09 February 2011

After Wikipeeks, NOW Weakipeeks

9 Feb 2011 is symbolically significant to the Chinese because it is celebrated as "People's Day" - Day 7 of the traditional 15-day Spring Festival in this Year of the Rabbit. To celebrate "People's Day", friends and family gather to "Lo Hei" as we toss raw fish salad sky-high, calling upon the Wind, the Mountains and the Water to rise along with our Prosperity and Good Fortune ... if there are Cyclones, Earthquakes and Tsunamis, there may be some distant cosmic connection, eh? Hence, I chose this "People's Day" to add a new posting in my blog as one of the "Voices of the People".

2010 Christmas Eve blog posting was entitled "NOT Wikileaks but Wikipeeks".

So for this Chinese New Year, my blog posting can only be entitled:
"After Wikipeeks, NOW Weakipeeks". Why? Because I got peeks into weaknesses exposed from recent spiel of "stabilizers" and "pronouncements" from the highest quarters - ranging from hard truths to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

There is a West African proverb: "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far" as invoked and practised by US President Theodore Roosevelt. This proverb extends to the realm of governance. But on the flip side, there is an English proverb: "Empty vessels make the most noise".

I have an abiding respect for our leaders - be it in Executive or Legislative arms or Civil Service. After all, most of them lay claim to double honours, doctorate degrees, prestigious scholarship awards. By the sheer weight of their academic qualifications, they would be anything but "empty vessels". But having said that, vessels are necessarily made of much sterner stuff because they comprise more than paper qualifications which - by definition of "paper" - are lightweight.

Excuse me, for I am of the born-and-bred-in-Singapore genre. Hence, when the Gahmen utter, I don't expect sputter and spittle. There would NOT even arise an occasion to wield the proverbial big stick. Why? Because, firstly, I expect their HEARTS AND MINDS to be motivated to "DO RIGHT" by the people and, secondly, when their THOUGHTFUL WORDS are translated into TARGETTED ACTION, it would naturally achieve the INTENDED RESULTS - more rather than less even if a bull's eye hit is not always possible! That's what I as a "daft lesser mortal" citizen honestly expect AFTER DUE LAG TIME. After all, we pay our ministers and senior civil servants multi-million dollars. When you don't pay peanuts, you don't expect monkeys. Fair enough? So, if the policy is about making babies, the due lag time would be about nine months. If the law is about property market, after three months. If it's about common language in our multi-racial context, after 10 years.

If I may be allowed to quote the British parliamentarian and historian, Lord Thomas Macaulay, who said: "That is the best government which desires to make the people happy, and knows how to make them happy". In view of the overall expectancy of financial hand-outs to voters in the upcoming 2011 Budget prior to General Election and riding on 14.5% GDP growth in 2010 after blowing S$20.5 bn of public moneys under 2009-10 Resilience Package, we should bear in mind: Money ≠ Happiness. On that note, I wish you a Happy Chinese New Year as you take the time to read this blog posting of 8 Weakipeeks (in Mandarin, "8" ["Ba"] is nearly homonymic with the first word of "grow prosperous" ["Fa Cai"] and is therefore considered "lucky" in Chinese numerology):

Weakipeek No. 1 - Tsk, tsk, you call these "stabilizing measures"
Weakipeek No. 2 - Putting foot down
Weakipeek No. 3 - Not much choice ... but is likely short
Weakipeek No. 4 - Flip-flops within the Executive and the Civil Service
Weakipeek No. 5 - Who got flattened for NOT asking the right question
Weakipeek No. 6 - PM Lee's exhortations as hogwash
Weakipeek No. 7 - MM Lee's Hard Truths (sense of place)
Weakipeek No. 8 - Chief Justice and "The Truth, The Whole Truth, And Nothing But The Truth" (World Justice Project)

1. Weakipeek No. 1 - Tsk, tsk, you call these "stabilizing" measures? The following graph extracted from the Business Times (7 Oct 2010) traces the housing market rule changes from 1989 to 2010.

What is noteworthy from the above graph?

To me as a Singaporean, it shook my public trust to its core to bear witness to the sheer futility of policy measures from 3Q 2007 to 2010 ... even as I projected in Nov/Dec 2007 and Mar 2010 that they would be gloriously futile as per my previous "Who to blame and shame" blog posting: http://singaporeenbloc.blogspot.com/2010/11/who-to-blame-and-shame.html

Message: When the Gahmen spoke, Mr Market merrily dismissed and lightly discounted their words - not once, but many times over. It was no longer about speaking softly whilst carrying a big stick. It was more like a weak whimper whilst wielding a maestro baton! Public credibility is at stake when sellers (developers together with supporting industry players such as contractors, property agents, valuers, lawyers, bankers) and flipper buyers (individuals or funds/companies) could all ostensibly outpace, outwit and outlast the Gahmen! Tsk, tsk ... and you term these as "measures to stabilize the property market"???

It stunned me as I peeked at the authorities' weakness! Round after round (viz, Oct 2007 DPS, Sep 2009 IAS, Feb 2010 SSD1/LTV1/HDB1, Mar 2010 HDB2, Aug 2010 SSD2/Cash component/LTV2, Nov 2010 RPA/GLS bumper in addition to hikes in Development Charge), it increasingly became a case of "too little, too late", of being too far behind the curve, or being tentatively reactive rather than confidently proactive, much less accurately pre-emptive.

In the aftermath of the 20 Feb (property market measures) and 5 Mar (HDB measures) 2010, a Straits Times commentary (22 Apr 2010) on Singapore's property market by a senior writer, Ms Chua Mui Hoong, opined that "the majority would be better off if the Government judiciously steps in to 'Do Something Selectively' now and then to keep the market on a relatively even keel. ... The Government has to consider the public interest in managing the property market. And so far, its handling has been a lot more right than wrong. ... Market forces are allowed some free play to allow home-owners to realise the value of their assets - but with the Government retaining a watchful eye in case of wide swings".

The Straits Times may well have varying definitions of "even keel", "more right" and "wide swings". After all, their command of the English language would far surpass mine. But I reckon (i) the above Business Times graph of Oct 2010 would pose a quizzical "Huh?" and (ii) the above "Who to blame and shame" blog-link citing a CEIC regional graph reproduced by MAS in its Nov 2010 Financial Stability Review would hoot a resounding "Hah!" to the aforesaid ST commentary.

2. Weakipeek No. 2 - Putting foot down. I suppose it got a trifle embarrassing for the Gahmen as Mr Market repeatedly thumbed his nose at Gahmen. So on 14 January 2011, a new slew of measures kicked-in as if to make the point that the Gahmen are stomping their foot. But targetted stomping (as opposed to tantrum stomping) is an unenviable task when:

(i) the holding power on one side is much more steely than the political will and nerves on the other side; and [UPDATE: During the 10 Feb 2011 Lunar New Year celebration of REDAS (Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore) where National Development Minister was the guest-of-honour, the new REDAS President Mr Wong Heang Fine walked the fine line by saying: "As we eagerly await good news from the upcoming Budget, and with the property market stabilising after the latest round of cooling measures by the government, I hope that any further measures would only be made after considering all options". With the key words of "ONLY" and "ALL" in the foregoing sentence of his maiden speech as REDAS chief, Mr Wong coyly covered the spectrum from the minimum to the maximum. After historic record profits for most REDAS members riding on the Fat Hong Bao stuffed with PUBLIC MONEY from Jan 2009-Jun 2010 under the S$20.5bn Resilience Package, what "good news" is REDAS expecting from the upcoming Budget? Or was it REDAS' subtly veiled message of "No News = Good News" so Gahmen should just shut up - in much the same proverbial way that "children should be seen and not heard"? I reckon REDAS' veiled message in Feb 2011 is a more tactful replay of what a professor said more forcefully on Channel News Asia's "Talking Point" program in Jan 2011, as described below.]

