THE current contentious issue on the affordability of public housing was given another airing by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew who cautioned Singaporeans not to cast a protest vote against the ruling party over this.
As Singaporeans lament rising flat prices, he said they ought to understand that the Government sells them at a subsidised price, below market rate, so that they can own an asset that will appreciate in value over the years.
It adds to their wealth and this is an asset-enhancing policy Mr Lee believes citizens should not find fault with.
If they do, they must be ‘daft’, he said, at a dialogue during a housing conference as part of a series of events to mark the Housing and Development Board’s 50th anniversary.
And if National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan is unable to defend this policy, ‘he deserves to lose’ at the next general election, he quipped, to laughter from the participants, including a chuckling Mr Mah.
But if Mr Mah loses to the opposition, he warned that Singaporeans better sell their flats fast as they would no longer be of any value.
Mr Lee’s blunt remarks were in response to a question by dialogue moderator Tommy Koh, who pulled out a Straits Times report which said at least three opposition parties are keen to contest Tampines GRC, which Mr Mah helms, as they want to raise the affordability of public housing as an election issue to gain votes.
‘It will always be an issue,’ noted Mr Lee. ‘They always want it cheaper and better.’
The Government, he said, has to price the flats at a level which is fair, not only to current buyers but past and future buyers, as it will affect property prices.
He went on to explain why the Government had put in place a five-year limit before people can sell their new flat, saying it was to prevent speculation in the property market.
‘Because the moment you buy a flat, you can sell it to make a profit,’ he said.
‘We are giving you something more valuable than you’re paying for. So we say you cannot sell it for five years.’
This philosophy of giving citizens an asset that will grow in value and give them a stake in the country was a recurring message in the 60-minute dialogue.
Asked why the Government placed such emphasis on housing the population in the early days after Singapore gained self-rule in 1959, Mr Lee, who was the Republic’s first prime minister, said:
‘We decided from the very beginning, everybody must have a home, every family will have something to defend. And that home, we developed over the years into the most valuable asset.’
It was also about giving people a clean place to live, as living conditions then were squalid and overcrowded.
To a question from Hong Kong’s Secretary for Transport and Housing, Ms Eva Cheng, on letting the private sector play a bigger role, he said they cannot take over the housing responsibility.
‘We give them land, they build, and they sell it below market price? Cannot be done,’ he said.
‘We give our buyer an asset which is below market price the moment he buys it. So there is no profit, it’s a loss, but there’s a strategy behind that loss.
‘That loss is to give the man an asset which he will value, which will grow in price as the country develops, as his surroundings become better.’
He added: ‘This is a social responsibility which we have undertaken and that’s the reason why we are re-elected.’
Referring to the three opposition parties that are targeting Mr Mah, he said: ‘If Mr Mah is not re-elected and these three wise men take over, then I say you better sell and get out quickly.’
Source: Straits Times, 28 Jan 2010