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Debunking the official myths about HDB flats (Part 3): Rising prices of HDB flats generate wealth for Singaporeans

Posted by temasektimes on June 27, 2013

MYTH # 3: Rising prices of HDB flats will lead to wealth creation for Singaporeans.

TRUTH: It will have a negative wealth impact due to higher financial liabilities according to a NUS study done by Abeysinghe and Gu Jiaying

In a reply to question from a MP who asked if a cap should be imposed on rising HDB resale prices during a Parliamentary session in July, Senior Minister of State for National Development Grace Fu noted that HDB flats remained affordable to Singaporeans.

She said:

“‘HDB flat prices should be a reflection of Singaporean’s wealth and it is “not a bad idea” for prices to increase steadily, especially for those holding onto negative assets bought in the previous market peak in the mid 1990s.’”

The ruling party has never failed to remind Singaporeans that it has brought about high home ownership and rise in asset value under its rule.

During a speech given to Kim Keat residents in 1995, then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said:

“By how much have we increased the value of your assets? At the start of the upgrading, 3-room flats in the precinct commanded less than $80,000 in the open market. Today, I am told, housing agents are offering as much as $160,000. Your assets have doubled in the last three years. All of you made the right decision, by supporting the upgrading programme and voting strongly for it.”

[Source: http://stars.nhb.gov.sg/stars/tmp/gct19950115.pdf]

Now, a 3 room flat in Kim Keat is fetching as much as $300,000, nearly double its value ten years ago. Has the government created wealth for Kim Keat residents? If only things are as straight-forward on paper as in real life.

Suppose a Kim Keat resident bought his original 3 room unit at only $100,000 from HDB. He had borrowed a 80% loan of $80,000 from HDB and has almost completed repaying it.

He would have made a handsome gross profit of $220,000 if he sells off his flat now. However, in today’s market, he will need to fork out at least $220,000 or more for a similiar 3 room flat which means that not only is he unable to capitalize on his gains, he will be plunged into greater debts.

Of course, this is a superficial way of looking at things. Common sense tells us that in an inflationary market like this, everything is getting more expensive which puts a limit to the amount of wealth one can generate from selling off his assets.

A study done by two NUS economists, Tilak Abeysinghe and Gu Jiaying, shows that “past episodes of house price escalations have led to a substantial erosion of housing affordability” especially in the private sector. (source: NUS SCAPE) Higher property prices does not necessarily translates into higher wealth for Singaporeans.

Abeysinghe and Choy in their book – “The Singapore Economy: An econometric perspective (2007)” have examined the wealth effect of property prices on consumption in Singapore and found that the wealth effect is very much absent.

In the absence of cheaper suburbs which offer quality living, the only way for Singaporeans to unlock property values is, apart from emigrating, to downgrade to smaller units. This does not seem to be occurring on a large scale which explains why the ‘housing wealth effect’ on consumption is insignificantly small.

Higher property prices, instead of creating a wealth effect, exert a significant and negative “price effect” on consumption expenditures leading to a fall in the average propensity to consume.

As house prices go up, the increase in the value of housing assets is accompanied by a concurrent rise in the financial liabilities of households, in the form of higher downpayments for purchase of residential properties and burgeoning housing loans.

Due to the limited avenues for liquidating property assets, households have to build up sufficient financial assets to smooth the profiles of their lifetime consumption of non-housing goods and services leading to a diminishing in domestic purchasing power.

It is a common perception that Singaporeans living in HDB flats are leaving “enhanced assets” to their children. This does not appear to hold true as HDB flats are 99 year old leasehold properties – their value will decline with time.

Regression estimates for HDB 4-room flats transacted between May and July 2008 show that a 10-year gap between two flats lead to about 12% price difference with the older one selling cheaper.

If the 99-year lease effect also comes into play, the prices may drop substantially, perhaps to the discounted present value of the remaining stream of rental incomes, and such properties may not generate much bequest value to children.

Not only will “asset inflation” not generate wealth for Singaporeans, it will lead to a vicious cycle, plunging more and more people into lifelong debts.