(ii) there are data gaps. [These data gaps are detailed below and in my Casino Singapore 3 blog posting: http://singaporeenbloc.blogspot.com/2010/11/casino-singapore-part-3-whos-idiot.html Some data gaps are unwitting but some result from conscious back-bending efforts by ministries, statutory boards and government agencies to negate regulatory risks for corporations.]

In any case, it was interesting that a couple of days after announcement of the slew of measures, during Channel News Asia's "Talking Point" program on 16 Jan 2011, the concluding words of one of the panellists, Associate Professor Tan Khee Giap of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, were: "These measures should be the last ...". The good professor is merely echoing the tonal pitch that Mr Market calls the shots and the Gahmen just need to fall in line.

By way of swift rebuttal, Business Times reported that the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) "has stepped in to close a loophole on mortgage equity financing (MEF), by imposing the same lower loan limits as the latest property measures. ... By restricting the amount that can be borrowed through mortgage equity financing, MAS has cut off or severely narrowed one route for property buyers who need to raise more cash if they want to buy a second or third property".

The Straits Times (18 Jan 2011) also reported the following statistics for private property borrowers based on the database of Credit Bureau (Singapore) Pte Ltd (CBS) as of end-Nov 2010:

– 41% have two/more outstanding private property loans
– 59% have no outstanding private property loans

But the CBS database has another loophole because they do not "keep track of whether the borrower has taken a HDB loan ... those who have would be recorded as having no outstanding loans".

Whilst Singapore is still way-off from attaining the standard of living befitting our "Switzerland of the East" aspiration, we can at least lay claim to something very Swiss (viz, Swiss cheese)! To give due credit, at least MAS recognized MEF as a "loophole" in our Swiss cheese official database. But it remains to be seen if MAS will play scaredy-cat as IRAS did in backing-down from their proposed property trading law in 2007 after conducting a Public Consultation. Similarly, MAS is also doing a Public Consultation on this issue which closes on this Valentine's Day (14 Feb 2011) and that may provide MAS with convenient wriggle room, especially now that the new REDAS President has set the tone during the Lunar New Year celebration.

The 14 Jan 2011 slew of market cooling measures comprises:

(a) The holding period for imposition of Seller’s Stamp Duty (SSD) was increased from 3 to 4 years. [In case anyone is counting, this is SSD Round 3 within 11 months. In any case, gung-ho property buyers yawn at this SSD extension because developers with their war-chest of record-high profits can afford to "cooperate" by stretching out construction period by another 6-9 months to be "customer-friendly".]

(b) The SSD rates were hiked to 16%, 12%, 8% and 4% of the purchase price for residential properties bought on/after 14 January 2011, and are sold in the first, second, third and fourth year of purchase respectively. [What sent property buyers into a dizzying tizzy to (i) scurry and hurry into a quick-buy or (ii) scuttle into deposit-forfeiture losses was the stunning spike from the previous low-tiered SSD structure of 1% for first $180k of consideration, 2% for second $180k, 3% for remainder.]

(c) The Loan-To-Value (LTV) limit was reduced to 50% on housing loans to buyers who are not individuals.

(d) The LTV limit was reduced from 70% to 60% on housing loans to buyers who are individuals with one or more outstanding housing loans at the time of the new housing purchase. [Again, in case anyone is counting, this is also LTV Round 3 within 11 months.]

3. Weakipeek No. 3 - Not much choice ... but is likely short. Mr Market apparently thought the Jan 2011 measures were "draconian". Personally, I agree with Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation's assessment that the jury is still out. One thing is certain – The SSD 4-year structure of 16-12-8-4% will effectively weed out the small-time local flippers who need protection from themselves - equivalent to the Casino Regulatory Authority tempering some Singaporeans in their gambling propensity.

It says something for the authorities to spring this astronomical SSD hike instead of the more obvious alternative of Capital Gains Tax. Data on the projected effects of the American Quantitative Easing QE 2 is not available in the public domain. The SSD structure is probably needed as a stop-gap measure because there is simply not enough wriggle room under Singapore's main monetary tool of exchange rate management. As it stands, Singapore is probably already too late in jacking-up SSD to these levels when China, Taiwan, Hongkong have moved so much more nimbly over the past year or so.

The Jan 2011 slew of measures made NO ATTEMPT to drain the domestic SLUSH sloshing around from (i) the last bout of 2006-07 en bloc frenzy, (ii) the past policy relaxations by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) and Central Provident Fund (CPF) since 1989 that climaxed for ripe and imaginative exploitation starting from 2006 market run-up by sub-sale, resale and en bloc flippers, (iii) the deluge of "hot money" inflows from 2009 recovery, especially after other countries in the region tightened the screws in their own respective property, foreign exchange and capital markets and (iv) the 2009-10 Resilience Package hand-out given by Gahmen to developers even as they were reporting historic record net profits in their entire corporate existence.

The developers and property speculators/specu-vestors are already sitting on a veritable war-chest from 2006-07 en bloc frenzy and 2009-10 market recovery and run-up as CPF Board reported that "in 2009, the number of applications received for using CPF savings for Residential Properties Scheme increased by 101.7% to 20,932". [CPF data for 2010 is not out even though it is already 2011.] Being well-capitalized, these developers and flippers are likely silently gleeful as they watch the Gahmen limpidly flail this way and flail that way to little avail. A "Fail Whale" in Twitter-speak!

That's why I project that SANS global/regional shocks (political, economic or financial) or significant rebuff at the upcoming 2011 General Election, the Jan 2011 slew of measures will be of LIMITED SUSTAINABLE IMPACT. I am NOT
convinced that there is sufficient genuine demand for physical real estate because a casual observation of some fully-sold swanky condos in D9 revealed that - even months AFTER issuance of Temporary Occupation Permit (TOP) - only a smattering of units have lights on at night (likely owner-occupiers who moved in as soon as available), another handful have drapes but are not occupied as the lights have never come on at night (likely genuine investors trying to rent out unit) but most of them have balcony light wires swaying tauntingly in the breeze (likely speculators who failed to sell under sub-sale and are trying hard for resale)! Rental yields relative to asset class risks still suck. These are tell-tale signs to my conclusively unscientific mind - excusez-moi.

The SSD structure may be also due to other covert pressures that even Wikileaks founder, Mr Julian Assange, does not know of. So Singapore is safe - for now. Whew!

4. Weakipeek No. 4 - Flip-flops within the Executive and the Civil Service. What was perturbing was to record the BLATANT FLIP-FLOP INCONSISTENCY between:

(i) National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan's response to the concerns about SSD structure; and

(ii) Law Minister K Shanmugam's response to the counter-balancing proposals made during the parliamentary debate of 2010 amendments of Land Titles (Strata) Act (LTSA).

Even within the PAP ministerial cadre, it would appear that they are NOT on the same page!

When a law is draconian (especially when the situation warrants it in the interest of the greater good - or purportedly so), it is only sensible (if not outright imperative) to temper it with empathy and flexibility. No doubt, the enforcement must be rigorous with clarity and certainty. To his credit, Minister Mah has earned his spurs and has shown political savvy beyond the technocrats. As a Chinese idiom goes: "Only old ginger is hot enough". Now, does that turn Minister Mah into one of those Hot Bod Cowboys on a bucking horse at rodeos??? Frisky, eh?

