Tag Archive | "Mah Bow Tan"

S’poreans react to news that ex-Minister Mah Bow Tan is retiring from politics

S’poreans react to news that ex-Minister Mah Bow Tan is retiring from politics

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Three thoughts that must have went past your mind at some point.

mah-bow-tan-clap-hand

Tampines MP and ex-minister Mah Bow Tan announced that he is retiring from politics saying he will not be standing in the coming elections.

Addressing residents on Aug. 7 at a Tampines East National Day dinner tonight, the PAP veteran who has been in office for 27 years added he is looking for a replacement.

Here are three thoughts Singaporeans have:

 

sian-half-auntie “Whoever succeeds him will have a hard time living up to his failures.”
Zhen Shi Bai, 44-year-old matchmaker

 

sian-half-uncle “So he will walk away scot-free without having to commit hara-kiri?”
Qu Zi Sha, 66-year-old pesticide seller

 

happy-bird-girl “To be fair, he was tasked to solve problems in Singapore that didn’t have solutions. Which proves politicians are useless to begin with.”
Mei Yew Yong, 18-year-old part-time cosmetics tester

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 









“ERP gantries” to be built on Singapore River

“ERP gantries” to be built on Singapore River

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Former housing minister Mah Bow Tan putting midas touch on river taxi business

A ubiquitous national icon, the ERP gantry, will soon be a feature on the Singapore River this year after the Urban Development Authority approved its construction this week. But unlike its counterparts on land, the proceeds from these gantries will go to the Singapore River Explorer, which won the tender to operate river taxis along the Singapore River.

The Singapore River Explorer is a joint venture between Global Yellow Pages (GYP), which is known for printing thick phone directories that are useful for killing cockroaches, and Leisure Empire, a mysterious company incorporated only in February last year.

First mooted last October by GYP Chairman Mah Bow Tan, the gantries were said to add vibrancy and colour to the otherwise drab and muddy river usually mistaken for a large drain by tourists. Mah also said that the tolls were necessary to keep the river taxi business profitable.

Indeed, according to calculations made by DUCKtours, which lost the bid after running its river cruises for five years, the specifications for the tender will create a “lose-lose situation” for all operators as it will be impossible for any company make a profit.

“To break even, each operator will need a ridership of 1,500 pax (of $3 taxi). The water taxi market is simply not that big, thus the reason for us ‘quacking’ at these specifications,” it ranted unreasonably in its blog, while accusing the URA of favouring Mah in the tender bid.

It however, did not take into account the possibility of the ERP gantry adding to the company’s bottomline. Calls to the company for comment were met with soft sobbing and strangled utterings of “kan-ni-nah…kelong…kelong…”.

“As a businessman, you must be able to confront the challenges ahead of you. Companies that do not have a sustainable business solution should innovate, or be replaced,” explained Mah, who previously served as housing minister and transport minister.

To keep operating costs down, the tour operator will be hiring Philippino tour guides to run the local cruises while the boats will be operated by drivers from mainland China.

“It will be interesting to see if Mr Mah can bring his midas touch to the private industry,” said self-styled political pundit Eric de Yaya. “No one imagined that money could be made out of the public housing market, or from traffic jams. But Mah did. Singapore needs entrepreneurs like him to keep the economy moving forward in 2013.”

Khaw tries to fix Mah’s housing problems

Khaw tries to fix Mah’s housing problems

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Fairer system to kind of level playing field, with more help supposedly going to couples, singles and elderly.

With Singapore’s housing situation in a mess, Khaw Boon Wan, the newly handpicked minister of National Development (pictured left), has come up with a series of schemes and new flat releases to help curb the problems his predecessor Mah Bow Tan could not solve before an incumbent-walloping General Election in May.

Khaw announced, with a lot of enthusiasm, that there will be less help given to the higher-income households seeking to buy a flat because they can afford not to be helped.

This is an attempt to create a fairer, tiered system, in tandem with the Housing and Development Board (HDB) recently raising the income ceiling for those looking to buy homes.