Mr Paul Yip, Nanyang Technological University (NTU) associate professor of economics issued a recent warning that Singapore risks ’severe asset inflation’ during the economic recovery and urged the government to act now to control the prices of HDB flats. (source:Straits Times)

Prof Yip noted that the US government has lowered interest rates and expanded its money supply in a bid to avoid a repeat of the Great Depression.

But post-recession, the government may fail to shrink the money base back to pre-downturn levels, he said. In that case, excess US dollars would flood the market.

‘For Singapore, there may be an inflow of money from the US, increasing the money base and therefore the money supply… When the recovery comes, there will be wage inflation and consumer price index inflation, and this will fuel asset inflation……’Rents will rise and then people will be able to charge even higher rents, causing a vicious circle,’ Prof Yip said.

HDB flats are meant to be cheap and affordable to ordinary Singaporeans. Whether it generates wealth for us in terms of fixed assets is of secondary importance. It is time for the government to return to the basics and ensures that Singaporeans are not over-committing themselves to their housing loans.

 

References:

1. The Singapore Economy: An econometric perspective (2007) by Abeysinghe and Choy.

2. Limited income and housing affordability in Singapore (2008) by Abeysinghe and Jiaying Gu.

3. The Economic prospectus of Singapore (2007) by Winston Koh and Roberto Mariano

Note: This article was first published in the old Temasek Review in September 2009

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Debunking the official myths about HDB flats (Part 2): HDB flats are affordable to the most Singaporeans

Posted by temasektimes on June 26, 2013

MYTH #2: HDB flats are affordable.

TRUTH: HDB flats are affordable only to a minority of Singaporeans and is increasingly priced out of the reach of the average worker.

In spite of the relentless rise in HDB prices lately, the government insists that HDB flats remain affordable to the masses.

Recent pronouncements by the Minister of National Development Mah Bow Tan and HDB officers in replies to concerned citizens in the Straits Times Forum have largely sticked to the official stance: that the government will not intervene in the market to bring the prices down.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Lim Hwee Hua maintained that HDB flats are affordable to ordinary Singaporeans as they cost no more than 30% of their monthly pay.

HDB’s deputy director Mr Ignatius Lourdesamy wrote to the Straits Times Forum lately that HDB flats remain affordable to eligible first-time households as they use between 21 to 25 per cent of their monthly income to service their loans on new and resale HDB flats which are well below the international affordability benchmark of 30 per cent. (read letter here)

Though he did not state it explicitly, he is likely to be referring to the average shelter-cost-to-income ratio (STIR) or the proportion of total before-tax household income spent on shelter. The shelter-cost-to-income ratio is calculated for each household individually by dividing its total annual shelter cost by its total annual income. A STIR higher than 30 per cent is conventionally taken as indicating a serious housing affordability.

As I was unable to obtain any international studies published online using the STIR to assess housing affordability in different countries including Singapore, I have to use the Median Multiple which is used widely by international organizations such as World Bank and United Nation to assess housing affordability.

[Please read the addenum to this “HDB flats will be unaffordable using the Median Multiple as benchmark for housing affordability” here]

According to the International Housing Affordability Survey which studies the affordability of housing in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, U.K. and U.S.A, the “median house price to median household income multiple” or median index is used to judge housing affordability. (read article here)

Under its rating categories, a median multiple of 5.1 and over is considered as “severely unaffordable” while affordable housing is kept by a median multiple of 3 and below. The annual median income of a Singapore household is $65,760 in 2008 (source: singstat) which means that the upper limit is only $197,280 which is far exceeded by current prices of new and resale flats.

[The above figure is calculated based on the Median Multiple and not STIR which is used by HDB. I was unable to find out how HDB arrived at its figures of 21 and 25 per cent]

The prevailing sentiment on the ground is that HDB flats are becoming increasingly out of reach to the lower income group. Even the middle class will be stretched to their limits to finance the flats at today’s prices.

