Archive for December, 2009

PM on cost concerns, rising expectations

December 27, 2009

Dear PM Lee,

I refer to the comments you made at the PAP annual convention as reported by Straits Times on 2 Nov 2009.

You said that cost of living is not higher compared to a year ago. But according to HDB figures, flat prices have jumped by 30% over the last three years and many resale flats, even those in far flung outskirts have easily gone up by $100,000. So how can you say that cost of living is the same? How can you brush aside the increased burden of housing weighing on the people?

Please do not let air-conditioning detract from the fact that housing costs have increased dramatically. Even the Buddhist monk needs a temple to stay in. Likewise, the people need roofs over their heads much like they need to eat rice.

On what basis do you say HDB flats are affordable? Not everyone earns multi-million dollar salaries like you do you know? In a letter to the forum dated 12 Sep 2009, HDB revealed that applicants for 3-room flats have a median household income of only $2000. If this $2000 is shared amongst a family comprising two adults and two children, each will get a measely $500 for basic sustenance. What left over money will they have to pay for the HDB monthly instalment of $460, let alone to save for old age?

The 20% discount that the government gives is not even enough to make up for the more than 30% increase in flat prices over the last three years so the people still end up paying more to the government despite government discounts.

Therefore contrary to what you said, what we ask is not there. We ask for stable flat prices much like we ask for stable price of rice. It is not that we forget what we have received, it is you who must understand that we are paying more than what you are giving us.

Be prouder of this great little red dot

December 26, 2009

I refer to the letter by Sam Ahmed published by the Straits Times on 7 Nov 2009.

Sam said that although he has lived in Sydney, Paris and Tokyo, he has never felt more intimate with any of them than he has with Singapore. He sounds like the man who has had many lovers before but who professes to feel most intimate with his latest conquest.

He is not happy that Singaporeans do not share his “passion” for Singapore and he blames them for losing the big picture which is that Singapore has come a long way from a backwater trading post. He takes issue with taxi drivers for their incessant complains and graduates for talking about moving to Spain or Italy.

It is Sam however, who does not see the big picture, for he has come to narrowly focus on the good life that he enjoys in Singapore while ignoring the sufferings of the less fortunate. Unless, Sam gives up his cushy life and takes on the hardships that the taxi driver endures day in day out, he has no right to criticise taxi drivers for their complains. The long way Singapore has come is down a slippery road of widening income gap where the poor gets poorer while the rich gets richer. Sam may feel the “passion” while the going is good now but will he continue to feel the “passion” if he were reduced to driving a taxi some day?

If only Sam’s “passion” for the history of Singapore is as strong as his “passion” for the good life he enjoys here, he will realise that Singapore was already a major international port of call back in the colonial days and not some backwater trading post.

Many graduates choose to leave this country not because of lack of love for the country, but because the country doesn’t love them as much as it loves foreigners like Sam.

All first world cities offer safe, ecologically aware, advanced technology, excellent transportation and infrastructure and a thriving arts scene. If these are what Sam sees as criteria for “passion” for a country, then Sam’s criteria is indeed shallow. For true “passion” endures even if this land were reduced to mere mud and soil.

Sam ends by asking why Singaporeans can’t see what foreigners all over the world can see. It is not that Singaporeans can’t see. Many of them can only see but can never taste the good life that Sam enjoys.

Singapore a top choice for migrants

December 26, 2009

I refer to the Straits Times report dated 5 Nov 2009.

It was reported that Singapore is a top choice for migrants because Singapore came up tops in its potential net population gain index (PNMI) which is defined as:

Those who wish to immigrate – Those who wish to emigrate


However, a top score for PNMI doesn’t mean that the country is a top choice for migrants, hence the title of the article is misleading.

As an example, suppose Country A has 10 persons of which 5 wants to emigrate while Country B has 20 persons of which 10 wants to emigrate, so the proportion of the population who wants to emigrate is the same for both countries. Suppose too there are 12 persons who wants to immigrate to either country so the attractiveness of both countries to potential immigrants are the same.