For those purchasing built-to-order (BTO) flats, the income ceiling will be raised from $8,000 to $10,000

For executive condominium flats, they are to go up by $2,000 to $12,000.

Those aged above 55 and wanting to buy a purpose-built studio apartment for the elderly now have an income ceiling of $10,000. Previously it was $8,000.

Therefore, potential buyers whose household income is $10,000 are still eligible to receive the entire Central Provident Fund (CPF) Housing Grant worth $30,000. (Thank goodness…)

Those earning between $10,000 and $11,000, tough luck. They will receive $20,000.

Households that make more than $11,000? Sorry, but tough luck too. They will receive $20,000 as well.

Life is indeed unfair, in case you’re just tuning in.

Furthermore, Khaw said that the HDB will release 8,000 flats (a record number, by the way) next month. (Who said opposition political parties are not effective in bringing about change?)

In total, 25,000 flats are to be released this year. In November, for example, 4,000 built-to-order (BTO) flats will enter the market.

As for 2012 next year, the projection is for a release of another 25,000 flats. (Something Mah probably could not deliver.)

Some of these flats will be in mature estates such as Tampines and Kallang/Whampoa, which are prime locations that are sought-after in the market.

This would allow some potential resale flat buyers to exit the resale market as they will be tempted by brand new flats instead, effectively freeing up space for those single and above 35 years and older, for example. (Or so the theory goes…)

Khaw enthused that this would effectively deal with the housing demand surge.

He gushed: “That’s why I’m so confident that in three, four years’ time, when these units start materialising, whatever pent-up demand, the problem would be largely resolved.”

However, he also stressed: “It can’t happen tomorrow.”

Read the original article here.

Post coitus care: What happens after the climax?

Post coitus care: What happens after the climax?

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Now that Aljunied GRC has turned blue, the real test lies in making the relationship a long lasting one.

By Fang Shihan

Worker's Party voters in ecstasy. Photo: TERENCE LEE

THAT wasn’t such a big deal was it? For nine days the Worker’s Party campaigned hard and rallied the masses to a climax on 7th May when the 140,000 voters cast their votes. Result? Worker’s Party wins by 54% but a fine Foreign Minister was lost in the crossfire between the PAP and an electorate that’s grown frustrated enough to want to… spank them.

Aljunied voters are satisfied and satiated with Low and team’s tireless effort, so what’s left of the deal is the aftercare – they need to know the WP is in for a long-term relationship. Of course the cuddles will have to wait until they recover from campaigning exhaustion. Case in point? Hougang MP Yaw Shin Leong fell asleep at the wheel the day after.

Brace yourselves and moderate your expectations people, your caretakers – Sylvia, Uncle Low, God, Chewbacca and Faisal have only just embarked on the beginning of a long five-year ride with you.

Remember all those complaints Chiam and Low had about the lack of funding from their Town Councils? That’s going to happen to you. Or being pushed all the way back in the queue for HDB upgrading? That too. Or being told every now and then that you live in a slum? Most likely.

Infrastructure repairs are a luxury and not a right when you live in an opposition ward.

As for all those promises about pegging HDB prices to the national median income? Better moderate your expectations.

Obama swept into power in 2008 with the promise of healthcare reform. Though the Big Plan did materialize eventually, it was severely compromised and led to a sharp drop in Obama’s approval ratings.

Likewise for the WP team in Aljunied: HDB honcho Mah Bow Tan called their housing plan ‘irresponsible’ while PM Lee has accused them of wanting to run a ‘welfare’ system. In other words, spending without a credit limit. Nevermind that he wants to build 7 new MRT lines each year for the next 7 years.

The WP team will not get a friendly reception to their ideas in parliament, to say the least, though all 6 of them will get to vote on bills this time.

While the PAP and its electorate had a consumer-service relationship, the voters in Aljunied voted with no expectation of a multi-million dollar town upgrade plan.

Furthermore, unlike the PAP which has tacit support from the People’s Association, the WP team in Aljunied have close to no organized grassroots support locally. Low hopes to take over the Aljunied Town Council but it remains to be seen if his reception will be as frosty as the one Sitoh Yih Pin received in Potong Pasir.