The crux of the issue is not whether HDB flats are “affordable”, but if they are “easily affordable” to the average Singaporean.

Let us examine the price of a 3-room HDB flat in the 1970s, 1980s and now based on anecdotal evidence (readers in their 40s and 50s will be able to attest to the veracity of these figures).

A new 3-room flat in Toa Payoh cost about $8,000 in the 1970s. The median pay of a graduate then was $1,000 a month. (8 times)

A similiar flat in Ang Mo Kio will fetch about $40,000 in the 1980s. The median pay of a graduate then was $1,600 a month.  (25 times)

Now, a new 3 room resale flat in Ang Mo Kio can cost as much as $270,000. The median pay of a graduate now is around $2,700 a month (100 times).

As we can see from the above figures, the prices of HDB flats have sky-rocketed to more than 30 times while the median salaries of a graduate has only risen by 2.7 times. Are HDB flats becoming more expensive or affordable to ordinary Singaporeans? Maybe they are still affordable by the government’s standards, but definitely not more affordable by the common man in the streets.

The median pay of a Singapore worker is $4,500. 30% of $4,500 is $1,350 which will enable him to afford a flat c0sting costing up to $450,000 assuming a bank interest not more than 2% and 30-year replayment period.

Of course using this figure as the limit is deceptive as a majority of the population will be able to finance the 30 year loan even if they are earning less than $3,000 monthly.

Still, most flats under HDB’s Design, Build and Order scheme have already breached this upper limit. City View at Boon Keng was launched at prices of between $390,000 and $700,000 last year.

Again, the crux of the matter does not lie solely in the affordability of the flats, but whether Singapore households are plunged into greater debts as a result of financing over-priced HDB flats thereby leaving very little savings for retirement needs.

Anything can happen during the thirty year tenure. Retrenchment, unemployment and unexpected death can lead to an abrupt stop in the mortage payments.

A study conducted by NUS shows that housing affordability has decreased over the years, more so for private properties (source: NUS SCAPE)

In 1975, lifetime income of middle-income households with heads aged 30 was nearly 4 times the amount they would have paid for an average-sized private property.

By mid 1980s, their lifetime income was only sufficient to purchase one private property. The trend continued and during the 1994 – 1996 property price escalation, median income households would be in debt if they purchased an average-priced private property during this period. Price escalation since the late 2007 has brought down affordability again.

Comparing median income and property prices for the past nine years, there were five years when property prices outgrew income.

The prices of HDB flats have now reached or exceeded that of the last property peak in 1996 after which the market crashed, plunging many households into debts. Are we seeing another bubble in the formation?

Current prices are unsustainable in the long run due to combination of a few factors: the economy is expected to be sluggish in the near future, rental income has dropped by more than 30%, salaries are not going up by much and companies may have to retrench more workers if the economy does not pick by the end of year. It is kept high by the influx of new citizens and PRs who may sell off their flats should they leave Singapore later thereby increasing the supply of flats.

There will always be demand for HDB flats in Singapore as housing is a basic necessity. As such, leaving their prices entirely to free market forces will only lead to continuous inflation till the market is unable to support the prices any further leading to a precipitous crash.

The government should undertake a comprehensive study to examine the impact on the rising HDB prices on the savings and standards of living of ordinary Singaporeans.

If one has to work 70 hours a week without rest to finance the HDB mortage loan, even if one is able to “afford” the flat, there will be no quality of life to speak of. What’s the purpose of “owning” a flat at the end of one’s working life when one’s savings and CPF have been depleted by the mortage loans leaving very little for retirement needs? Do Singaporeans really want to work beyond the age of 80 till they drop dead?

The predicament of these Singaporeans had led to HDB to introduce a buy-back lease scheme lately for those living in 2 to 3 room flats in which HDB will purchase the flat from the owner at market rate and pay the sum to them in monthly installments over thirty years while the household continue to live in the flat which they now “lease” from HDB.