Friends, Singaporeans, Countrymen, lend me your ears as I draw
out the BLATANT FLIP-FLOP INCONSISTENCY at ministerial level. [It's "safe" for you to hear me out ... because they can't hear me as another one of their ministerial colleagues, Mr Lim Swee Say, solemnly declared in Parliament on 3 Mar 2010 that the PAP "are deaf to all criticisms".]

(a) Seller's Stamp Duty - SSD is punitive when the owner is forced to sell at a loss.

(b) Land Titles (Strata) Act - LTSA is similarly punitive when the owner is forced to sell private property against his wish in the absence of eminent domain and public security issues. This is especially so (i) when property is all about Location and Timing, (ii) when time-value of money is brazenly disregarded in LTSA's statutory definition of "financial loss", and (iii) when the retirement nest-egg in Central Provident Fund (CPF) account could potentially end up with negative principal which is not considered as a "shortfall", not to mention cavalier disregard for statutory interest that would otherwise have accrued on such CPF withdrawals used for residential purchase.

CPF Board is tardy in releasing data. So the best I can extract at the time of writing is only up to Sep 2010:

– Public Housing Scheme (PHS): 1,327,410 members withdrew a net amount of S$93,951.7mn for HDB flats that are still under their ownership [UPDATE, 14 Feb 2011: 1,330,832 members - S$94,924.8mn as of Dec 2010]

– Residential Properties Scheme (RPS): 241,822 members withdrew a net amount of S$48,957.7mn for private housing that are still under their ownership [UPDATE, 14 Feb 2011: 243,333 members - S$48,994.9mn as of Dec 2010]

A whopping S$14.3bn of CPF savings have been plunged by 1.5mn members into residential properties as of Sep 2010. [UPDATE, 14 Feb 2011: S$14.4bn by nearly 5,000 additional members as of Dec 2010] S$14.3bn is already significantly UNDER-STATED!!! Why? This EXCLUDES the statutory interest of at least 2.5% that would have accrued to the retirement nest-egg savings if they were not used for residential property purchases. This ALSO EXCLUDES the private savings that were also used for such purchases.

Such is the ENORMITY of our retirement nest-egg savings at stake. Little wonder why Singapore property is a RED HOT-BUTTON POLITICAL ISSUE - especially when (A) en bloc laws are carefully calibrated to land extant owners in the prevalent sorry state of having to lump the aftermath consequence of "Double the Price or Half the Size" and (B) the lawmakers then get coyly squeamish about being "overly prescriptive" AFTER their massive inscription and conscription to force dissenting owners [and likely some consenting owners as consenters are statutorily barred from raising objections in court] into sale of their private property!

Comparatively, whilst the number of members in RPS is only 18% of those in PHS, the quantum of RPS net withdrawals is 52% of PHS. Hence, it befuddles my pea-size brain that CPF Board persists in taking a hands-off approach in the face of (i) the negative impact on members in the en bloc aftermath (Double the Price or Half the Size) and (ii) the penny stock element inherent in shoe-box units.

(c) Minister Mah's response - For the SSD structure, the Sunday Times (13 Jan 2011) reported that Mr Mah admitted that it "could become a problem if property owners need to urgently sell their property shortly after purchasing it. ... However, he was quick to add that if owners had a mitigating reason to sell their home, such as for medical reasons, the Government was prepared to be flexible." Mr Mah went on to say to "you cannot formulate policy that satisfies everyone in a group ... What you can do is to have a general policy and where there are genuine cases, take them offline and consider appeals as and when they come in”.

(d) Minister Shanmugam's response - For LTSA, what did Mr Shanmugam say to PAP MP Ms Ellen Lee's counter-balancing proposals at 3 critical milestones of the en bloc sale process?

MP Ellen Lee's actionable suggestions were:

– At the beginning of en bloc sale process: Limit professional appraisal to Apportionment Method to minimise upfront costs. [Apportionment Method is applicable to all en bloc estates - some estates have more variances in terms of unit sizes, share values and commercial/residential market valuations whilst other estates may have less or no variance.]

– At the middle: Compel disclosure of Residual Land Value (RLV) sensitivity analysis by marketing agent. [RLV is applicable to all en bloc sales as this analysis is integral to the investment proposal for marketing the estate. Similarly, the potential developer-buyers invariably have to assess the redevelopment viability and potential before bidding or negotiating for such en bloc purchase.]

– At the end: Mandate Re-Affirmation by Majority Consenters up to the requisite 80% (90%) level before Sale Committee commit to a Sale and Purchase Agreement with a potential Developer-buyer. [A usually long time-lag is inherent by the nature of en bloc sales involving multiple owners as sellers. As buyers, developers' en bloc interest is typically sparked in a property market that is firmly (or is projected to be) upward-moving. As LTSA legislates up to 12+12=24 month statutory window to procure majority signatures and apply to the Strata Titles Boards for a collective sale order and even provides a back-door for "private treaty" sale, re-affirmation can only reinforce the "free will" of Majority Consenters. Such Re-Affirmation does not undermine the sanctity of contract because the Majority Consenters have only signed an agreement-in-principle to sell because the most critical element (viz, the final sale price) is NOT known at the time of signature.]

As recorded in the Hansard parliamentary report (18 May 2010), Mr Shanmugam's ministerial reply was: "... the Government is guided by the principle that we should not micro-manage the process and prescribe too many requirements as they may not be applicable to every development. Some of the measures suggested by Members are not without merit. They may well be very useful for specific developments, and owners may wish to adopt them. But it does not follow that these requirements should be or can be prescribed for every en bloc sale. Doing so may introduce unnecessary rigidity and pose considerable difficulties for owners if the requirement does not make sense for their particular development.”


SSD WILL NOT be applied to EVERY sale based on Minister Mah's reassurance. So why is Minister Shanmugam beating his chest about proposed LTSA requirements
that MAY NOT be applicable to EVERY development? Hairy, isn't it? [I mean the diametrical contrast in ministerial responses, NOT Mr Shanmugam's chest which intrigues me not.]

Can Minister Shanmugam say that Apportionment Method is not applicable in any estate? Can the good minister assert that RLV is not relevant to every estate? Can he claim that the entire en bloc process for any estate has been completed within three months (ie, the normal legal completion process for an individual sale of real estate) since LTSA was incepted from 1999?

Duh. That's what people say when they get an idiotic answer.

Publicly obvious inconsistency is NOT limited only to ministerial responses (eg, MND vis-a-vis MinLaw). Such flip-flop inconsistency afflicts different government agencies too (eg, URA vis-a-vis MAS). After reading the following paragraph, you may better appreciate why public credibility is at stake when ministers and civil servants do their jobs in this flip-flop manner.

In yet another instance whereby URA went out of their way to bend backwards to neutralize policy impact and eliminate regulatory risks for developers, URA continued to exempt Executive Condos (ECs) from the Deferred Payment Scheme (DPS). As already noted in previous blog postings:
Para 4: http://singaporeenbloc.blogspot.com/2007/12/in-coming-year.html
Para 7: http://singaporeenbloc.blogspot.com/2010/03/foxes-outfoxed.html
After Singapore flag: http://singaporeenbloc.blogspot.com/2010/11/casino-singapore-part-2-whos-idiot.html
I took issue with URA on their ill-conceived calibration of DPS withdrawal in Oct 2007. Hence, I didn't twitch an eyebrow nor bat my eyelashes when mainstream media reported that it was jaw-dropping to "discover" that new EC launches in Dec 2010 were still offering DPS despite it being withdrawn more than 3 years ago. However, ECs are NOT exempt from a similar Interest Absorption Scheme (IAS) withdrawal in Sep 2009. Why? Because, my dear Watson, IAS withdrawal was effected by MAS who are slightly more astute than their URA counterparts despite being two-year late and similarly accommodating in negating policy impact for developers.

