahmen have forgotten to arm the two referees with red and yellow cards but instead they hoisted a smelly sock! Such child-like innocence is embedded within the ranks of our mighty regulators - Wondrous indeed!

= Two referees play Double Jeopardy with malformed whistles
The 1st referee is the no-sale-no-fee property agent who cooks two sets of books - The first version is for Owners on Comparative Sale or Replacement Value basis, dressing-up numbers to convince Owners of “en bloc windfall”. The second version is for potential Developer-buyers with entirely different numbers to show vital Residual Land Value sensitivity analysis. Owners don't get to smell the second set of numbers that were used to hawk their estate. Hey, hang on a minute ... Whaddayou know? The Owners pay the agent if such hawking is successful. Well, there is a sucker born every minute, they say!

The 2nd referee is the lawyer who also operates on no-sale-no-fee basis. Lawyers stick in 20-page legalese whereas earthlings typically catch-no-ball if a sentence has more than 20 words. Lawyer watches Owners sign. Owners don't ask (because Owners caught no ball, they won't know what to ask), lawyer won't tell. So what's wrong, darling?

= Own team’s players (Owners) are glued to the ground for up to 24 months
Majority Consenters are locked-down for up to 12+12=24 months if they didn’t back-out during 5-day cool-off after signing the CSA. Without access to administrative support, it takes significant efforts by Owners to requisition an Extraordinary General Meeting (EOGM) to challenge the Sale Committee members whom they typically don’t know from Adam (or from Eve) but whom they have entrusted to sell away their family home! Wierd, ain't it???

Even if the Owners manage to garner such EOGM requisition, their hands may already be tied tight and their legs are likely hamstrung because of the wide contractual powers that the no-sale-no-fee lawyer cleverly crafted into the CSA which these Owners signed without understanding the 20-page legalese beyond the half-page preface setting out the six skeletal items as stipulated in LTSA. Are you stoopeed or what? Don't you know your A-B-Cs?

= Own team’s defenders are also allowed to be strikers
Following on from the above point, Owners may not even have an opportunity to make such EOGM requisition if the Sale Committee decides to be schizophrenic. This is because LTSA allows the Sale Committee defender to also play striker by signing private treaty with Developer-buyer and then make an announcement after-the-fact – in plain English, it is in 4 words "DO FIRST, TELL LATER"; in legalese, it is in two words "FAIT ACCOMPLI". Hee, hee ... a rare case of legalese saying it in fewer words than plain English, eh? Bottomline three words: OWNERS ARE COOKED!

Sale Committee as defender could also be taken to task if en bloc sale should be aborted despite hitting Reserve Price.

Sale Committee members are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. All this is because LTSA has FAILED to provide for a simple Re-affirmation mechanism by Majority Consenters despite embedding in the law a lag of up to 2 years!!! Hilarious but not at all funny!

= Opposing team's players (Developers) join the game only in final month and they even bring their own ball as they dribble, sprint, kick and tackle
Developers know some of the other side's game play, eg, Reserve Price, which may facilitate their counter-strategy of appearing disinterested during public tender, but only to come in for off-field private treaty game where Developers even bring their own ball – indeed, I'm not kidding you!!! Relative to the potentially 12+12=24 month period of play by Owners, the Developers join the game only towards the final moments of about one month. Therefore, only the Developers are well placed to know if the weather conditions are sunny, rainy or scattered showers and whether the ground is sweet. To score or not is entirely the Developer's call, not yours! Willing Buyer, Willing Seller??? More like: Willing Buyer, Die-Die-Must-Sell Seller!

In off-field game of private treaty, only the team captain and defenders-turned-tailcoat-strikers from our home team (ie, Sale Committee) are allowed to play and the rest of the team, especially the goalkeeper (ie, Majority Consenters) is left in the darkness of the musty locker room. Oi, this is penalty shoot-out time - Where the hell is Goalie?

= Game over!!!
Majority Consenters are screwed. Minority Dissenters get dragged along. Sale Committee volunteers are caught in-between the rock and the hard place. Sale Committee mucks up and swears under oath in Statutory Declarations. Thus, Owners (be it Majority Consenters or Minority Dissenters) can sue the pants off Sale Committee members – but who wants their soiled pants (they reek)! Our crown jewel gets undersold. So why are you crying over spilled milk now?

