Friday, February 24, 2006
NKF, HDB, and an Open Letter
Date: 24 February 2006
To: Editor, Singapore Review
From: Mr See Leong Kit
Subject: Be Open on HDB Flat Pricing --- Open Letter to PM Lee
Note for fellow S'poreans:
> Please circulate freely to all interested parties (esp HDB flat buyers/owners comprising some 90% of our population).
> As HDB flats are supposed to be low-cost public housing, S'poreans have every right to know whether they are priced with a "true cash subsidy" or a "cleverly-disguised profit".
The HDB Flat Pricing Issue is all about TRANSPARENCY (i.e. as in the NKF Shameful Scandal).
> If someone makes wild accusations, the PAP Govt will quickly issue a "robust reply" to rebut same.
Read on carefully and judge for yourself why PM Lee did not bother to render HIS response (i.e. choosing to maintain a DEAD SILENCE) despite my following reminder:
" In the absence of your response, our citizen-voters (already fed-up with Minister Mah's constant dodgy replies) will naturally wonder why Singapore's Prime Minister do not seem to have any comment/opinion on an issue that affects some 90% of the population."
Original full text of my Open Letter emailed to PM Lee (which he did not bother to respond):
Date: 21 February 2006
To: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
cc: MND/HDB Minister-IN-CHARGE Mah Bow Tan
MoS/MND Heng Chee How
MND Parl Sec Maliki bin Osman
MND Perm Sec Tan Tee How
DPM Wong Kan Seng
PMO Minister Lim Swee Say
Head of Civil Service & PS/MFA Peter Ho
Ex-Head of Civil Service & PS/MOF Lim Siong Guan
PS/PSD Lim Soo Hoon
HDB Board Members:
Chairman Aline Wong
Dy Chairman Koh Cher Siang
Member David Wong Cheong Fook
Member Edmund Koh Kian Chew
Member Quek Bin Hwee
Member Ravi Menon
Member Halimah Yacob
Member Tan Boon Huat
Member BG Tay Lim Heng
Member/HDB CEO RADM (NS) Lui Tuck Yew
HDB Dy CEO Tan Poh Hong
HDB Dy CEO John Keung
Members of Parliament:
MP Dr Amy Khor (GPC Chairman,Environment/Nat'l Devt)
MP Dr Lily Neo
MP Chiam See Tong
MP Low Thia Khiang
NCMP Steve Chia
From: Mr See Leong Kit [ 58-year old educated/thinking citizen-voter and
whistle-blower (one who MUST speak up,when things are NOT RIGHT) ]
BE OPEN ON HDB FLAT PRICING --- OPEN LETTER TO PM LEE
1 INTRODUCTORY REMARKS
1.1 During my idealistic youth, I was a staunch PAP supporter (just like my illiterate parents) through my unquestioning support and blind loyalty --- being systematically "brain-washed" by the endless flow of "feel-good" propaganda dished out by the PAP-controlled Press/TV Media.
My Greatest Regret --- it has taken me so long (at around age 40) to "see through" the many convoluted/unprofessional political ploys played by the PAP to entrench itself and to "ride roughshod" over the people (in not according rightful respect for their concerns/feedback).
But My Greatest Consolation --- more younger/better-educated/Internet-savvy Singaporeans are able to do so at an early age (in their 20s and 30s).
Over the Internet, their message goes like this:
"We, Singaporeans, Not Stupid! We do not like to be treated like 3-year old kids. Nor have our intelligence insulted by spurious arguments from public officials. We can THINK, READ between the lines and ADD one and one to make five!"
[ Other Internet postings:
> Politicans may fool MOST people MOST of the time.
But they can never fool ALL the people ALL the time.
> TALK IS CHEAP. Politicians must WALK THE TALK
in order to "earn" the respect/trust/credibility of the people.]
[ ST 7 Jan 06 headline: "Coming polls: Voters want leaders to EARN their TRUST."]