Singapore regulators are very "cooperative" and "empathetic" towards corporations as it is part of our Progressive Corporatism ethos. Of course, GDP bonus is only strictly incidental. After all, Money can't buy Happiness, remember? But GDP bonuses will buy Le Cordon Bleu courses in Paris. That was exactly how a public scholar-civil servant from the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources splurged on his family of four in 2008 from the millions he accumulated from his public salary.

5. Weakipeek No. 5 - Who got flattened for NOT asking the right question? Since 2007, Gahmen have rolled-out a spiel of market cooling measures to try to flatten Mr Market's uphill charge in the residential property sector. These measures fell flat, as affirmed by Business Times graph in Weakipeek No. 1. Between Mr Regulator and Mr Market - Who flattened whom? Why?

For MND to extend the holding period from 3 to merely 4 years for SSD purposes, it suggests that MND are getting THE RIGHT ANSWER TO THE WRONG QUESTION, bearing in mind (i) the construction period is already 2.5 to 3 years (yawn ... with low interest rate environment and strong capitalization, it is no sweat for developers to stretch this period by another 9-12 months to negate the 4-year SSD structure whilst minimizing their overtime labour cost), (ii) the time horizon inherent in committing to real estate as an asset class and (iii) the average rate of house-moving of Singapore households other than those forced into short-term stays due to en bloc sales.

I strenuously maintain that National Development Minister Mah is NOT asking The Right Q. To draw a parallel, I'd like to quote from PM Lee Hsien Loong's Chinese New Year message on 2 Feb 2011: "... we have to preserve a Singaporean core in our society. We need immigrants to reinforce our ranks, but we must maintain a clear majority of local-born Singaporeans who set the tone of our society, and uphold our core values and ethos".

Likewise, in teeny Singapore, we need a core of owner-occupiers as an anchor in our property market. This necessarily must be a significant proportion of total owners in each of the landed and non-landed private residential sectors in Core Central Region (CCR), Rest of Central Region (RCR) and Outside Central Region (OCR) to provide that critical ballast to counter any potential wild swings in our property market.

This stabilizer has become even more crucial given the current global imbalances and heightened market volatility with short cycles facilitated by the speed and scale that technology now accords. Whilst some countries in this region face similar market risks, Singapore could potentially be afflicted with GREATER PAIN because Singapore's socio-political platform sanctions CPF retirement savings to be used for residential property purchases. This owner-occupier anchor is also vitally pertinent when Singapore's asset management industry has a mind-blowing US$1.2 trillion worth of Assets Under Management (AUM). Contextualize this against Singapore's GDP of US$210 billion even after our 14.5% sparkling GDP growth in 2010. AUM is nearly 6 times GDP, my friend, if you haven't fallen off your chair after reading these numbers extracted from the New York Times (12 Nov 2010)!

How can we bolster this ANCHORING STABILIZER of owner-occupiers and genuine investors with policies and laws?

As suggested in my previous blog posting, SSD should apply over a 10-year holding period with a high flat rate for the first five years and a one-fifth graduated reduction over the remaining 5 years. This will create an anchoring ballast of owner-occupiers and genuine investors who have the financial leeway to properly afford private residential real estate as an asset class. This will definitely stem any further hot-money inflows and will cause the property market to fall (yes, I've uttered THE UNTHINKABLE AND UNSPEAKABLE 4-LETTER WORD!) and auto-correct to a more reflective level because reputable industry players have publicly stated that they don't quite buy it when 99-year leasehold properties in really suburban OCR areas are selling at above S$1,000 psf.

Whilst SSD serves to deter future "hot money", it is necessary to flush the slush accumulated from the authorities' mis-steps in past policy relaxations. Hence, IRAS need to retract the recission of their 2007 proposal of "look-back" property trading assessment and apply a similar basis of "review upon appeal", as sensibly propounded by National Development Minister for the current SSD hikes. In any case, I reckon that appeals would likely be the exception rather than the norm based on IRAS' calibration of the 2007 proposal. More importantly, such "look-back" element would effectively enforce the existing property trading laws. Just as "Low Crime ≠ No Crime", IRAS' current low detection rate of property trades shamefully points more to their INEFFECTIVENESS.

The reduced LTVs may/may not separate the men from the boys. If it's foreign money, Singapore's real estate prices are not yet as serious as Hongkong, London and New York for the globally wealthy who may sniffle a little but not sneeze. If it's local money, there is already embedded slush as stated above and the Jan 2011 slew of measures makes no attempt to flush the sloshy slush.

Although some HDB policy relaxations have since been REVERSED-OUT in Mar 2010, a few key ones remain untouched. CPF Board too has FAILED to react to new market developments, as indicated in my previous blog postings of Nov 2010. It is not just minion me squawking about the speculative element embedded in shoebox units. Business Times (17 Jan 2011) reported similar views held by Mr Liew Mun Leong as CEO of CapitaLand, the largest listed property group in Singapore: "Looking ahead, he said the measures will separate serious developers from speculators: 'These types of measures will differentiate the real estate developers who helped with Singapore's urbanization from the speculators, who build shoebox apartments'".

Also, there is gaping policy incongruence between a private property downgrader and a HDB downgrader or HDB upgrader. A HDB downgrader could even enjoy a second HDB concessionary loan in the case of "right-sizing". In contrast, a private property downgrader is presumed to be exploitative as opposed to right-sizing.

Putting aside the debate of the correct methodology to calculate the quantum of public subsidy for HDB flats (cost-plus-profit or discounted-market-price bases), even a resale flat has embedded public subsidy under the "BUY LOW, SELL LOW" principle because the first sale of a HDB flat is a direct one at subsidized price. It is financially unrealistic to qualify beneficiaries of public subsidy (be it direct sale or resale) for private property investment after a mere 5-year Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) given the substantive price differential between these two market segments in most cases. [UPDATE: Recent media reports about Executive Condo buyers (i) hunkering down after Jan 2011 slew of measures and (ii) retracting their purchases pending financing restructuring prove the points previously made about MOP, equity financing loophole and speculation as such owners are a subset of HDBer profile largely.] This policy facilitation of HBD owners investing in private residential properties further fuels and enlarges the investor-ownership portion of total private residential ownership. This serves to undermine the abovementioned stabilizing ballast of owner-occupiers. Further, the over-supply of rental properties retards income yield from the use of CPF retirement savings.

Hence, a private property owner only needs to carefully choose owner/occupant permutation for HDB purchase, sells private property, purportedly downgrades by buying HDB direct or resale, milks whatever concessions/grants that are available, possibly occupies HDB flat for 5 years at least in name if the owner/occupant permutation was done astutely, then plunge right back into private property market possibly buying multiple units, merrily flips every 4 years even if the present "draconian" slew of measures subsists at that future time, exploits en bloc law to invoke majoritianism to drive the Sale Committee, sub-lets entire HDB flat illegally.

Similarly, policies to facilitate rental of HDB flats contradict the underlying principle that HDB flats are for owner-occupation. Even with room sub-letting approval, enforcement of continuing occupancy is difficult and it remains a paper requirement unless there are serious and recurrent official trawls of addressee databases or acrimonious whistle-blowing by neighbours of entire flat sub-lets. The official statistic of 3% HDB sub-letting is a likely understatement of the year.