Country A’s PNMI = (12 – 5) / 10 = 0.7

Country B’s PNMI = (12 – 10) / 20 = 0.1

As we can see, Country A’s PNMI easily beats Country B’s PNMI even though both countries have the same attractiveness to potential immmigrants and the same repulsiveness to their own peoples. The result stems largely from the fact that a country with a small population would have a small denominator in its PNMI ratio that will naturally lead to a large PNMI ratio. Hence, a top PNMI score is not something worth boasting about and certainly doesn’t translate to us being a top choice for migrants.

Don’t say NS at the drop of a hat

December 26, 2009

I refer to the letter to the forum by Raju Iyer dated 2 Nov 2009.

Mr Iyer says that our earliest inhabitants didn’t have to serve NS, yet their contributions are no less significant so there is no reason to bring up the topic of NS at the drop of a hat.

Yes, our earliest inhabitants need not serve NS. That was why the Japanese could so easily walk into this land, rape our women and slaughter 50,000 men at various places including Changi Beach where the most famous killings took place. Because we didn’t have NS, we were literally caught with our pants down.

Hence, instead of saying NS at the drop of a hat, we should say NS each time we drop out pants to remind ourselves that we should never be caught unprepared again.

HDB has buffer of unsold flats

December 26, 2009

Dear Mr Mah,

I refer to your comments in the parliament as reported by Straits Times on 24 Nov 2009.

You said that ready flats are hugely popular, yet you choose not to build them. Aren’t you letting the people down by not providing for their needs when they need them?

You said that the cost of land, construction and ancillary services ranged from $230,000 to $530,000 per flat. Assuming that the cost of construction and ancillary services is about $100,000, it means that the cost of land ranged from $130,000 to $430,000. But did the govt pay $130,000 to $430,000 for the land? Traditionally, land has been acquired on the cheap from the people for as little as $1. Even if that land appreciated in value subsequently, it doesn’t change the fact that its cost to the govt is $1.

While land cost is a major contributor to HDB’s ‘deficit’, it is a major revenue generator for the SLA. So the so-called ‘large deficit’ that HDB incurs is nothing more than govt money going from left pocket to right pocket.

Govt aims to cool property market, not crash it

December 25, 2009

Dear Mr Mah,

I refer to the comments you made in parliament as reported by Straits Times on 24th Nov 2009.

You said that the government’s intention is to cool the market, not crash it. But why would markets crash if they had been kept steady to begin with? What is the point of saying that the government doesn’t want to crash the market when it watchfully allowed the market to spike up to dangerously high levels? You sound like the motorist who crashed his car going at 220 km/hr trying to explain that it is not his intention to crash his car. The question is, why was he going at 220 km/hr in the first place?

What is the point of blaming speculators when the root of the problem is the lack of supply? How would speculators stand to profit if there is plenty of housing available? When there is plenty of housing available, people have plenty of choices and need not resort to buying from speculators.

You say there is a lot of supply. But the 10,600 units from the confirmed and reserve list as well as the 35,000 planned units are units that are as yet unavailable. What is the point of telling us there are many units in the pipeline when none are available now and we need them now? And even with these additional units, what is stopping the immigration department from importing even more people to gobble up these units? About a year ago you said there will be sufficient units and asked us to wait. A year later the units are still not enough. So you’d just keep asking us to wait forever?

Be realistic, Mah tells home buyers

December 25, 2009

Dear Mr Mah,

I refer to the comments you made in the parliament as reported by the Straits Times on the 24th Nov 2009.

You said that housing standards have increased over the years. As far as I know, flat sizes have shrunk over the years. How shrinking flats translates to higher standards is something you can address in parliament next time.

You said your three-room flat was like a palace but would you go back to your palace now? If you wouldn’t, why do you expect others would?

You said you need people to stay on the second and third floors of flats. Why don’t you set a good example and stay there? Conversely, why don’t you give further discounts to the lower floors to boost their attractiveness compared to the higher floors?