[ "People don't vote for a politician for what good things he has done IN THE PAST. People will support the man for what he can do for them GOING FORWARD." --- PAP MP Ong Kian Min (ST 20 May 05) ]
1.2 Is Singapore's PAP Government Really Open?
[ "We are OPEN AND TRANSPARENT...WE CANNOT HIDE what goes on in Singapore" --- MHA Minister Wong Kan Seng (ST 18 May 03) ]
[ "DPM Lee promises a more open Singapore"; "I don't make promises I can't keep: DPM Lee" (ST 7 Jan 04) ]
[ TODAY 13 Aug 04 headline: "The PM for all Singaporeans. Newly-sworn-in PM Lee pledges an 'open and inclusive' Singapore".]
[ TODAY 25 Aug 04 headline: "An Open Society? We'll See. Young Singaporeans sceptical about promised changes."]
[ From Internet posting:
Singapore is a supposedly First-World country, with a supposedly Open Government run by supposedly World-Class million-dollar ministers and supposedly First-Class half-a-million dollar senior bureaucrats.]
(b) What Foreigners Say:
[ "I hope my Singaporean friends can drop their ARROGANCE and the Chinese can let go of their pride"
--- Former Chinese Ambassador to Singapore Chen Baoliu (ST 20 Nov 03).]
[ "Singapore has flourished over the past 40 years, but is a 20th century model adequate for the 21st century?
Remaking its economy is, in a sense, the easy decision. Shaping a political system to reflect the needs and aspirations of its citizens is more difficult and more sensitive.
What are the bounds of expression? What say should citizens have in their government? In this era of Weblogs and Webcams, how much sense does it make to limit political expression?
As part of Singapore's success is its strong international links, it is surprising to find constraints on discussions here.
In my view, governments will pay an increasing price for not allowing full participation of their citizens."
--- Former U.S. Ambassador to Singapore Frank Lavin (ST 17 Oct 05) ]
[ "The use of libel and financial penalties can be a tremendous hindrance to freedom of expression.
When people who express critical views are sued, and sued out of existence by imposing financial penalties, they are prevented from participating in political life.
Obviously, Singapore does NOT qualify as an open society.
Prosperity and an open society have a symbiotic relationship. When a serious problem develops, a society without freedom of expression can't cope.
Singapore is a prosperous society....So I HOPE Singapore will become an open society."
--- U.S. billionaire financier/philanthropist George Soros (11 Jan 06) ]
1.3 What Singaporeans have learned from the NKF Disgraceful Debacle-cum-Shameful Scandal:
(a) From the Internet: "What the NKF saga has proved is that people who win defamation lawsuits may not be innocent and those who lose may not be guilty."
(b) Most quoteworthy Internet posting by a young/educated Singaporean:
"People with INTEGRITY counter accusations with the TRUTH, not lawsuits!"
(c) What Singaporeans at large think about defamation legal threats:
--- a most unbecoming/unprofessional as well as distasteful/disgraceful habit (especially coming from Public Officials).
--- a cunningly-clever way to strike fear and prevent charity-donors [or taxpayer-citizens] from asking rightful questions and seeking rightful answers on how their donated monies [or public funds] are being spent.
(d) [ "Obviously the checks and balances didn't work." --- PM Lee's first comments on the NKF Scandal (CNA 15 Jul 05) ]
Immediate Postings on the Internet:
Wearing his hat as Finance Minister, PM Lee had constantly preached on the importance of Good CORPORATE Governance and the need for "checks and balances"; "transparency and accountability"; "level playing field" (under Competition Act) and encouraging "whistle-blowers" (to expose corporate fraud/wrong-doing).
BUT wearing his hat as PRIME MINISTER, WHEN is PM Lee going to DO SOMETHING about the long-overdue/much-needed similar "checks and balances", etc,etc, to promote Good POLITICAL Governance ???
WHY the double standards between Corporate and Political Governance?
[ ".....we can always do BETTER if we try HARDER. We ALWAYS MUST try HARDER. Don't just do NATO (No Action,Talk Only)....."
--- PM Lee Hsien Loong (5 May 05 CNA "Up Close" programme) ]
......In 1997, he slammed the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) for its election practice of linking votes to upgrading of HDB estates.