Affordability is not just an empty figure and more consideration should be given to its wider social implications and impact on the populace such as maintaining sufficient savings in the bank abnd CPF for retirement, domestic spending power, adequate work-life balance and most importantly, the standard of living.

HDB flats are definitely becoming less and less affordable to the masses and it is imperative that the government takes action now to reduce the prices so as to fulfill the original mission of HDB to provide cheap and affordable public housing to the people of Singapore.

Note: This article was first published in the old Temasek Review in September 2009

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Debunking the official myths about HDB flats (Part 1): Singaporeans are ‘owners’ of their HDB flats

Posted by temasektimes on June 25, 2013

MYTH #1: Singaporeans owns their HDB flats.

TRUTH: Singaporeans are merely renting these 99-year leasehold properties from HDB at exorbitant prices.

The Housing Development Board was set up in 1960 during a time when large numbers of people are living in squatter settlements and slums around the city centers.

Under the then indefatigable Minister for National Development Mr Lim Kim San, HDB began the task of solving Singapore’s housing crisis and resettling the squatters.

It built 21,000 flats in less than three years. By 1965 it had built 54,000 flats, exceeding the 50,000 target of its First Five-Year Building Programme.

Today, about 84 percent of Singaporeans live in HDB flats compared with only nine percent in 1960 when HDB was first established.

The ruling party has always prided itself for building homes to house the majority of the population. HDB has become its crowning achievement and the mainstream media never fails to attribute Singapore’s high home “ownership” to the PAP during every elections.

While it is true that most Singaporeans have a roof over their heads, whether they actually own the flats they live in is debatable.

There are three categories of properties in Singapore: freehold, 999 year and 99 year leasehold properties.

Technically speaking, only those living in freehold properties can claim to own them since they are permitted to bequeath the estates to their descendents forever.

All HDB flats are 99-year old leasehold properties which means that the government can reclaim them after a period of 99 years. When Singaporeans purchase HDB flats, they sign a Tenancy/Lease Agreement  with HDB and the usual Sales and Purchase Agreement for private properties. (thanks to reader Ang Kong Kia)

In a sense, HDB dwellers are only “leasing” their flats from HDB for 99 years, they do not strictly own them though the misconception has been perpetuated for years by the ruling party and the state-controlled media.

Addendum contributed by reader Papsmearer:

[Basically, when you borrow money from the bank to buy your 99 year leasehold HDB flat, you are in effect borrowing money to pre-pay your lease (you can call it rent too) for 99 years.

Normally, when you rent from a landlord, you might be required to sign a 1 year lease agreement which stipulates among other things, the monthly rent. At the end of the 1 year, the landlord may not decide to renew your least. In the case of a HDB flat, by prepaying your lease for 99 years, you avoid the uncertainty of the normal lease.

Secondly, people claim that they own the flat because they make a profit when they sell it. What they are actually selling is their interest in the pre-paid lease, not the actual flat themselves, because they don’t own it. They are selling the right to live in that unit, and basically, assigning their rights as tenants to another individual for a fixed price.]

Furthermore, there are some restrictions placed on the sale of HDB flats: e.g. one must live in it for a period of 5 years before they can be sold; the ethnic quota must be maintained in the process, previous HDB subsidies will have to be returned and a hefty resale levy is slapped on the seller which can be as high as $50,000.

If Singaporeans are really owners of their HDB flats, then they should be allowed to sell them to anybody at any time like in the private property market without being subject to these restrictions imposed by HDB.

Besides, most of them have to take up a bank loan to finance the purchase of the flats. In the event that they are unable to service the loan, the bank will repossess the flats.

The reality is, Singaporeans do not own their HDB flats. They are merely renting it from HDB for a maximum period of 99 years and paying a pretty high monthly “rental” at that.

When old flats are demolished by HDB for redevelopment, its inhabitants are not paid at prevailing en bloc rates. Instead, they are given discounts for new flats built to replace them.

The remarkable success of HDB in transforming the landscape of Singapore lies in the small size of the island and population. Given that almost all land is owned by the government, HDB has no difficulties in acquiring land, much of which is undeveloped to build new towns.