But problems aside, the WP has an edge over the PAP in one key area – popular support. How popular? Enough to fill an entire stadium full plus 10,000 stragglers outside.

Now that’s what I call political participation. While the PAP and its electorate had a consumer-service relationship, the voters in Aljunied voted with no expectation of a multi-million dollar town upgrade plan.

While the PAP would get faulted for even the most minor of details (like the a tile sticking out from the floor of a void deck), chances are, the WP will get away with it because..they were elected as representatives of their voters and not the chief janitors of the estate.

In return for increased self-reliance in the constituency, the WP will be expected to bring sweeping change into parliament. Though that’s unlikely to happen, you can be sure that the PAP will be reminded by their co-driver time and again that they need to get back on track.

Better than nothing? I guess so. Better than the last bunch in power? Most definitely. But moderate your expectations because change comes with a significant amount of resistance.

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Vote out of belief, not fear

Vote out of belief, not fear

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Virgin Voter Dannon Har observes that some of his peers, who work in the public sector, fear voting for the opposition because it might stunt their career prospects.

Proud of being a Virgin Voter? Put this as your Facebook display picture! Enhanced from photo by STEPHANE TOUGARD / Creative Commons

I WILL be voting for my very first time this coming elections. I’m feeling a flurry of excitement coupled with apprehension, and I hope dismay won’t follow after I’ve done the deed.

What brings out such a mixed bag of emotions is that giant question mark bobbing above my head saying: “Does my vote really matter?”

As an average youth living in Meritocratic/Autocratic Singapore, I wonder if my vote will make a difference when opposition giants like JB Jeyaretnam and Chiam See Tong have failed or attained limited success?

Needless to say, the PAP government has been in power since day one. Those who have tried to step up and challenge them have been deliberately quashed under their iron fist.

I’m certainly not exaggerating: Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew admitted as much in his his series of interviews with the Straits Times.

Despite our turbulent political history, what disturbs me much is the indifferent, laidback, nonchalant attitude of many of today’s youths. What disturbs me even more is some of their ignorance or misconceptions.

To be fair, there is a notable rise of youth participation in Singapore’s political scene. Even though there’s plenty of nonconstructive rants online, the fact that more youths are voicing out is at least a sure sign of a diversification of views.

Yet many young Singaporeans only seem to care about the food on their table.

With an overbearing corporatist culture constantly looming over our heads, I fear becoming just another cog in the machine. And I know I am not alone in this.

Singapore’s citizens are described as consumerist, materialistic, and pragmatic. These are now our defining attributes as Singaporeans.

The drastic fall in Total Fertility Rate is a clear sign to me that we are thinking more and more in economic terms, putting all other concerns second place.

In a Straits Times article I read, a lawyer said regarding the reason for not having children: “It’s a question of opportunity cost, and I can’t afford the downtime from my career.”

Political sentiments in Singapore often reflect our materialistic culture.

During sessions of coffee shop talk with peers my age, they tell me they are going to vote for PAP this coming election, as they feel pressured to do so. But Pressured? Pressured by what?

The presence of such fear is a shock to me – regardless of whether there is any truth to it. Why should there even be fear of going against the ruling party – as distinct from the state – in a democratic society?

Apparently, there is an onset of fear about going against the grain. On the ground, there is fear that voting for an opposition party would result in indirect repercussions of some sort.

I hear of comments that are utterly ridiculous. Some tell me that since they work in the public sector, they had better vote for the PAP lest they get stunted career growths and diminished pay packages.

The presence of such fear is a shock to me – regardless of whether there is any truth to it. Why should there even be fear of going against the ruling party – as distinct from the state – in a democratic society?

Such ideas are plainly absurd. Then again, nothing surprises me anymore.

Other comments I’ve heard include feelings of gratitude for what PAP had done for us in the past. With this argument, some think we should continue voting for them since they have done so much for us.