"Voters are supposed to vote without fear and favour, and now we have a situation where both elements are in", he said sharply in an interview with Insight then.
In January 2001, Dr Balakrishnan found himself at lunch in the Istana with then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, who asked him to join the PAP.
Muses Dr Balakrishnan: "I've never forgotten what he told me, that 'if you join us, don't compromise and lose your values because if you do, you lose your value to us'."
He meets head-on the accusations that in the last four years, he has capitulated too quickly, too much --- and had essentially become a PAP yes-man.
So what alternative views has he expressed to the Government? He declines to go into it, saying "it's wrong for me to now publicly criticise".
ST reporter Li Xueying: "Some people have drawn parallels between the NKF and the Government, namely the use and justification of high salaries to draw talents, the use of libel suits to silence critics and the political patronage."
Dr Balakrishnan: "Those are opposition politicians trying to grasp at straws, but let me take it on.
Do I believe in paying people what they're worth? That's a principle which we still are for. Who decides how much you earn? In the case of Government, it's TRANSPARENT. We're not secretly being paid or collecting things. It's the INTEGRITY of the system. THAT'S INTACT.
TRANSPARENCY --- is there any fact being suppressed simply because we're embarrassed about it or because it cannot withstand public scrutiny? NO.
In even the so-called things which people are concerned about --- Temasek or the GIC --- there are good national financial reasons for certain amount of discretion in what is put out in the public domain. After all, this is to protect our own reserves and our own fiscal situation."
2 PRICING OF HDB FLATS --- AN ISSUE OF TRANSPARENCY
2.1 Many of Singapore's national/social problems (eg insufficient job creation; rich-poor income gap; rising divorce rates; procreation problem; younger/educated/disillusioned S'poreans emigrating; etc) can be traced back to these two fundamental causes:
(i) For COMPANIES/BUSINESSES (creating jobs for the people), the HIGH COST of doing business here
(ii) For our PEOPLE, the HIGH COST of living
WHO SAYS S'poreans must "pay through their noses" for good Government, a roof over their heads, a decent education for their children and a decent quality of life?
And WHO SAYS S'poreans must tolerate (ie suffer in silence) our high cost of living in order to enjoy a high standard of living?
[ Australia has a high standard of living, but its cost of living is nowhere as ridiculous as Singapore's! ]
2.2 The various/numerous taxes and dues S'poreans have to "Pay And Pay" include:
income tax; property tax; ad-valorem stamp duty on property purchases;
GST, COE, ERP, maid levy;
transport fares and varsity fees going up and up; etc, etc.
[ From the Internet --- With apologies to Sir Winston Churchill, never in the history of Mankind has so Many Singaporeans been Milked for so much Monies over so Many years by the PAP Government! ]
Million-Dollar Question --- To run a tiny red dot island, WHY do the PAP Government have "to milk so much monies from the people" ???
Final Correct Answer:
(i) to pay for the humongous remunerations/perks of our Ceremonial Presidency, Bloated Cabinet and Bulging Bloated Bureaucracy.
(ii) to provide an abundant/cheap source of funds for GIC, Temasek and other Government-linked business entities.
(iii) to pay for GIANT ELECTION CARROTS to seduce the people for their votes --- as in "pork-barrel politics" (using taxpayer's monies for political advantage) and "election gerrymandering" (fiddling with electoral boundaries for political advantage).
2.3 Irrefutable Facts on HDB Home Ownership In Singapore:
Singapore's private home prices are "obscenely-high" while HDB flat prices are "sky-high".
For most S'poreans, a home is the most expensive purchase they will make in their lifetimes.
Some 90% of our population live in HDB flats --- representing the less-well-off who cannot afford private property.
Despite our high home prices, few buyers "feel the pinch" immediately because up to 90% of the cost can be financed by long-term debt (over 20 -30 years).
Thus, many do not give a second thought to the fact if they borrow, say, $100,000 under a 20-year home loan, they could ultimately cough up some $200,000 in total capital and interest repayments.
