Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Debate as HDB spreads its wings

(SINGAPORE) The amendment in the bill was a minute one, but it provoked two Members of Parliament enough to raise concerns about the government's proposal to allow the Housing and Development Board to expand its services overseas.

Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Lee Bee Wah was worried that the statutory board would 'lose sight of its original mandate' of looking after Singaporeans and building communities, but National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan was quick to quell her fears.

Earlier, the minister had tabled an amendment to the Housing and Development Act to allow HDB to provide 'much sought-after technical and consultancy services' both locally and abroad on matters within its expertise. '(This) would allow HDB to act as the government's agent to service requests to share its expertise in public housing development both within and outside of Singapore. HDB will also be able to develop, sell and acquire intellectual property rights on a commercial basis,' Mr Mah told the House.

In response, Ms Lee asked if, by doing so, HDB would open a pandora's box as other government agencies could follow suit and venture overseas in order to make huge profits for themselves. Cynthia Phua (Aljunied GRC) was the other MP who sought clarification from the minister.

Mr Mah said he was in no doubt that HDB's work locally would not be affected by this move. 'I'm very clear that is our primary responsibility, the main responsibility, is that HDB must do its work in Singapore. That's the reason why we have hived off Surbana to allow it to do its work outside,' he said.

Surbana Corp, formerly the HDB's building and development division, was corporatised to become HDBCorp and then re-branded as its current name in 2005.

Mr Mah explained that, from time to time, Singapore receives requests from other governments asking it to do some consultancy work in their country. It accepts these requests to share its success stories and generate 'a reservoir of goodwill' with others.

He cited the Tianjin Eco-city project, a partnership between Singapore and China to develop the modern township. 'Within this township, one aspect we are talking about is the provision of a good public housing system, and this is where HDB's expertise and consultancy services are required,' said Mr Mah.

'It's not so much in the planning of the town itself. It's about sharing the policies - rental, home ownership, financial - that have worked for us, and those that have not worked so well.'

Mr Mah added that HDB has plans to work with local companies, especially small and medium-sized firms, on specific technical and consultancy services such as the concept of green buildings.

'This provision enables HDB to do such work. It's not going to be a big money-spinner for us,' said Mr Mah.

Source: Business Times, 20 Jul 2010

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