Trying to right wrongs at tail end is unproductive, acrimonious and costly. It will be even more of an uphill task under LTSA 2010 because there won’t be official tape recordings and proper minutes of the meetings that have been downgraded from EOGM status and other limitations in escalating the legal suit to High Court level.

As with every football match, there is a post-mortem after the final whistle. Here it is, replete with 5 Wives and 1 Husband in tow:

1. What and Who???
Whilst LTSA was incepted by Gahmen to facilitate urban rejuvenation and higher land-use intensity as part of the national agenda for larger communal good, there are consequential fall-out effects. Putting aside the wide range of personal perspectives from the whole spectrum of Owners, there are at least two fall-out effects from a national perspective:

(a) En bloc sales form a new source of land supply in existing built-up plots. This is in addition to the other source of land supply by way of vacant plots sold under Government Land Sales (GLS). Whilst the Gahmen zealously tweaks GLS to manage the quantitative and qualitative factors of redevelopment efforts, they have ostensibly blinkered off such factors that should equally apply to en bloc redevelopment because both (i) are sources of land supply and (ii) create opportunities in the current Re-making of Singapore. In fact, en bloc sites would potentially offer better upside in urban planning terms because they are usually in prime/popular locations. Hence, it is quite incomprehensible to contrast the all-hands-on approach for GLS and the heads-out-hands-off approach for en bloc sales. Please refer to my previous blog posting of 6 May 2010 at: http://singaporeenbloc.blogspot.com/2010/04/fools-but-not-just-for-april-1st.html

(b) En bloc sales unlock land value of such sites. This may be in addition to any previously unmaxed-out plot ratios because of the Gahmen’s tinkering from time to time with (i) Development Charge, (ii) Development Baseline and (iii) Development Ceiling as parameterized by plot ratios and storey height controls as part of Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) Concept Plan (last one was done in 2001 and the upcoming one is 2011) with its array of detailed Development Guide Plans and URA’s Master Plan (last one was done in 2008). Please refer to my previous blog posting of 24 Dec 2007 at: http://singaporeenbloc.blogspot.com/2007/12/in-coming-year.html

By using the full force of law to (i) impinge on extant owners’ private strata title property rights in built-up plots and (ii) invariably unlock land value in the process, even endearing Forrest Gump would ask the following question about his “Endearing Home” (tag line of the Ministry of National Development):

Q: Is LTSA calibrated to unlock land value for extant owners?
[NOTE: This is the very law that (1) mandates en bloc sales, (2) invokes the power of majoritianism and (3) claims the platform of collectivism by locking-in Majority Consenters and forcing Minority Dissenters into sale!]
A: No!
A: No!!
A: No!!!

2. When and Where??? Anecdotal history from 1999 to date is NOT on the Gahmen’s side. The trend from 1999 to date has been persistent and consistent with “double the price, half the size” realities for almost all en bloc redevelopments. Displaced extant owners have no choice but to morph into a Refugee (moving from one en bloc estate to another old estate that will likely face en bloc again), Squatter (renting whilst praying for market crash to time the next market buy-in), Downgrader (from private condo to HDB public flat) or Downsizer (from 3000 sq ft unit to 1500 sq ft).

Hence, it is reasonable to conclude that en bloc sales unlock land value NOT for extant owners but for corporate developers - wittingly or UNwittingly so!

Owners die without even knowing why or how because the lethal arsenic dosage was slowly dripped in!
At the end of an en bloc sale, those who don’t even know why or how they died would echo Forrest Gump: “Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get”. For those who knew why and how they died, they would be dead anyway even with Eyes Wide Shut!

3. Why and How??? Let’s be generous and give Gahmen the benefit of the doubt.

If unlocking land value for corporate developers was UNwitting or coincidentally incidental, then how does one account for the last two rounds of 2007 and 2010 LTSA legislative amendments within 2.75 years? Namely:

(a) Why did the Gahmen fail to address the deep structural flaws subsisting within LTSA since inception from 1999, viz, 10.5 years ago?