If prices of cars reach intolerable levels [at one time, COE nearly hit $100,000!], we can at least forego owning a car and fall back on public transport.
However, to encourage young S'poreans not to delay marriage and have more children [solution to our Procreation Problem!], they need a roof over their heads! IT IS AS SIMPLE AS THAT !!!
BUT if a young couple in Singapore have to "sink so much monies" into their "brick and cement" HDB flat, how much monies will there be left to raise a family and sent the children to school/university (not to mention providing for their own healthcare/retirement needs in their golden years) ???
2.4 Timeline on the HDB Flat Pricing Issue:
(a) 23 Jan 2002 ST Forum letter "Govt should be open about true costs" by Wendy Lee Wan Fern, on the building costs and pricing of new HDB flats.
(b) 27 Aug 2003 TODAY letter "So, what's the true cost of an HDB flat?" by See Leong Kit:
" The impending CPF cuts raise two issues of concern for Singaporeans who use their CPF savings to finance their home purchases.
First, the affordability of public housing should be examined. National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan "promised" in Parliament that HDB flats will be kept "affordable" but did not elaborate.
What is the true cost of --- and what is the Government subsidy for --- an HDB flat? Singaporeans have the right to know how the flats are priced.
I urge Mr Mah to follow the example of Acting Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan in his move to publicise healthcare costs to help patients make informed choices. "
(c) 12 Jul 2004 ST Forum letter "How does HDB price its flats?" by Douglas Chow Tuck Kheong.
27 Jul 2004 ST Forum letter "Subsidy should be based on flat's building cost" by Mohamed Rafiq Hamjah.
11 Aug 2004 ST Forum letter "Flat buyers pay more than cost unless resale prices take a sharp dip" by Ee Teck Siew.
Mr Douglas Chow had "discovered" from ST reports that Chip Eng Seng Contractors had in 2000 built 824 flats in Bukit Batok for the tendered sum of $39.78 million, and would be completing in 2004 another 456 flats for $23 million.
That works out at around $50,000 construction cost per flat (in both cases). He then rightly asked why these new 4/5 room HDB flats are priced upwards of $200,000?
[ Following the above letters, there were considerable angry reactions on various Internet websites over the PAP Government's recalcitrant "lack of transparency" on the HDB Flat Pricing issue.]
(d) 1 Dec 2005 TODAY letter "Transparency begins at home. How does HDB derive flat prices? What are the costs?" by See Leong Kit.
2 Dec 2005 TODAY letter "How does HDB manage its finances?" by Gary Lee.
> For (b) above, although specifically asked to, Minister Mah Bow Tan did not bother to furnish a public reply i.e. he chose to maintain an arrogant/disrespectful DEAD SILENCE to an issue affecting some 90% of our population.
> For (a),(c),(d), the HDB had dodged the issue ALL THESE YEARS with its standard exasperating "wishy-washy/mumbo-jumbo/fuzzy-wuzzy" reply that a "market subsidy" is provided for new HDB flats to make it "affordable".
The same reply was regurgitated by Minister Mah in Parliament as follows:
[ Reproduced from Singapore Parliament website ]
Parliament No: 10 Session No: 1 Sitting Date: 2004-09-01
Title: Affordability-Based Scheme for HDB Flats
Mr Steve Chia Kiah Hong asked the Minister for National Development:
--- what is the basis and rationale for the Government to choose an affordability-based pricing scheme for HDB flats instead of a cost-based pricing system
--- whether this affordability-based scheme is taking more money than necessary from the people's savings than for other needs like children's education, medical care and retirement
--- whether this affordability-based scheme is turning previously well-affordable HDB flats into a backbreaking financial burden for those hard hit by the economic restructuring and who cannot find jobs with the matching pay.
Mr Mah Bow Tan:
The Government has committed that the majority of Singaporeans would be able to afford a basic HDB flat. Affordability is therefore the key consideration in pricing HDB flats. All HDB flats come with a market subsidy, i.e. they are priced below their equivalent market value.
