Not true Singapore was left-of-centre in the 60s, 70s and 80s

I refer to the 11 May 2013 Straits Times article “Are Singaporeans ideological prisoners by Mr Kishore Mahbubani [1].

Mr Mahbubani claimed that the decision to build HDB flats in the expensive good class bungalow area of Holland Village and on the very expensive reclaimed land in Marine Parade best symbolised Singapore’s clear left-of-centre ideology in the 1960s, 1970s and perhaps the 1980s.

Holland Village

The Holland Village HDB flats were part of the Queenstown Neighbourhood VII expansion into Buona Vista which included the areas of Dover, Ghim Moh and Holland Village. Details of the expansion reveal that the area wasn’t the so-called good class bungalow area as claimed by Mr Mahbubani but 88 acres of graveyard located off Commonwealth Avenue, North Buona Vista Road, Eng Hoe Road (no longer exists) and Holland Road and the rear of Holland Village comprising 6,500 graves that yielded 5,000 flats [2]. Just because Holland Village is a good class bungalow area today or that there were some bungalows nearby then doesn’t mean the graveyard site on which Holland Village HDB flats were built was a good class bungalow area then.

Other evidences pointing to the Holland Village then not being the good class bungalow area it is today:

• Blocks 11 and 12 of Holland Avenue sit on a hill which used to be a cemetery [3]
• Holland Village was very filthy [4]
• Holland Village was a dumping ground and a rundown area before the cleanup of 1979 [5]

Marine Parade

The Marine Parade HDB estate occupies 42 of the 1,525 hectares of land that arose from the East Coast Reclamation Scheme which cost $613 million in total [6]. By simple proportionment, the land on which Marine Parade HDB estate sits on cost $16.9 million. The estate itself cost $124.79 million to build [6] so the total cost of Marine Parade HDB estate including land was $141.7 million. The estate housed 8,015 flats with 3-room and 5-room flats priced at $13,500 and $35,500 respectively [6]. Assuming an average price of $24,500, the 8,015 flats yielded a total of about $196 million for the government. The government thus took back more from the people than it spent to build the Marine Parade HDB estate, hardly a symbol of left-of-centre government ideology then. Cost recovery and accumulating budget surpluses have always been important tenets of our governments since Day 1. We have been right-of-centre since Day 1 and have never ceased to push more right ever since.

This is further supported by the following chart which shows that where data was available between 1976 and 1989, Singapore’s Gini coefficient had been amongst the highest of developed nations [7].


[1] Straits Times, “Are Singaporeans ideological prisoners?”, 11 May 2013, Kishore Mahbubani

[2] Straits Times, New plan to expand Queenstown, 25 Mar 1968, page 5

Queenstown – Singapore’s biggest satellite town – is to be enlarged. Plans are being drawn up to clear an area of 88 acres of graveyard near the estate for public housing. The area is located off Commonwealth Avenue, North Buona Vista Road, Eng Hoe Road and Holland Road and the rear of Holland Village. There are about 6,500 graves. The Housing and Development Board and the Yin Foh Fui Kuon Association, will exhume them. A Government spokeman said today: “This area has been earmarked for the development of another self-contained neighbourhoold with about 5,000 units of flats to be known as Neighbourhood VII Queenstown.” The association has been given back another 41 acres near the same area for a proposed burial ground and a proposed memorial hall and car park. The development of these 41 acres is being carried out by the association with assistance from the board.

(More details of the reburial site can be found here


Blocks 11 and 12 of Holland Avenue sit on a hill which used to be a cemetery

[4] Straits Times, Village Filth, 14 Aug 1965, page 10, M Crowley

I do not think that I have before seen such an accumulation of downright filth concentrated in so small an area of human habitation and commerce as that existing around the market stalls and shelters of Holland Village. Can something be done by the public health authorities to clean up this area with its source of potential disease and infection?

[5] Straits Times, The clean, clean grass of home… 15 Aug 1979, page 12

This back lane in Holland Village is now a pleasant place to play in, as these children will testify. All thanks to a recent clean-up operation started by the Ministry of the Environment. Some time ago, it was an unofficial dumping ground where unwanted furniture, discarded planks, wooden poles and an old window were part of the scene as the “before” picture shows. Then the campaign to spruce up such run down areas was started by the ministry which called on the residents to lend a hand.

[6] Singapore Infopedia – Marine Parade

By 1985, 1,525 hectares of land including the recreational beachfront of the East Coast had been added to the coastline, enlarging it by some 18 kilometres. The reclamation works cost around S$613 million.

The first 1,038 flats at Marine Parade estate were opened for balloting in March 1974. Three-room units were priced at S$13,500, and five-room ones at S$35,500. By 1976, the estate was completed at a cost of S$124.79 million. There were a total of 57 blocks of 8,015 flats and 99 shops, alongside office spaces, recreational and community facilities across 42 hectares, accommodating around 40,000 residents.

[7] World Income Inequality Database


One Response to “Not true Singapore was left-of-centre in the 60s, 70s and 80s”

  1. ;Annonymous Says:

    These state paid hacks are busy doing their part lately to try and regain “the lost trust”(as Catherine Lim put it recently) of the people in the PAP. They lend their names as presumed intellectuals to the cause. Their writings are not the deep intellectual thinking you might expect.As for Mahbubani, you should read Ian Buruma’s review of his book with the ridiculous title ‘Can Asians Think’ , with his photgraph on the front cover in a thinking pose, in the NYT ? It is time to stop using public funds to give them a good life after reirement in these so-called thinking tanks. Does Singapore need three think tanks? To add to your excellant piece, if I may, Marine Parade estate was to house the Malays who were being dislodged from their kampongs in Geylang Serai and surrounding areas because LKY feared that they would be a threat to the government. Hence the racial composition policy of the HDB which is still in place.

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