Digressing a little, have you wondered why our securities regulator keeps mum when listed developers sell units in their corporations' residential developments at a DISCOUNT to relatives or "interested parties" (ie, director, chief executive, controlling shareholder or one of their associates). Are these Ultra-high Net Worth Individuals needy of "charity" from the other shareholders? If the penthouse unit is, say, $10mn, 5% is $500k. If 20 units are sold to such parties, that's $10mn! Talk about Greed. Talk about Governance! Just because these corporations make public filings, such transparency merely qualifies such discounted sales as "daylight robbery"! Yet another manifestation of our regulators' propensity towards Progressive Corporatism, eh? Perhaps, it is time to awake from sweet slumber, ugh?

6. Weakipeek No. 6 - PM Lee's exhortations as hogwash. On the one hand, MND's tag line is "Endearing Home". On the other hand, MinLaw calibrated a skewed law that empowers 80% (90%) of your dear neighbours to sell the roof over your family WITHOUT your consent. Further, the above measures and responses by MND, MinLaw, HDB and CPF and/or the lack of response by IRAS have wittingly or unwittingly undermined PM Lee Hsien Loong's exhortations about property speculation and turned them into hogwash!

6.1 PMO - Is there a Communication Problem of Transmission and/or Reception within the hallowed (or hollow) halls where the Cabinet sits??? When no less than the Prime Minister exhorts, how can it be undermined into hogwash by laws, regulations and policies crafted by his subordinates??? Let's recant what PM Lee Hsien Loong has been saying about property ownership over the recent years whilst we bear in mind Weakipeeks Nos. 4, 5 and 6:

2007 National Day: “I know many older Singaporeans worry about whether they can make ends meet. We are making changes to help you to work longer, earn more and build your retirement savings. We will enhance the value of your HDB homes, which are a nest-egg for old age. We will improve the CPF scheme, so you can enjoy a steady income and peace of mind in your golden years. ... Government “cannot solve all the problems alone ... everyone must play a part ... we each must take responsibility for ourselves, make the effort to do well, and provide for our families and our old age ...”.

2009 National Day: "... it’s not just the hardware, but also the heartware, the memories which we are creating, which is what makes Singapore tick”.

2010 Chinese New Year: “We can try to influence it, but whether it goes up or goes down depends on sentiment, depends on what happens in the region and the world ... Property is for people to buy to live in, not for speculating, ... Please take good care of it. It’s for you to live in, it’s for you as an investment, and it’s for you for your old age. Don’t think of selling prematurely to make a quick buck”. PM Lee also noted that home-owners can pass their flats on to their children.

2011 Chinese New Year: "The Government has acted to curb speculation and cool the property market. We will do more to stabilise the market if and when this becomes necessary. We will keep housing affordable to Singaporeans, especially public housing".

How to pass our flats on to our children when our neighbours could sell away our family home DESPITE our dissent - by courtesy of MinLaw from 1999 to date? How to believe that our Gahmen have been effective in "cooling the property market" after MND's repeated rounds of measures from 2007-2010 when the URA graphs look like this (I dare not even imagine the trajectory path of these graph lines IF the Wall Street fiasco didn't explode and implode in 2008)?

6.2 MND - It was NOT as if the Gahmen sat on their hands. MND, URA, HDB and MAS initiated REPEATED rounds of property-cooling measures (viz, Oct 2007, Sep 2009, Feb 2010, Mar 2010, Aug 2010, Nov 2010), each time claiming that such measures are starting to show intended results.

Additionally, MND applied SUPPLY-SIDE MANAGEMENT in two out of the three regions (viz, RCR and OCR) via active Government Land Sales (GLS). In Nov 2010, MND announced a DELUGE FLOOD of private housing to be made available in RCR and OCR via GLS for 1H 2011 that could result in HIGHEST POTENTIAL SUPPLY QUANTUM (14,300 units) from any GLS programme since the Confirmed List/Reserve List system started in 2001.

Yet URA's sales figures released on 17 Jan 2011 confirmed that the 2010 "new sales" number came up to 16,364 excluding ECs (ECs would add 1,074 to the 2010 figure). This was 11.4% higher than 2009's 14,688 units and surpassed the previous high of 14,811 units in 2007! Then URA's press release on 28 Jan 2011 confirmed that "for the whole of 2010, prices had increased by 17.6%, compared with the 1.8% rise in 2009 ... prices of non-landed properties increased by 14.0%". At 194.8 points, the Q4 2010 Residential Price Index is AT AN ALL-TIME HIGH, surpassing the 1996 market peak by 7.4%!

6.3 MINLAW - Throughout all these MND moves, MinLaw remained NOT ONLY carefully clueless as to how to "manage" en bloc sales BUT ALSO fully incapable of emulating URA in disclosing up-to-date en bloc statistics. The SOLE source of meaningful land supply in the last remaining region (viz, the prime CCR) is from en bloc sales. LTSA governing en bloc sales is under MinLaw's purview. Since MinLaw clearly consider public suggestions on en bloc sale management and statistical disclosure to be thoroughly wacky, they should come up with alternatives, eh?

MinLaw not only SKEWED this piece of legislation called LTSA, as described in the following old blog postings in 2007 and 2010:

MinLaw also went the extra mile to make the law (i) RETROSPECTIVE as and when it fits their agenda and (ii) RUN COUNTER TO GLS BEST PRACTICES as elaborated upon in paras 4 and 5 of my 2010 Christmas Eve blog posting:

It offends the people's good sense when the ministry with oversight over the laws of the land conduct themselves such that they undermine the rigours of the "RULE OF LAW" much lauded in Singapore by incepting legislation with RETROSPECTIVE EFFECT in such a conscious and cavalier manner!

In my opinion, the following FOUR elements made MinLaw's conduct to date EVEN MORE REPREHENSIBLE, as CONTEXTUALIZED:

(A) LTSA was driven MORE by the Gahmen's agenda to meet FOREIGNERS' PREFERENCES FOR PRIME/CENTRAL RESIDENTIAL DISTRICTS by UNLOCKING LAND VALUE FOR CORPORATE DEVELOPERS who became MinLaw's "borrowed knife" instruments at huge profit. The impressive profits (part of which is from en bloc redevelopment) are reflected in the developers' audited financial results upon due recognition according to this industry's accounting conventions, as per this Casino Singapore 1 blog posting: http://singaporeenbloc.blogspot.com/2010/11/casino-singapore-part-1-whos-idiot.html

(B) LTSA was LESS due to the official objective to "INCREASE HIGHER LAND-USE INTENSITY AND URBAN RE-JUVENATION" because private residential strata development land is miniscule relative to public housing land. Yet public housing blocks are minimally selected for SERS (Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme) to date. [UPDATE: However, I project that SERS is likely to spike-up following HDB's latest survey released on 11 Feb 2011 where close to 95% of the 949 participating households expressed "strong support for the scheme" which shows "the highest level of support since HDB started the 2-yearly survey in 2001".] Additionally, there is massive upgrading under a spiel of publicly funded programmes despite the fact that many of such public flats are more than 30 years old, going by HDB's milestone statistic that they provided housing for "more than 50% of Singapore's population by 1976". Even after "massaging" en bloc statistical data to suit their spin, MinLaw's last assertion of average en bloc age is "29.5 years". The spectrum of public housing upgrading efforts is set out in this Casino Singapore 2 blog posting: http://singaporeenbloc.blogspot.com/2010/11/casino-singapore-part-2-whos-idiot.html