Last year, 3- and 4-room HDB flat buyers used, on average, less than 20% of their monthly income to service their monthly loans. It is well within the 40% guideline used by financial institutions in credit assessment. It is also lower than international benchmarks of household expenditure on housing, which is typically around 25% or 30% of household income. This clearly shows that HDB flats remain affordable to Singaporeans.
We have consistently adopted an affordability-based pricing system. This has enabled more than 80% of Singaporeans to own their HDB flat.
Compelling Rebuttals to Minister Mah's statements:
(i) Previously, HDB flats were said to be "heavily subsidized".
In recent years, Minister Mah had cleverly switched to "market subsidy" --- perhaps realising that younger/educated/not-so-gullible S'poreans are "smelling a rat" in the pricing of HDB flats?
(ii) "Affordability" is often a relative/subjective thing.
Example: A Mercedes car priced at $250,000 is certainly "affordable" to Million-Dollar Minister Mah but definitely "not affordable" to the 400,000 S'poreans earning less than $1,500 per month!
As Minister Mah himself admitted, the 40% is just a "guideline" (general yardstick) used by banks to assess home loan instalment repayments.
Does he not know the "primary security" for the lending banks lie in the "legal mortgage" on the property???
(iii) See how Minister Mah (and other PAP politicians) like to constantly boast that "80% of Singaporeans own their HDB flat".
BUT notice how they cleverly avoid mentioning how many of the HDB flats still have outstanding mortgage loans, the amount outstanding and the remaining duration of the loans ???
2.5 Comparison between the "cost-based" and HDB "market subsidy" flat pricing approach :
(a) First, the logical "cost-based" approach used by Private Developers to price their condo flats:
Selling Price = Construction Cost + Land Cost + Other Related Costs + Profit Margin.
The profit margin is for the Private Developer assuming business risks, and generally range from a few per cent to say 20% (depending on market conditions and competition).
[ Note: HDB should be adopting such a "cost-based" approach but without the profit element --- since HDB is supposed to be a "not-for-profit" Developer of low-cost mass public housing.
(So that, through its large-scale developments, it can reap the "economies of scale" and pass on the "substantial cost savings" to HDB flatbuyers!) ]
>> Consider the example of a 5-room HDB NEW flat,
with a tendered construction cost of $50,000 [as verified in 2.4(c)]
but selling price set by the HDB at $200,000
[ Note: It is a GRAVE INSULT to the intelligence of S'poreans for the HDB to argue that the hugh balance of $150,000 is accounted for by Land Cost & Other Related Costs (eg piling works; consultancy/project management fees; financing/marketing/legal/misc costs).
Nowadays, HDB flats are built HIGHER and CLOSER TOGETHER i.e. with MANY flats cramped into a SMALL PLOT of land --- so the PER UNIT share of Land Cost & Other Related Costs cannot be so high at $150,000.
Let's estimate it at, say, around $70,000.]
>> So, Total Break-even Cost of the 5-rm new flat
= $50,000 (Construction Cost) plus $70,000 (Land Cost & Other Related Costs)
= $120,000 (which the HDB should set as the Selling Price --- if it genuinely want to help S'poreans in home ownership)
(i) If the Total Break-even Cost of a new flat is $120,000 and the HDB sells it for $100,000, then it is granting a "true cash subsidy" of $20,000 to the buyer.
(ii) Alternatively, if the HDB sells it for $120,000 (Total Break-even Cost), there is no such subsidy to the buyer ( but he will AT LEAST benefit from buying the flat at the LOWEST POSSIBLE COST! )
(b) Coming to the HDB's "market subsidy" flat pricing approach:
Minister Mah is trying to tell a young Singapore couple planning to have 3 children and wanting to buy a 5-rm HDB flat as follows:
Hey fellas, you have only the following two choices (so take it or leave it):
--- Apply for a NEW 5-rm flat, but be prepared to wait a few years (at one time, as long as 7 years! )
--- If you cannot wait, then go and buy a RESALE 5-rm flat at the (higher) prevailing market price.
