Tag Archive | "housing"

Key debates at Channel NewsAsia’s political forum

Key debates at Channel NewsAsia’s political forum

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Debate centred around economic issues; Opposition wins by a whisker.

By Terence Lee

On GST

Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) assistant treasurer Vincent Wijeysingha advocated a zero-rate GST for basic services like food so as to alleviate pressure from lower-income groups.

In response, finance minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam came out robustly in defense of the GST system, saying that most of the revenue generated from the GST comes from the top 40 percent of Singaporeans. The money collected is then given back to the poor through subsidies and handouts. He says that the poor get more from these handouts than the GST they pay.

On a related note, People’s Action Party (PAP) member-of-parliament Josephine Teo claims that the government’s Inclusive Growth programme would benefit over 20,000 low wage workers.

Vincent’s suggestion sounds interesting but I wonder how robust it is compared to the government’s existing measures? I also have my doubts about whether the PAP’s current policies are sufficient enough to tackle insufficient wages experienced by the poor.

For instance, while Workfare acts as supplementary income for low-wage workers, much of it goes to the CPF instead of to the worker’s pockets. It’s a pity that the idea of minimum wage was not discussed much.

Result: Tie

On income of the poor

Photo: SILAS HWANG / Creative Commons

Vincent highlights a UBS report stating that the purchasing power of Singaporeans is actually comparable to Russia’s, despite being a “first-rate” economy.

Tharman counters by saying that the UBS report is flawed, without going into specifics. He then mentioned that Singapore’s median income is quite high compared to other countries.

Vincent responds by questioning the validity of median income as an indicator for the well-being of the poor. He then criticises the ministers for their million-dollar salaries, a dig that was ignored.

Finally, Tharman assures viewers that the PAP cares for the welfare of the people. He smartly reemphasises the benefits of the GST system and its trickle-down effect from rich to poor.

Result: PAP wins

On housing

Gerald Giam of the Worker’s Party and Vincent both echo the view that the HDB should be non-profit, something that Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan would claim is already the case. Gerald goes on to say that prices of HDB flats should be pegged to the cost of flats and not to the resale and private housing market.

Vincent took another tack on the issue, arguing that HDB prices are too high for the lower-income group because they spend too much money from their retirement funds on housing. That’s why they work until the 70s and 80s. Ownership to the home becomes a form of slavery.

“We’re asset secure but income insecure,” he says.

Neither Tharman nor Josephine addressed Gerald’s point. Responding to Vincent, he says that Singaporeans on average use 23 percent of their income to service their housing mortgage, a figure that hasn’t changed much over the years. However, he does not say how the figure is like for the poor.

The PAP reps’ response to the housing debate was not as concise as the GST and income level issues. Neither Vincent’s nor Gerald’s criticisms were successfully rebutted.

Result: Opposition wins

On foreign workers

Photo: KODOMUT / Creative Commons

There isn’t much disagreement between the political parties here: All admit that productivity must go up, while reliance on foreign workers must go down. While the PAP highlighted existing measures to achieve those aims, the opposition (Vincent especially) was quick to point out that the PAP was slow in realising their mistakes.

Vincent, in a ballsy but effective move, interrupted Melissa at one point and mentioned how the PAP was flawed in its measurement of productivity over the past 27 years.

Indeed, a study by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy indicated that Singapore’s productivity growth has stalled over the years, despite government intervention.

Surely, a sore point for the PAP.

Result: Opposition wins

Other issues

On healthcare, Singapore People’s Party second vice-chairperson Lina Chiam’s assertion about the lack of hospital beds was countered by Tharman’s mention of statistics: Occupancy rate for hospitals is only 85 percent. Of course, this figure should be scrutinised further. Lina went on to say how healthcare costs can be reduced by discouraging medical tourism.

She then goes on a tear by highlighting a smorgasbord of other issues: More critical thinking in schools, better political education for students, more recognition for single mothers. Despite her incoherence, the ideas she mentioned are actually pretty good.

But the bad impression she made negates whatever good things she said.

Vincent, being typically SDP, highlighted exorbitant ministerial salaries and persecution of Opposition figures in the past, although he did not press the point home to the extent where it would challenge entrenched views. These issues were not addressed by Tharman and Josephine, which meant the debate was mainly centred around the economy.