(b) Why did the Singapore Gahmen fail to mandate alternative solutions (eg, similar to South Korean’s mandatory one-for-one (1-4-1) exchange as one more settlement option or some other bright idea)? [Of all the various tactical formations in football game strategies ... be it 4-4-2, 4-2-4, 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 ... there is one winning strategy of 1-4-1 for qualifying Owners that gives the Singapore Gahmen and Developers diarrhea even before they imbibe. So you can't help but wonder why are they so terrified of trying-out kimchi (Korean national appetizer)?]

(c) Given their penchant for statistics to drive policy formulations – What have the Gahmen done to substantiate or debunk such anecdotal evidence of “double the price, half the size” harsh realities faced by en bloc owners?

For the record, in actively engaging MinLaw on this issue since March 2007, I have repeatedly urged such statistical analysis. Even in Mar 2007 with the second en bloc frenzy tailing off by 1H 2007, it would have been timely and viable for the Gahmen to start collecting such statistics to track every en bloc household upon vacant possession and thus build-up their research database given the usual lag time post-en bloc. The recent enactment/amendment of the Statistics Act, Cap 317, would further facilitate such analysis as to what was the replacement trend for all units that were sold en bloc. So why is the Gahmen NOT doing it? Or if they have done it, then why the lack of transparency in NOT publishing such statistics, bearing in mind that transparency is another hallmark trait that this Gahmen claims to uphold?

Hence, wouldn’t it be reasonable to deduce that unlocking land value for corporate developers may not be as UNwitting as the Gahmen would like to think (or would like to have us believe)?

Not surprisingly, it happens to dovetail with the PRO-SALE jigsaw pieces mentioned above. It would appear that our national agenda of urban rejuvenation and higher land-use intensity is better aligned with corporate interests when land value is unlocked for these corporations' commercial benefit. That's probably why the Gahmen routinely ONLY INCLUDES corporations (be it commercial and non-government organizations) in their face-to-face consultations, dialogues and workshops and ALWAYS EXCLUDES its plebian citizens even though en bloc law directly impacts on our citizens' homes and nest-egg crown jewels - sometimes devastatingly so!

So let's NOT under-estimate the pervasive effects of this global trend of Progressive Corporatism as the following cartoons put it so succinctly and elegantly, as extracted from http://www.storyofstuff.org/:

In the US, they have a President who is politically astute. Even as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is gushing out, President Barack Obama categorically called for reform of the “cozy relationship" between industry players and the regulators. As the gooey globs of tar hit Uncle Sam’s shores, his administration promptly stopped holding joint press conferences with BP (British Petroleum or Burst Pipe, take your pick)!

In stark contrast – In Singapore, our regulators wine-and-dine with the corporates as they consort and consult with each other in intensive and extensive dialogue and forum sessions, even to the extent of jointly formulating the definitive report by the Economic Strategies Committee (which I will elaborate upon in another upcoming blog posting). These regulators even play with their food with the corporates as they both toss their Yu Sheng (raw fish salad) sky high in an annual ritual, invariably making a not-so-metaphorical mess for others to clean up after them no doubt - please refer to my previous blog posting on 27 Mar 2010 at: http://singaporeenbloc.blogspot.com/2010/03/foxes-outfoxed.html

Also, let's NOT under-estimate the power of stupid people in large groups, as alluded to by Homer Simpson. Indeed, Singaporeans deserve the kind of government we get, eh? Alamak Kamala! Players with no-balls will likely continue to catch no ball. Right from the word "Go", the playing field is unlevel. Team Singapore (Owners who are mostly clueless) is pitched against Team Brazil (Developer-buyers). The two referees are the no-sale-no-fee property agent and lawyer - so don't have high hopes of fair play in a match refereed by Hoyzer-cum-Marks! The starting whistle was blown way back in Oct 1999. Like it or not, the ball is already out there - transfixed in Durban's Moses Mabhida Stadium, or simultaneously dribbled by both teams' strikers (!!!) in Cape Town's Green Point Stadium, or just at the point of being kicked in a penalty shoot-out with a MIA (Missing-In-Action) goalkeeper in Johannesburg's Soccer City Stadium. Since we catch no ball, we will just be whacked blue-black by the ball, right smack on our numbskull ... Way to go Team Singapore! WHAM!