We, the PAP Govt, like to proudly proclaim that buyers of new HDB flats get a "market subsidy" --- which is provided "by pricing NEW flats below the market price of comparable RESALE flats."
So, the HDB will look at the prevailing market price (say, $260,000) of a RESALE 5-rm flat --- and then "pluck from the air" the lower figure of, say, $200,000 as the selling price of a NEW 5-rm flat (NEVER MIND if its actual Total Break-even Cost is only $120,000 !!! ).
You, Singaporeans are "so damn lucky" and should not "moan and groan" --- the PAP Govt is giving you a "market subsidy" of $60,000, right???
And that's why you must vote for the PAP for another 40 years of MORE GOOD YEARS !!!
IMPORTANT CONCLUSIONS FOR ALL HDB FLAT BUYERS:
(i) The HDB "market subsidy" is thus really a "fake non-cash subsidy" --- as compared to a "true cash subsidy" [ mentioned in 2.5(a)(i) ]
By selling a new 5-rm flat (with Total Break-even Cost at $120,000)
for $200,000, there is actually NO "true cash subsidy" at all
AND the HDB is actually raking in a WHOPPING PROFIT of $80,000 PER FLAT SOLD !!!
[ Is this yet another ingenious way to milk more monies out of the people? ]
(ii) The HDB "market subsidy" flat pricing approach had actually resulted in both NEW FLAT prices and RESALE FLAT prices "chasing each other in an upward spiral" --- that is painfully disadvantageous to buyers of both new and resale flats !!!
2.6 HDB Flat Pricing --- Show Us The Numbers:
See how, recently in Parliament on 13 Feb 06, Minister Mah (ONLY WHEN IT SUITS HIM) was able to provide detailed facts/figures pertaining to the HDB Racial Quota Policy?
And amazingly, from the following two quotations, see how Minister Mah had also proudly preached about being "open and transparent" in tackling Bird Flu (but NOT in HDB Flat Pricing ???)
and being "professional" in football (but NOT so in furnishing to the people the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth behind HDB Flat Pricing ???).
[ "....It is better to be a bit kiasu and over-react rather than under-react, because you never know what surprises await you --- a lesson learnt from the SARS outbreak.
The other lesson is that it is better to be OPEN AND TRANSPARENT, and TELL PEOPLE WHAT'S GOING ON , whether good or bad, so that they will be BETTER PREPARED...." --- MND Minister Mah Bow Tan (ST 2 Feb 04) ]
[ "I urge all of you involved in football in Singapore to remember that it is in your own interest to make sure that players behave PROFESSIONALLY at all times and do not do anything to bring the game into disrepute." --- Former FAS President Mah Bow Tan (ST 19 Feb 02) ]
3 CONCLUDING REMARKS
3.1 Difference between a Truly Competent/Caring Government and a Dud Government:
(a) A Truly Competent/Caring Government is one that will do its utmost to SERVE THE PEOPLE through keeping the COST OF LIVING at sensible levels by providing basic social services --- such as housing, education, transport, healthcare, security --- at lowest-possible and cost-efficient prices/charges.
(b) A Dud Government (which will do Singapore in) is one that will think of many ingenious ways to "milk as much of the people's hard-earned monies as possible"
--- such as "do HDB flatbuyers in" through pricing supposedly low-cost public housing at a cleverly-disguised profit using the clever semantics of "market subsidy".
[Origin of the PAP-coined phrase "a Dud Government that will do Singapore in":
At every Singapore General Election, there will be scare-mongering politicians warning voters ( with silly/childish threats like "time bombs" which grossly insult the people's intelligence) that if they vote for the Opposition, they will be voting in "a Dud Government that will do Singapore in". ]
3.2 [ "And we must invest in our young, who are the hope for our future. This will strengthen our bonds, and assure every Singaporean of a brighter future, as we create OUR BEST HOME IN SINGAPORE."
--- PM Lee Hsien Loong 2006 Budget Speech 17 Feb 06 ]
PM Lee, the whole world knows about the notorious/overly--kiasu insistence by PAP politicians on their "right of reply".