They further add that the good track record is testament that they’ll do as well if not better in the future.

But I say that if a party’s recent track record is any indication, then recent hot potato issues like immigration, housing prices, and ministerial salary among others would indicate that the time for change has come.

I will be voting in Tampines GRC this coming election, where PAP veteran and minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan will be contesting.

He may not be very popular, based on online sentiments, but how many votes will actually swing in his favor simply because of PAP’s dominance?

My personal belief is that each and every contestant should be judged based on what they are really offering on the plate instead of party affiliations or worse, empty promises.

Sadly, the political game is often reduced to a shallow popularity contest rather than a substantial analysis of political manifestos.

In deciding who to vote for, I realise that jumping onto the same bandwagon as everyone else simply displays a lack of forethought on my part. I am given a mind for a reason, and that reason is to reason.

I can’t let others decide for me whom I’m going to vote for.

But I am not blindly advocating western ideals in Singapore, as each country is different and should be run differently. A system that works in one place may not work in another. I’m clear on this.

My beef is with people refusing to stand up for what they believe in, when they should be voicing out their concerns for a future they want to see happening in Singapore.

Seriously, if we look closely enough at the PAP government’s current policies and scrutise it, can we confidently say that we are able to sit down and stay passive?

At 23 years old, I am ready to do the little I can to express my personal beliefs, perspectives, and values in the political realm. It is my own conviction to eliminate indifference among Singaporean youths, starting from myself.

So to all my fellow Virgin Voters out there, be daring enough to do what you sincerely think is right for the sake of our own generation’s future.

And to all experienced voters out there, good for you if you have not compromised your ideals. But if you have and are thinking of voting ‘safely’ time and again, do not for a moment think that others will do the fighting for you.

As Dr Chee Soon Juan once mentioned, “Democracy cannot be wished for, it must be fought for.”

Dannon Har, 23, has studied in neighborhood schools all his life. He is currently majoring in Sociology and minoring in Communications at SIM University while interning at a prominent business news organisation. He spends his free time clearing his school assignments hanging out with his better half who keeps his humanity from dispersing as he chases the Singapore dream.

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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’.

United PAP, divided Opposition?

United PAP, divided Opposition?

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More work needed to increase credibility of the Opposition.
By Terence Lee

Chee Soon Juan (left) and Chiam See Tong talk after being presented with appreciation gifts by The Online Citizen, organiser of the Face to Face forum. The two had an acrimonious past while working together at the Singapore Democratic Party.

Chee Soon Juan (left) and Chiam See Tong talk after being presented with appreciation gifts. The two had an acrimonious past while working together at the Singapore Democratic Party. Picture from THE ONLINE CITIZEN.

LAST WEEK’S Face to Face forum, which gathered all the major opposition parties into a hotel ballroom, was fascinating in many ways. Rarely do you find them gather in such posh settings, under air-conditioning that actually works.

I am more accustomised to see them hawk party newspapers at the food centre near Bedok MRT and shouting party slogans in their polo-tees.

Images of Chiam See Tong, secretary-general of the Singapore People’s Party, conducting his Meet-the-People Sessions at the HDB voiddeck comes to mind too.

The forum was orchestrated down to the minutest detail – including how the opposition members came in, which seats they occupied, and the time allowed to ask and answer questions. The format of the Q & A session was deliberate: Choo Zheng Xi, moderator of the forum, told me that it’s same model used for the US elections.

But the event seemed like a kick-ass public relations exercise for the Opposition.

Chiam, the most seasoned of the group and the first to come through the front door, was promptly greeted with warm applause. As he sauntered up the stage, he was helped to his seat by Goh Meng Seng of the National Solidarity Party.

Dr Chee Soon Juan, whose arrival at the political scene once led to Chiam’s ousting from the Singapore Democratic Party, shook hands with his former mentor. Chee exchanged pleasantries with Chiam, displaying no sign of animosity.

There’s no doubt who was the star that night. Although Chiam’s voice was sometimes weak and muffled, the audience hung on to his words and heckled when he poked fun at the PAP. Although past his prime, his piquant wit was still on display.