You shrugged off the suggestion that there is a groundswell of discontent. That is a mutli-million dollar shrug only multi-million dollar ministers like yourself is capable of.

You said that you want to better communicate to home buyers who want ready-made flats in good locations at cheaper prices. Would you tell home buyers to desire flats that take forever to build, situated at lousy locations and charged sky high prices? You would have achieved the ultimate marketing feat even the communists couldn’t.

You said that there is a mismatch as well as an element of unrealistic expectations. In a way you are right. How can we expect multi-million dollar ministers to realistically understand the plight of the common people?

Yes, the flat on the second floor will grow in value. That would mean even more expensive housing for my children who would have to pay even more to the HDB.

What do HDB numbers say?

December 25, 2009

Dear Jessica,

I refer to your report “What do HDB numbers say” dated 26 Oct 2009. I agree that the HDB’s definition of success rate can lead to pretty counter intuitive conclusions. High success rate is a reflection of flats being less than desirable while low success rate is a reflection of flats being highly desirable.

Therefore, the 89% take up rate for BTO projects last year shows that there are a lot of people in need of flats never mind their desirability.

A world where those who are offered a flat will go on to select it is not a perfect world but a communist world. For it is the communist dream that everyone’s needs can be allocated in accordance to plans. But the communist dream fell apart, revealing the capitalist reality of human nature where the average consumer makes a choice not because he is choosy, but because it is his basic right to choose.

The argument that land is limited and so flats have to be built at less than desirable locations ignores the issue of pricing. In the real world, less than desirable items of sale will have their prices slashed until they become attractive to consumers. But when it comes to HDB flats, their prices are fixed at “market values” even as the market shuns flats at undesirable locations or those on the second floor or facing the rubbish dump.

The argument that flats at prime locations are cheap compared to condominiums simply shows that condominiums are even more expensive and unaffordable.

The bottomline is this: the PAP government bought nearly all the land in Singapore sometimes as cheaply as $1 in the name of nation building. What right does it have to even charge market prices for flats built on land acquired on the cheap from the people?

Guilt by media when US TV goes into frenzy

December 25, 2009

Dear Mr Shanmugam,

I refer to your comments made at the New York State Bar Association International Section’s meeting as reported by the Straits Times on 30 Oct 2009.

You said you were shocked at how the murder of a Yale graduate student received saturation coverage in the media when you were visiting the US a month before. Was that your first ever visit to the US? Or was it because you haven’t been to the US for the past twenty years? Your ignorance of the US media culture is shocking indeed. Or is it feigned ignorance instead?

You said that the interview of a psychologist by a major national channel on the possible reasons why the suspect murdered Ms Annie Le amounted to the presumption of guilt rather than that of innocence which goes against the basis of laws today. But our own laws allow us to detain suspects without trial. Where is our presumption of innocence when we lock up doctors like Chia Thye Poh for 23 years without ever proving his guilt beyond resonable doubt? On what moral grounds do we criticise others when we ourselves are guilty of the presumption of guilt rather than of innocence?

You conveniently brushed off our poor press rankings as being irrelevant. If anything that is bad is brushed off as irrelevant, then we will never appear bad and will always appear good.

You said what is relevant is what works. But how do you know that which you have not tried doesn’t work? Try giving the press more freedom. Try allowing for more independent newspapers. See if they work. If you haven’t even tried them, you have no basis to say they don’t work.

You said that the press decides for itself what it wants to publish. But the press is largely owned by the government through shares owned by government linked companies. Current and past chairmans of the Singapore Press Holdings have always been important cabinet ministers. So while we don’t have media barons, we do have a media emperor. If you really wish to convince the world that the press decides for itself, allow for newspapers that have absolutely no link to the government.

You said it is bad for the press to attack policies. Then you might as well do away with the press altogether, just issue government statements.

Finally you said that the government doesn’t dismiss ciritcisms because we wouldn’t be successful if we had done that. There is no logic to your statement. China ignores criticisms and yet is successful.