MINISTRY of Law’s rebuttal (“No conflict of interest”, April 23) attempts to dismiss lightly Ms Florence Tan’s comments in an earlier Voices letter of a perceived conflict of interest when Collective Sale Committee (CSC) members are also on a private estate’s management committee (MC).
It is surprising, and not a little disappointing, for an official reply published for public information to be so riddled with controversial if not confusing statements.
Not just once accidentally, but three times in the last three paragraphs of its letter, MinLaw expatiates on the supposed rights of residents, whereas in reality they have almost no say, unless they are also unit owners, or subsidiary proprietors as they are termed.
Is MinLaw really unaware that there could be, and in fact there are, many residents who are no more than mere tenants with few rights except that of occupation of the unit for which they pay rent?
By no stretch of imagination, or for that matter, law, (and here I stand open to correction by MinLaw) are they in the position to “elect, remove en bloc sale committee members” etc, which MinLaw so easily suggests.
MinLaw opines that “separating the members of an MC and SC may not be very practical for smaller estates if insufficient persons come forward to form two separate committees”. It fails to define, even broadly, where the line of demarcation between “smaller” and “not smaller” starts, and/or ends.
EXTENT OF POSSIBLE CONFLICT
The (experienced) managing agent of the estate where I live in informed me that under the Land Titles (Strata) Act, just one person can in fact make up the MC, while the CSC needs to have a minimum of three.
In this scenario, does MinLaw seriously contend that there is not even one committed individual in any private estate who is uninterested in what happens in a property into which one’s life savings would probably have been sunk?
If so, it says a lot about the apathy commonly attributed to Singaporeans, who generally are kiasu otherwise.
Instead of pooh-poohing Ms Tan’s fears and reservations as groundless, MinLaw should look more seriously into the extent of a conflict of interest which could, and in fact does, arise when a private estate’s MC is dominated by those who are also on its CSC, with diametrically opposing objectives – one entrusted with maintaining the estate in good order, and the other the avowed objective of selling it for eventual demolishment.
Surely, when the stakes could run into hundreds of millions of dollars, it would be naive to believe that a conflict of interest does not exist, as MinLaw tries to convince in its rejection of Ms Tan’s reservations and fears.
Perhaps it would not be out of place here to record my own personal experiences on this issue.
My family and I moved into a private estate with over 250 units almost 13 years ago. At our first AGM, I was elected to the MC, and for the succeeding 10 years, served as either secretary or treasurer (in fact, one year as both simultaneously).
Due to a lack of the necessary quorum, almost no AGM ever started promptly at the scheduled time, from which can be gauged the practical difficulty in getting people to serve as (honorary) members on an MC.
Nevertheless, it was never really difficult to get a group of us to stand in the common interest.
However, changes made in Land Titles (Strata) Act rules from October 2007 altered this scenario radically, when a group looking to engineer an en bloc sale of our estate moved in to oust (successfully) everyone in the previous MC (except one who was also in favour) and taking absolute control.
Their elected and still-serving chairman is a property agent, and he also sits on the CSC, which was quickly formed.
But at the end of the first year, less than 50 per cent of residents have signed the collective sale agreement, with the mandate lapsing. This did not deter the group from seeking and obtaining a fresh (on-going) mandate immediately.
That was almost six months ago, and apparently the CSC has met only once in the interim, with anxious unit owners totally in the dark as to what progress has been made.
Apparently, there is no provision in the present rules to compel the CSC to provide periodical “progress reports” to be made known to affected subsidiary proprietors.
Why not indeed, when a half-billion dollars could be involved, and with that current buzzword of “transparency” being so freely bandied around everywhere?
RESERVATIONS ARE REAL
Against such a background, Ms Tan’s reservations on the propriety of such a perceptible conflict of interest seem real and more than valid.
MinLaw’s summary dismissal of the issue in its letter, with all the flaws outlined above, is unlikely to satisfy subsidiary proprietors who are strongly opposed to the sale of their homes, with the resultant upheaval in their lifestyles, if not lives as well, and who prefer to stay rooted in Singapore.
To sum up, within just months of the October 2007 amendments, another publication ran an article wherein a MinLaw spokeswoman was quoted as candidly admitting: “Since the amended Land Titles (Strata) Act came into effect, we have received feedback mainly from affected (read ‘aggrieved’) owners to make the collective sale process even more rigorous by introducing more safeguards.” Thus, by MinLaw’s own admission, there are flaws in the current Land Titles (Strata) Act.
That was well over two years ago, and perhaps MinLaw could at least now take steps to make suitable amendments to set matters right, instead of trying to argue that everything is well.
It is unlikely that the defensive arguments advanced by MinLaw will find acceptance among most subsidiary proprietors. They are more likely to go along with the reservations voiced by Ms Tan, which it has tried to shoot down.
Source: Today, 24 Apr 2010
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