…given the similar ideologies and outlook of these political parties, I am surprised more isn’t done to promote common causes between them.

The event painted a picture of a united opposition front, and Chiam is the leading advocate of that unity. His formation of the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA), a conglomerate of three political parties, represents his crowning achievement in bringing together disparate tribes.

But conflict had erupted around the totem pole. Late last year, rival factions from the Singapore Malay National Organisation, or PKMS, took their infighting literally to the streets. Five people were injured.

This year, a spat between right-hand man Desmond Lim and himself became public. Chiam attempted to oust Lim as the sec-gen of the SDA, but the Supreme Council of the Alliance rebuffed him by voting that Lim serve out his full two-year term.

The Alliance’s inability to keep their house in order has hurt the Opposition’s image, especially among those with a mild interest in politics. The PAP, on the other hand, have presented themselves as a cohesive fighting team. You don’t see Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan strangulate National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan in public.

Internal dissent, if present, is either congenial or unpublicised. Perhaps the presence of strongman Lee Kuan Yew and an obliging mainstream media helped.

Such public spats wouldn’t matter if this is the United States, where senators and representatives frequently clash with one another and vote against party line. But here, disunity is seen as a sure sign of weakness.

Seen in this context, the forum became a perfect opportunity for the Opposition to rehabilitate their image. And they took full advantage of it.

Speaking to Goh and Gerald Giam of the Worker’s Party, I seemed to get the sense that all is well and dandy within the Opposition. Oh, we’ve never gotten along so swimmingly well, they said. They mentioned as proof about how cross-party talks occur frequently behind the scenes – an uncommon occurence in the past.

Goh added that no singular platform for the Opposition is necessary, and avoiding three-cornered fights is a sufficient form of cooperation. Diversity is good, he said.

But given the similar ideologies and outlook of these political parties, I am surprised more isn’t done to promote common causes between them. Lower ministerial pay, greater civil liberties and political freedom, a stronger social safety net, and greater transparency in governance – these are pillars around which a common platform can arise.

Perhaps a flexible arrangement that takes into account the differences in the factions while spelling out the similarities would work. Putting up a common, broad manifesto would be a good first step. Establishing cross-party research teams to develop alternative policies is a possibility, and so are issuing joint press releases to denounce certain government policies as the situation calls for it.

These small, but workable ideas could help convince a skeptical electorate that the Opposition is worth voting for. When all the streams flow as one river, you hear the deafening rush of water.

Government to blame for Singaporean’s housing woes: Opposition

Government to blame for Singaporean’s housing woes: Opposition

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HDB’s housing policy skewered at townhall meeting between opposition party leaders and ordinary Singaporeans.

By Terence Lee

What Mah Bow Tan would have said

We can be sure the minister would put up a spirited defense for HDB if he was there. Looks like imagination will suffice. Below is a summary of what he probably would have said:

HDB has good reason to resort to market-based pricing.
“A cost-based system means that the same price would be charged for different flats in the same project, regardless of their location, floor, direction, and other attributes. It would be unfair for the buyer of a second-floor unit to be charged the same price as a 40th-floor unit with an unblocked view, because the latter would clearly fetch a much higher resale value.”

HDB’s financial reports show that the housing agency has been losing money.
“Some have contended that with the market-minus pricing, the HDB is making money from Singaporeans. This is quite wrong. Every year, the HDB publishes its audited financial accounts. In these accounts, the HDB’s proceeds from the sale of new flats are shown to be far below what it costs the HDB to build them. Over the last three years, the average loss on the sale and development of HDB flats was about $600 million a year.”

HDB flats are affordable.
“Whichever objective measure we choose, it is clear that there are enough HDB flats within reach of today’s homebuyers. They range from smaller, no-frills flats in non-mature estates to premium flats in mature estates, catering for different aspirations and budgets (see table above). I hope buyers choose carefully, taking into account their budgets and aspirations. Housing affordability is decided not just by the options offered by HDB but also the choices of homebuyers.”