(C) Despite PREVALENT ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE of dire post-en bloc consequences of "DOUBLE THE PRICE OR HALF THE SIZE" for extant Singaporean owners who then face the Hobson's Choice of being a "SQUATTER, REFUGEE, DOWNGRADER OR DOWNSIZER", MinLaw have not made any attempt to substantiate the financial position with official statistics. If MinLaw have such info in hand, they are maintaining a deafening silence. On the one hand, MinLaw steadfastly turn a blind eye to the plight of condo owners who can only downgrade or downsize post-en bloc. On the other hand, the abovementioned SERS survey of 949 households out of 2,670 en bloc'ced by HDB from 2005-08 annotated that "most households lived in 3-room or smaller flats before SERS, and subsequently upgraded to bigger replacement flats, with 77% now living in 4-room and 5-room flats". Are we getting more communist than North Korea (private condo owners DOWNGRADE; public housing owners UPGRADE)??? The "before" and "after" en bloc consequences for extant owners are set out in this Casino Singapore 3 blog posting: http://singaporeenbloc.blogspot.com/2010/11/casino-singapore-part-3-whos-idiot.html

(D) Although giving RETROSPECTIVE effect to LTSA is necessarily DRACONIAN and OUT-OF-ORDER in respect of owners who bought their condos/apartments prior to Oct 1999 LTSA inception, MinLaw have not made an iota of effort to counter-balance the law by, say, mandating an additional option of ONE-FOR-ONE EXCHANGE for such affected en bloc owners who would then be minimally assured of a replacement unit in the redevelopment with SAME-strata area size, SAME-floor level, SAME-geographic orientation of living room main window. Just as the Jan 2011 SSD astronomical hikes are stiff even though
MND have consciously and strictly kept SSD duly PROSPECTIVE, MND publicly announced that EXCEPTIONS would be made for successful appeals.

In sharp contrast to HDB's philosophy, MinLaw also callously treats Singaporean private condo/apartment owners as SECOND CLASS CITIZENS with scant regard for our familial and community needs which are no less human than those of HDBers. HDB's abovementioned SERS survey revealed that "residents are happy that SERS allows them to continue living in the same estate close to their familiar neighbours. Almost all the households surveyed expressed a strong sense of belonging to their community. This affirms one of SERS’ objectives, which is to preserve the close community ties built up over the years as the community moves en bloc to their new flats. ... Furthermore, the scheme gives residents the opportunity to continue to live near their kin and familiar neighbours, thereby retaining kinship bonds and strengthening community ties".

That, my friends, is how MinLaw have hogwashed PM Lee's exhortations! However, by doing nothing when one's ministerial words are hogwashed, what does that turn the speaker into? A hog no less! [According to the Chinese Zodiac ("Sheng Xiao"), being a hog is something to be proud of because many excellent qualities are traditionally ascribed to this animal, especially when it is no ordinary hog in combination with the qualities of a heavenly dragon - PM Lee's Chinese zodiac sign and part of his "Loong" namesake (although there is another Chinese saying that potently morphs a dragon into a snake, depending on whether it is up there in heaven or down there in hell).]

PM Lee's exhortations were echoed by Mr Heng Swee Kiat, MAS Managing Director, who said the following in his keynote address at the opening of EDHEC-Risk Institute, Asian Centre in Singapore, on 21 Jan 2011: "... there has been much debate on the types of policy tools to address potential asset bubbles. In my view, there is no single tool that works best in all situations. We need a combination of tools that addresses the different facets of the issue. These tools should be simple and easy to understand. More importantly, for these tools to be effective, the intention of the authorities has to be clearly communicated. POLICYMAKERS MUST LEAVE NO DOUBT OF THEIR RESOLVE TO TACKLE THE POTENTIAL BUILD-UP OF RISKS. This may mean, for instance, the willingness to take progressively tougher measures where the situation warrants". [Capitalization emphasis is by The Pariah.]

"Leave no doubt"? Errr ... the track record to date has undoubtedly created doubts. Ahem ... the contradictions are consistently confusing. It does NOT inspire confidence, to say the least. In fact, such doubts and contradictions invoked recollection of an old Malawian law of 1929 that states: "Any person who voluntarily vitiates the atmosphere in any place so as to make it noxious to the health of persons in general dwelling or carrying on business in the neighbourhood or passing along a public way, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour". Phut!

There was an insightful essay in the Straits Times (27 Jan 2011) based on a lecture delivered at the Civil Service College by David Skilling, a consultant with McKinsey and Company, Singapore. Mr Skilling skillfully and succinctly posed the question: "How should governments respond to the changing global environment in order to better manage economic risks and build resilience into the economy?". Mr Skilling listed 3 points:

– First, understanding the size and nature of the risk exposures faced by the country through a formal national risk exposure assessment.

– Second, once these risks are understood and sized, determining which risks to take on, and which to seek to avoid or manage.

– Third, strenthening the risk-bearing capacity of the economy by increasing the ability of the government and households to bear risk, and ensuring that risk is allocated to the parts of the economy - individuals, corporations, or the government - that can bear and manage risks most efficiently. To get the best economic outcomes, risk should be borne by those who can bear the risk at the lowest overall cost.

Having read all of the above Weakipeeks, who do you think is bearing the transferred risks insofar as property ownership in Singapore is concerned? Have we been made Willing Suckers of the Third Order???

7. Weakipeek No. 7 - MM Lee's "Hard Truths" (sense of place). PM Lee in his 2011 Chinese New Year message noted that "residents born in Singapore now make up 57.3 per cent of the population". [Hmmm ... Using this 57.3% disclosure to work backwards the Department of Statistics numbers, there are 321,751 newly minted Singaporeans, about 10% of voters in the upcoming General Election. As some "residents born in Singapore" may have given up their Singapore citizenship, that can only mean "Singaporeans born in Singapore" is a lower percentage. Sheesh ... can you begin to understand why we native Singaporeans feel so totally negated?]

Against this backdrop, PM Lee said: "Some Singaporeans are concerned about the rapid changes in our society, and feel a sense of dislocation and unfamiliarity. We will manage the pace of change, SO THAT WE KEEP OUR BEARINGS, SENSE OF PLACE, AND SENSE OF BELONGING. But we cannot stay static. Singapore has to keep up with the world, or else we will stagnate and decline". [Capitalization emphasis is by The Pariah.]

Yes, yet again, I fully agree with PM Lee. See, I'm such an "agreeable" person, eh? But how can "our bearings, sense of place, and sense of belonging" be honoured when the LTSA is calibrated with deep structural flaws? Fossilization is a luxury Singapore can never afford, I dare say. Change we must. But HOW we change --- that's the definitive fulcrum on which things turn, eh?

Just as Lady Irony would have it, a new book entitled: "Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going" was released in Jan 2011. This book is based on interviews conducted with MM Lee before the demise of his wife, Ms Kwa Geok Choo, in Oct 2010.

In the book, MM Lee said his family would not miss the house at 38 Oxley Road which he has owned since the 1940s. It was built more than a century ago by a Jewish merchant and was
described as "a big rambling house with five bedrooms and three others at the back" and cracks in the walls. MM Lee said: "I don't think my daughter or my wife or I, who lived in it, or my sons who grew up in it, will bemoan its loss. They have old photos to remind them of the past, ... Because of my house the neighbouring houses cannot build high. Now demolish my house and change the planning rules, go up, the land value will go up, ... I've told the Cabinet, when I'm dead, demolish it".