I will thus be fair and professional in according you such right of reply to this Open Letter.
Please do so within our PS21 Civil Service 3-working day Response Directive i.e. by 5 pm Thursday 23 Feb 06.
More specifically, Singaporean voters will be most interested in your replies to the following rightful questions:
(i) WHY is the PAP Government not genuinely helping HDB flat-buyers by passing on to them the cost-savings from economies of scale in massive HDB developments through pricing the flats on a cost-recovery "break-even" basis?
(ii) Are HDB new flats priced with a "true cash subsidy"?
If the answer is NO, say so directly and openly.
If the answer is YES, convince the people with detailed facts/figures and indicate the amount of the "true cash subsidy".
[ ST 8 Dec 05 front-page headline: "Allegations of Rampant Maid Abuse. Govt counters rights group's claims with figures."
STForum 21 Dec 05 reply: "Govt had to set record straight on maid abuse" by Jean Tan, Press Secretary to Minister for Manpower. ]
3.3 Thereafter, (in keeping with your promise of an "open and inclusive" Singapore), I will proceed to download over the Internet this Open Letter and Your Reply so as to "openly include" the 90% of our population who are directly affected by this important HDB Flat Pricing Issue.
PM Lee, this is indeed a golden opportunity (ahead of the coming General Elections) for you to live up to what you preach/promise and demonstrate the requisite political leadership needed to "earn" the votes of the people.
In the absence of your response, our citizen-voters (already fed-up with Minister Mah's constant dodgy replies) will naturally wonder why Singapore's Prime Minister do not seem to have any comment/opinion on an issue that affects some 90% of the population.
Other Irrefutable Statements:
(a) Citizen-voters have EVERY RIGHT to ask QUESTIONS of Politicians (as Public SERVANTS). And it is a Politician's BOUNDEN DUTY to provide truthful/proper ANSWERS.
(b) HDB flats are developed using public funds --- so Singaporeans have EVERY RIGHT to know exactly how HDB flats are actually priced.
(c) ANY Public SERVANT (i.e. politician or bureaucrat) who choose to maintain a DEAD SILENCE to questions/issues raised by the people is guilty of a brazen act of arrogant disrespect towards the very same people who are actually paying various taxes/dues towards his public-funded remuneration.
Most Quoteworthy Statement on Unresponsive PUBLIC SERVANTS:
"The Four Monkeys of Unresponsiveness --- SEE Nothing, HEAR Nothing, SAY Nothing, DO Nothing"
--- title of 2002 "pep-talk" speech by Permanent Secretary Lim Siong Guan
( who, as Head of Civil Service, did precious little to curb our Bulging Bloated Bureaucracy. He had also allowed civil servants [ including himself !!! ] in dealing with public feedback to get away with either maintaining Dead Silence or issuing exasperating "half-answer or non-answer" public replies that insult the intelligence of educated/thinking Singaporeans.)
Other Notable HDB Fiascos (Under Minister-IN-CHARGE Mah Bow Tan)
(1) 2002 HDB Hub Overboard Extravagance Fiasco:
> In June 2002, HDB moved to its spanking-new $380 million HDB Hub from its still-new Bukit Merah premises.
1st Screw-Up --- WHY was the HDB Hub's "very prime site" (directly above Toa Payoh MRT Station) allocated to a Government building and not tendered out to Private Sector Developers(with deep pockets) to reap handsome revenue for the State coffers ???
2nd Screw-Up --- Most Shocking Revelation: Apparently NOBODY in MND/HDB had given a thought on WHAT TO DO with the vacated Bukit Merah premises !!!
[ As a result, the Bukit Merah premises were left vacant for some 18 months, incurring an opportunity cost in lost rental estimated at $1 million per month!
And what about the wasteful expenses incurred in first moving some 8,000 HDB staff from Bukit Merah to HDB Hub, and subsequently "moving back" some 2,000 (as HDB Corp staff) to Bukit Merah? ]
3rd Screw-Up --- What "posh extravagance" [like a 5-star hotel lobby] for the HDB Sales Office at HDB Hub:
Plush fabric sofas instead of durable moulded plastic chairs.