For deeper reading

If you want to understand the issue better.

Pricing flats according to their value. By Mah Bow Tan for Today.

Are HDB flats affordable? By Mah Bow Tan for Today.

Housing minister’s frustratingly incomplete sales job, part 1. By Alex Au for Yawning Bread

Housing minister’s frustratingly incomplete sales job, part 2. By Alex Au for Yawning Bread

HDB Annual Report : Deficit has doubled – really? By Leong Sze Hian for The Online Citizen.

IF THE Housing Development Board (HDB) was a lady, then she must have felt dejected. Opposition party leaders let rip yesterday at the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) for over two hours, with the HDB bearing much of the criticism.

Curious timing indeed, considering how National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan was just recently left out of the ruling party’s Central Executive Committee for obscure reasons.

Exciting theatre might have resulted if he, or at least a Member of Parliament (MP), was there to defend her. But while one MP did express interest in attending, he was “unable to seek clearance”, said Mr Choo Zheng Xi, co-founder of The Online Citizen, the current affairs website that organised the event.

Not to say that the meeting, dubbed the “political event of the year”, wasn’t exciting enough. Turn by turn, opposition leaders lampooned the government in response to a question from the floor on HDB pricing.

More transparency, please

Mr Chiam See Tong (Singapore People’s Party), Dr Chee Soon Juan (Singapore Democratic Party), and Mr Chia Ti Lik (Socialist Front) expressed concern about the apparent lack of transparency in the government outfit’s financial accounting.

“We need to make sure that the HDB remains a zero-profit venture,” said Chee, adding that this can be achieved if they reveal the exact breakdown of development costs for HDB flats.

Chiam, an old stalwart of the opposition force, was more biting in his criticism.

Wary of what he calls “paper subsidies” issued by the government, he illustrated how the HDB prices flats at $3 when it is in fact worth only $1. They then sell the flat to Singaporeans at $2.50, calling that a discount.

“We’ve all been hoodwinked to believe that the govt is helping them with housing but actually they are not,” he warned.

Another common criticism raised by the opposition leaders was the supposed lack of foresight by the HDB, which led to the rapid rise in resale flat prices earlier this year.

Said Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam (Reform Party), who graduated with Double First Class Honours from Cambridge University: “They’ve done a poor job of managing supply. Over the last ten years, house-building has tapered off while population has grown enormously.”

The government’s immigration policy, which saw a massive influx of foreign workers and expatriates into the nation, was a major factor in the population growth, charged Mr Gerald Giam (Worker’s Party).

Offering solutions

In order to mitigate the high costs of flats and make them more affordable for Singaporeans, Giam advocated that these apartments should be fully paid with a 20-year housing loan instead of the usual 30.

“The price of new HDB flats should also be pegged to the median income of Singaporeans rather than price of surrounding flats,” he said.

More solutions were offered by the other political parties, although insufficient time was devoted to explaining these alternatives in great detail. The audience, consequently, were left with little chance to consider whether these policies were half-baked or solid.

Chia, for one, promoted the idea of create a separate category of flats for young couples and needy Singaporeans which has a lower price scale and a shorter lease period which further drives down costs.

Jeyaretnam, on the other hand, saw merit in allowing residents to own their flats indefinitely so that they can enjoy the profits reaped from rising property values. But Mr Goh Meng Seng (National Solidarity Party) does not favour this approach.

“You do not use home as investment; you use your property as an investment,” he said.

In addition, Goh added that couples applying for resale flats should not receive housing grants because such practices inadvertently raise prices by fueling demand.

Implementing something like that though could be tricky, considering how unpopular such a policy might become. But he is undeterred, believing that politicians are responsible for selling difficult measures to the skeptical masses.

Giam agreed that unpopular policies are usually flawed ones.

“The government’s immigration policy was bad, but they had this dogma that they must bulldoze an unpopular policy through Parliament. They did not consider that if many people voice out, then it may be wrong,” he said.

Do share with us whether you agree with the Opposition’s proposals on lowering HDB flat prices.