I may not surpass the memory capacity of elephants ... but I do recall the memorable 1995 public furore when Hotel Properties Limited sold some really prime real estate at Nassim Jade and Scotts 28 at a discount to various members of the Lee family. The story stuck in my mind because MM Lee who was the then Senior Minister recounted that a famous hawker in the Newton Road area selling "char kway teow"
(rice noodles fried with eggs and cockles) would give him an extra egg WITHOUT extra charge even though Mr Lee did NOT ask for it. The other nugget from this episode that got stuck in my head was Mr Lee's explanation as to why he bought a condo unit at Scotts 28. Mr Lee said that he envisaged the day would come when he and his wife may not be able to manage the steps in his multi-level bungalow at No 38 Oxley Road in their silver years and that was why he bought a unit at Scotts 28 that is on a single-level floor.

Some 16 years on, MM Lee obviously has chosen to remain at his long-time place of abode even after his wife's demise and despite his distinct wariness when descending from stairs as he became older. Why? Could it be remotely related to MM Lee's "sense of place"? "People who live in glass houses should not throw stones", if I am allowed to be a little literal.

Our Founding Father will be a grand 88-year old on 16 Sep this year. Putting aside MM Lee's ascribed "economic value" for the neighbourhood district, I do NOT begrudge MM Lee for wanting to live out his remaining days at No 38 Oxley Road. After all, not everything that matters in Life can be counted and some of those things that count can never be measured. I despise that part of our collective Singaporean psyche that knows the price of everything but the value of none.

As a Singaporean, I hope MM Lee will allow his family home to be preserved for posterity as it was in this bungalow where part of our national history was forged. After spending his lifetime building Singapore and our public institutions, MM Lee is NOT even confident that institutional checks-and-balances have been systemically and organically entrenched to ensure proper maintenance of this historic bungalow for future generations of Singaporeans. Surely MM Lee ought to have an abiding belief in his own legacy that will not only survive him but even thrive after him? Namely, the legacy of institutionalized checks-and-balances to counter-balance any abberation of human foibles - be it temporary or sustained, limited or prevalent? And we are only talking about maintaining brick-and-mortar - for Heaven's sake!

Looking from the flip-side at MM Lee's diffidence over future preservation and maintenance of a mere bungalow ... Has MM Lee failed himself? Have our Civil Service failed Singapore? It is pure conjecture on my part here ... but perhaps MM Lee has already witnessed once too often how the Civil Service failed as an institutional check-and-balance against the Executive with PAP as the ruling party? Hence, MM Lee's worry is that if the political tide should totally turn against the PAP at some future time, the Civil Service would cave-in to the commands and demands of the government-of-the-day when push comes to shove ... and No 38 Oxley Road would then be left "to decay" even though it is not a sensible and reasonable thing to do?

What does it speak of when our Founding Father worries thus? As I mentioned in my 2007 blog posting, I feel gut-wrenchingly sad for MM Lee that he feels so diffident even over maintenance of one bungalow after all that he has done for Singapore - the good, the bad and the ugly.

Pragmatism, economic value of surrounding neighbourhood and diffidence over house maintenance may well be smokescreens as the plot ratio could be increased for that neighbourhood strip whilst designating the bungalow for monument conservation. It may be a neater way to avoid the issue of how much premium the estate should sell the bungalow to the state for monument preservation or whether to donate such an expensive plot of prime land with building thereon to the country or to redevelop it into a sleek modern bungalow for occupation or sale. If so, then it will be less of Hard Truths and more of Hard Cash. I am merely musing of course. Nothing is amiss - It is his bungalow. It is landed property. Only MM Lee can decide what he wants to do with it. The smokescreen possibility arose because the dissonance is striking between MM Lee's diffidence over mere bungalow maintenance and his confidence over national reserves as MM Lee said in the book that: "If we are voted out, the system is still working ... The new government cannot frivolously change the top men with its own sycophants nor spend the country’s past reserves without the President’s consent. They need to govern within these rules".

However, just as MM Lee's sense of place should be honoured for as long as he is with us, surely we plebians too should have our sense of time and place honoured? Perhaps NOT to the same degree but AT LEAST to a more limited degree of mandating a ONE-FOR-ONE EXCHANGE IN AN EN BLOC SALE, as per my previous blog postings:
I'm NOT even suggesting that the Gahmen withhold all en bloc demolition henceforth until such time when condo/apartment owners reach the same state ... as described by MM Lee: "when I'm dead"!

There is a new book: "Analyzing Land Readjustment - Economics, Law and Collective Action" by Hong Yu-Hung and Barrie Needham published in 2007 by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy that may be INSTRUCTIVE to MinLaw and help them to eventually "do right" by the people.

The Sunday Times (6 Feb 2011) coverage of the aftermath of Gillman Heights en bloc sale had one common thread underpinning the five different accounts - loss of the sense of time, loss of the sense of place by these former owners:

Are the senses of these Gillman Heights en bloc owners any less valid? One-for-one exchange was mentioned by one of these ex-owners. With the en bloc sale proceeds in hand, the spectre of "Refugee, Squatter, Downgrader or Downsizer" panned-out unless the owner dipped into his own pocket to top-up for a replacement unit purchase. [It was interesting to note that the Chairman of the Gillman Heights Sale Committee bought an outlying landed property post-en bloc ... having chaired the en bloc sale process to sell other people's homes, he probably didn't want to risk putting his family home at the mercy of his neighbours in future and hence it would be safer NOT to subscribe to Luke 6:31 in the good Bible: "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise."] Two out of the three actionable suggestions made by MP Ellen Lee in May 2010 would have addresssed the issues raised by these former owners who went through the en bloc trials and tribulations.

Two years ago, on Yuan Xiao Jie (the concluding 15th day of 2009 Lunar New Year), Gillman Heights Minority Dissenters lost their en bloc battle at appellate court level. Over this 2011 Chinese New Year festive period, I hope reading these latest real life accounts from both Majority Consenters and Minority Dissenters of the Gillman Heights en bloc saga will find an ounce of resonance with MinLaw.

This pre-supposes that MinLaw have NOT morphed from being "deaf frog" to become naturally "mute". By remaining mum for too long, one would consequently turn "dumb" beyond the orifice level if one doesn't become an altogether "blind bat". One young Straits Times reporter, Ms Jessica Cheam, used her heart to "see" what our two Law Ministers wilfully chose to turn a blind eye to.

Time always tells ...... as to whether our Gahmen and our public servants are "doing right" by the people. And if not, what will they do next, if anything? Maybe MinLaw will wait for all condos built before 2001 to be sold en bloc before they start to "do right" by us plebians. At the present rate of en bloc destructive destruction, we won't be left breathless even if we hold our breath!

We Singaporeans are such a bunch of losers, eh? We can't afford to buy back same-size units in the same location even with our en bloc "windfall" of 50%-100% premium that we so astutely signed-up for in the Collective Sale Agreement. So we should graciously up our collective rear ends to make way for the foreign talents who naturally prefer prime/popular locations because they are not so familiar in getting around our grand total of 710.3 sq km land area as of 2009. Surely we can understand that, right?