Result: Tie

Final score

PAP: 1; Opposition: 2

I must disclaim that I am effectively pro-opposition. That’s my bias. So I felt the Opposition did better in this debate (whether Singaporeans vote for them is another matter). What’s clear is that Vincent is the star striker amongst them all.

For an assessment of the individual candidate’s performance, click here.

Is HDB a good investment? Part 2

Is HDB a good investment? Part 2

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Is HDB a good investment?

Is HDB a good investment?

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The middle class nightmare

The middle class nightmare

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The government can do more to reduce the price of property in Singapore, alleviating the financial challenges faced by a large middle class.

By Fang Shihan

The outlook for average Singaporeans can be scary, especially considering the high cost of living. Photo: WILLIAM CHO / Creative Commons

IT’S probably a universal phenomenon. Fresh graduate comes out into the working world, draws his first paycheck, and wakes up one day a few months later breaking out in cold sweat.

It’s the middle class nightmare. You know, the one where you’re taking a photo at the main door, spouse in arm, kids running around at knee level. You flash a hugeass smile as you look proudly into the camera feeling like your life is absolutely perfect.

And you wake up feeling horrified at how you’ve transformed into a mindless automaton in the economic machine. You also feel ashamed at desiring the perfect middle class life because you’ve been taught in school that it’s all a damn construct.

We all have the same nightmare. But here on the island it’s a little different. See, friends in Australia or countries with a larger land mass feel their skin crawl at the sight of a house with a lawn, a dog and…. a white picket fence. Here we dream about a three-room flat in Punggol with a steel gate, a view hopefully not of the neighbour’s kitchen and…. a maid.

I remember growing up in the 90s listening to the debate about Singaporeans and their 5Cs- cash, car, condo, credit card and country club. Fast forward 20 years later, we’re not even dreaming of the condo anymore. We’re dreaming of a flat. Friggin little cubicles built so close together that you become paranoid about your neighbours eavesdropping while you have sex at home.

Were we ever supposed to aspire to public housing?

MP Mah “Your Assets will Appreciate!” Bow Tan wrote a piece sometime last year reiterating that “the Government’s basic principle… is to provide affordable public housing for the vast majority of Singaporeans – not just for 10 or 20 per cent, like most countries, but up to 80 per cent of the population.”

The government has obviously forgotten about the initial proposal of ‘public housing’ and above all, what constitutes as ‘affordable housing’.

The logic to co-opt Singaporeans under the public housing umbrella undeniably made sense back in 1960, where slums and squatter settlements were aplenty. After all, a housed, clothed and fed worker was a more productive worker. Public housing also made for a good social control mechanism but.. let’s not get into that.

But the past is the past. As the saying goes: “Last time policemen wore shorts”.

There are no slums now save for a small group of happy campers at various beaches and parks. However there’s a large middle class with aspirations for social mobility.

Does it make sense for the government to co-opt these aspirations into the public housing system? More importantly, SHOULD the government even try to cater to the middle class family with a household income of $10,000?

Thanks, but I’d rather not the HDB have a monopoly of the housing market on the pretext of housing provision.

When I describe the HDB to my friends abroad, they’re usually in awe of the efficiency of the system. Homeless rates are close to zilch, that’s quite a feat. Then I tell them about how much an average flat costs and almost certainly, jaws drop in shock. $300,000 for a tiny 3 room flat??? Yes Siree, and I haven’t even gotten to COE prices yet.

Here’s my take on why housing HAS to be increasingly expensive: To keep 80% of the population within the arms of the nanny state and to a lesser extent, to keep the upper middle income class politically subservient. Imagine being within the $10,000 income bracket. Too rich for public housing yet too poor to afford a million-dollar condo. Would you be pissed? I would.

And the solution? Executive HDBs. Because that’s considered ‘affordable housing’ for a family that’s not-quite-there-yet.

Just to prove that this is not just a gigantic conspiracy theory, think about this. In a situation such as this, would the logical solution be to reduce the percentage of those living in public housing, and to free up more land for private development?

Condos are obviously more expensive than HDBs, in large part because of land prices. But instead of passing policies to reduce the prices in the private market, what’s happened is that the public sector trying it’s darndest to match the private sector. And everything goes up up up.

The government has obviously forgotten about the initial proposal of ‘public housing’ and above all, what constitutes as ‘affordable housing’.