Polished granite floors (slippery) instead of heavy-duty ceramic tiles.
Large expensive Plasma TV screens instead of cheaper alternatives.
> Pertinent Questions:
WHO pays for such SINFUL EXTRAVAGANCE and WASTEFUL SPENDING of public funds but OUR PEOPLE (already burdened with our high cost of living and paying numerous taxes and dues)?
A Business Times reader also rightly asked: "Have these well-paid and pampered bureaucrats no sense of shame?"
MOST IMPORTANTLY --- Instead of "throwing public monies to the wind", why not lower prices of HDB flats TO DIRECTLY BENEFIT OUR PEOPLE ???
(2) 2003 HDB Overly-Generous $220 million Retrenchment Payout Fiasco:
> Under Minister-IN-CHARGE Mah Bow Tan, the HDB had grew unchecked into a 8,000 staff organisation with a $500 million annual wage bill (or $55,000 per person --- pointing to many over-paid "fat cats" !!! )
In July 2003, it then went overboard with its stupidly and overly-generous $220 million retrenchment payout to let go 2,630 staff (or $84,000 per person !!! ) --- pointing to an inexperienced/panicky/botched-up handling of its first major retrenchment exercise.
Human Resource practitioners in the private sector were rightly shocked at the humongous payout !!!
Again, WHO pays for all these MINDBOGGLING SUMS OF MONEY but OUR PEOPLE ???
> Of the 2,630 staff, about one-third (some 900) were really "leaving" the HDB, with the remaining two-thirds actually "transferred" to HDB Corp (a new subsidiary of HDB).
WHY were the latter HDB staff ( who should be very thankful they still have a job at HDB Corp! ) also given retenchment payouts? [ Giving such benefits to "transferred staff" is unheard of in the private sector !!! ]
And WHY was there no 25-year cap on the retrenchment payouts (as is the standard practice in the private sector)?
Most ironically, there was a 25-year cap applied to the earlier (Feb 2003) PSA Retrenchment Exercise! (A clear-cut case of left hand not knowing what right hand was doing !!!)
Without the 25-year cap, some HDB staff apparently received nearly half a million dollars in retrenchment benefits --- thus "laughing all the way" to the bank and "profusely thanking" Minister Mah Bow Tan!
[ Why Worry? After all, it's just the People's Money, lah!
And $500,000 must be really "peanuts" compared to our world-infamous and handsomely-humongous million-dollar ministerial salaries! ]
For sure, retrenchment benefits are meant as compensation for being laid off, and certainly NOT A TOTO-LIKE WINDFALL !!!
WHY such "special" treatment for civil servants (at taxpayers' expense) ???
[ Do not forget the 26,000 retrenched S'poreans in 2001 (and 19,000 in 2002) were all private sector employees! ]
(3) 2003 Marine Terrace Upgrading Delay Fiasco:
> Not one but three contractors in succession abandon work (pointing to sloppy monitoring/supervision of the project by HDB staff).
> From ST Forum 10 Jun 03 write-up "Marine Terrace: A Brush-Off":
" The offhand way with which National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan dismissed the plight of the Marine Terrace residents left stranded by the delayed upgrading work is a big disappointment, write three Forum readers.
After putting up with filth, debris, diversions, noise, stench, crippled lifts, mosquitoes and rats, they expect some sympathy. But it seems that topmost on the Minister's mind was the issue of compensation --- not how quickly the works can be rectified."
[ Adding insult to injury, Minister Mah had even accused the residents of telling "half-truths" !!! ]
> Then HDB CEO Ngiam Chiang Meng also did not dare show his handsome/moustached face to apologise to the residents until the very last minute.
( How "Uniquely Singapore" --- after screwing up at HDB, this obviously "mollycoddled" bureaucrat was subsequently "promoted" to MCYS Permanent Secretary [ to screw up further at MCYS, which deals with pressing social issues??? ]