So it was particularly galling and grating to read the opening address by Mr Ng Lang, URA's CEO, at Archifest held on 4 Oct 2010: "This year’s ArchiFest explores the theme of “Happy Cities” and how the urban environment can be developed to foster feelings of happiness in members of its community. The theme is a very simple but apt reminder that THE WORK THAT WE DO - whether it is to develop buildings, urban spaces or cities - IS ONLY COMPLETE AND RELEVANT IF IT CAN CONTRIBUTE TO THE WELL-BEING OF PEOPLE AND THE COMMUNITY. This theme is key to URA’s mission to develop Singapore into a great city to live, work and play in. HAPPY EXPERIENCES AND MEMORIES ASSOCIATED WITH PLACES AND PEOPLE ARE ULTIMATELY WHAT ANCHOR OUR HEART AND SOUL TO A CITY. To this end, URA has been putting emphasis on better place-making, place-management and building place identity to ENHANCE THE EMOTIONAL CONNECTION BETWEEN THE COMMUNITY AND THE URBAN ENVIRONMENT". [Capitalization emphasis is by The Pariah.]

That really gets my goat!!! The last remaining shreds of public credibility probably disappeared with this speech! So much overload of verbiage diarrhoea, ugh? Would URA CEO Mr Ng prefer Eastern/Western medication (Po Chai Yuen/Limotil) imbibed from the other end? Please excuse my simple linear thought pathway ... if output is anal, input has to be oral (and vice versa) to prevent chokage.

8. Weakipeek No. 8 - Chief Justice and "The Truth, The Whole Truth, And Nothing But The Truth" (World Justice Project). From TV courtroom drama, most of us would be familiar with these words said under oath "to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth". Ever wonder why the oath in court is so long-winded? Why is it not kept short and sweet as an oath to "tell the truth"? In fact, the last eight words of "the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" ensure complete veracity.

At the opening of the Legal Year, Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong said by way of his 20-paragraph speech: "You would have noticed that so far I have not spoken on the subject of civil justice. In this connection, it may be of interest to you to know that the Rule of Law Index 2010 of the World Justice Project, which is a project to rank the quality of legal systems in the context of the rule of law, has ranked us No. 1 for Access to Civil Justice in the grouping of high income countries".

The rah-rah was reported in the Straits Times (7 Jan 2011) with the headline: "Singapore gets top marks in global law survey". The Channel News Asia (7 Jan 2011) web-site article has a similar title: "Singapore justice system top in global survey".

As a Singaporean, I'm naturally elated and proud of my country for yet another No. 1 ranking in the world. Indeed, I do have high regard for our justice system ... generally speaking. When rah-rah pitch reached a notch too high, it instinctively made me double-check the source. "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is" - that's a time-honoured dictum.

As it turned out, whilst the Chief Justice was telling the truth, it was NOT "the whole truth, and nothing but the truth". As consolation, I tell myself that it's ok because CJ was not speaking under oath but rather at the opening of the Legal Year.

Here are the relevant extracts of World Justice Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index, version 3.0, released on 14 Oct 2010 (the next update will double-up the present list of 35 countries and by 2012, it will cover 100 countries):

One question in WJP's rankings for Singapore niggles me: Where Singapore is consistently LAST-in-the-class for "Open Government" (which is the underpinning foundation for all Greater Good and Lesser Evil), how does that colour our consistently TOP-of-the-class scores for "Access to Civil Justice" and "Order and Security"? Hence, hypothetically, under a government that is less-than-open, an unjust law could be (i) passed openly, legally and speedily and (ii) enforced strictly, fairly and equally speedily. What then is the point of having fantastic Access to Civil Justice when the people face "Unjust Justice" (law is unjust; enforcement is just for all and sundry) OR "Just Injustice" (law is just; enforcement is unjust, depending on who you are) in the end?

In any case, under the WJP Data Tables, this was exactly how Singapore fared for each of the 9 factors under the two groupings:
- Under "High Income" Grouping: Only 11 countries out of the total of 35 countries fall into this grouping and Singapore was ranked amongst these 11 countries. For the 9 factors, Singapore was ranked 1 out of 11 for two factors (viz, Order and Security, Access to Civil Justice). We were at or near the bottom for three factors (viz, Limited Government Powers, Fundamental Rights, Open Government). We were straddling the median point for the remaining four factors (viz, Absence of Corruption, Clear, Publicized and Stable Laws, Effective Regulation/Administration, Effective Criminal Justice).

- Under "East Asia and Pacific" Grouping: Only 7 countries out of the total of 35 countries fall into this grouping and Singapore was ranked amongst these 7 countries. For the 9 factors, Singapore was ranked tops or nearly top for four factors (viz, Absence of Corruption, Order and Security, Access to Civil Justice, Effective Criminal Justice). We were near the bottom for one factor (viz, Open Government). We were straddling the median point for the remaining four factors (viz, Limited Government Powers, Clear, Publicized and Stable Laws, Fundamental Rights, Effective Regulation/Administration).

Whilst there is an embedded element of RELATIVITY in WJP's rankings, there is a reasonable degree of cross-validation in CONSISTENCY trends. It would be interesting if Hongkong and Taiwan could be included in the Asian mix of the High GDP Grouping and if there is comparative ranking amongst Global City Grouping (eg, Zurich, Paris, London, New York, Shanghai, Tokyo, Hongkong, Singapore, etc).

Now that is "The Truth, The Whole Truth, And Nothing But The Truth", your Honour! Allow me the cheap thrill of Bang-Bang-Bang on the hard gavel as we auction off our collective Singapore Spirit to the highest bidder in the Great En Bloc Singapore Sale ... Going, Going, Gone (as per the above caricature of MM Lee's "Hard Truths")!

Finally, I'd like to end with one of the quotes from the WJP Rule of Law Index 2010:
“Good civil laws are the greatest good that men can give and receive. They are the source of morals, the palladium of property, and the guarantee of all public and private peace. If they are not the foundation of government, they are its supports; they moderate power and help ensure respect for it, as though power were justice itself. They affect every individual; they mingle with the primary activities of his life; they follow him everywhere. They are often the sole moral code of a people, and they are always part of its freedom. Finally, good civil laws are the consolation of every citizen for the sacrifices that political law demands of him for the city, protecting, when necessary, his person and his property as though he alone were the whole city." - Jean-Etienne-Marie Portalis from Discours preliminaire du premier projet de Code Civil (Speeches of the first preliminary draft Civil Code).

Sigh ... does LTSA 1999 as a piece of civil legislation after two rounds of amendment in 2007 and 2010 cut it?

"Source of morals"?
"Palladium of property"??
"Guarantee of all public and private peace"???
"The consolation of every citizen for the sacrifices that political law demands of him for the city, protecting, when necessary, his person and his property as though he alone were the whole city"????

The abovementioned 6 Feb 2011 Straits Times feature on dismal post-en bloc consequences for Gillman Heights owners was followed by publication of a ST Forum Letter on 10 Feb 2011 by one of its readers, Ms Grace Francis. This in turn sparked a flurry of online comments reproduced in the following scribd document-link which would suss-out the degree of "public and private peace" amongst condo owners in the face of this en bloc law [also included for context are 2008 and 2009 mainstream media reports on the CRIMINAL ACTS by a pro-sale owner in Laguna Park's FIRST ROUND of en bloc attempts; having failed,
Laguna Park's SECOND ROUND from 2010 re-try is now ongoing]: http://www.scribd.com/doc/48787714/Singapore-Straits-Times-Forum-Letter-10-Feb-2011-on-estate-upgrading-being-thwarted-by-en-bloc-roadblocks [UPDATE: Added (a) MinLaw’s reply in the Straits Times on 15 Feb 2011 to Ms Francis’ letter and (b) two new ST Forum Letters by Ang Miah Boon and Harry Tham, each dated 20 Feb 2011, expanding upon issues raised in the originating Straits Times feature article.]

I don't wish to be rude.
So I will just bleat a bleah.