Post-independence Singapore has a small population which makes it easier for the government to relocate them to the newly built HDB flats. The feat will almost be impossible to replicate in an already densely populated city like Hong Kong or in a larger country like Malaysia.

The government deserves credit for ensuring that the majority of the population has a roof over their heads, but to claim that Singapore has one of the highest home ownership in the world when its citizens are merely renting leasehold properties at exorbitant prices from HDB is stretching one’s imagination to the limits.

It is time for Singaporeans now and the future to realize the truth – that they do not own the HDB flats they live in and they belong ultimately to the government which retains the right to acquire and demolish them anytime they wish.

Note: This article was first published in the old Temasek Review in September 2009.

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Reclaim our civil rights and freedom before calling for a referendum

Posted by temasektimes on February 18, 2013

popprotest10It was a proud moment to be a Singaporean yesterday, when 6000 of us, stood shoulder to shoulder under the unforgiving shower of rain to protest in unison against the latest draconian policy which had been shoved down our throats.

However the irony of protesting in a government sanctioned site, nestled away from the view of busy Chinatown blocked by towering woods only re-affirmed the fact that we are still, as much as we hate to admit it, a repressed people.

It was regretful to say the least that the strong message of protest against one of the most obscene population figures conjured up by a totalitarian government could not have reached the oblivious masses, whose only accurate source of information would have been the mainstream media. Not surprisingly, virtual tabloids affiliated to SPH covering the event maliciously published figures of “only a handful”, “hundreds” or “more than a thousand” to drive home the ongoing propaganda against state opposition and civil society bodies.

Imagine the impact a peaceful march to the Parliament House would have made. In the past decade, It was easy to subdue a handful of SDP activists carrying out peace protests outside key government installations and embassies because that’s all they were. A handful. The state knew it was easy to leave such random acts of lunacy unreported, or create a perception of disgust in the minds of fellow Singaporeans.

Well not anymore. The spectacle I witnessed yesterday was the evolution of a once meek, passive and gullible populace to a brave, bold and intelligent breed of lions. With only 6000 at the start, numbers could have easily swelled up to double, or even triple had the protest come into contact with the general public. I was convinced that at this point of time, what we needed was the re-emergence of non-violent agitation and civil disobedience to curb the abusive powers of the state.

The only way to realize this is by having our civil rights and liberties; freedoms of speech, assembly, association and movement unconditionally restored without any parallel laws criminalizing them. Before asking for any referendum, let’s campaign for the restoration of our total freedoms, so that the voices of yesterday will be able to reach the sleeping majority of 60%.

 

JAYWINDER SINGH

Source: Facebook

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High cost of HDB flats a key reason for failure of Baby bonus to boost birth rate

Posted by temasektimes on October 29, 2012

In a Straits Times report, it was reported that the Baby Bonus introduced by the government has failed to boost the flagging birth rate despite the increment last year. (read article here)

$230 million was given out by the Government in baby bonus payments last year, up from $55 million just five years earlier. But there was no corresponding increase in the number of Singaporean babies born.

The Baby Bonus Scheme aims to encourage Singaporean couples to have babies by easing the financial burden on parents.

A reason commonly cited for the unwillingness of Singaporeans to have children is the high cost of living, especially that of housing.

The price of HDB resale flats and that of new flats whose prices are pegged to it have risen dramatically in recent years.

Data from the Housing and Development Board showed the resale price index rising 1.4 per cent from the previous quarter to 140.2 in Q2. This is the highest level seen since 1990.

Over 85% of Singaporeans living in public housing built by the HDB. Though it is meant to affordable to the masses, the relentless price hike have squeezed some Singaporeans out of the market, especially young couples who are first-time genuine home-buyers.

Last month, HDB launched a premium project offering 769 new flats in Punggol. It offers 615 four-roomers and 154 five-room flats in a central location just five minutes from Punggol MRT station.

Four-room flats of 91 to 96 sq m are going for $264,000 to $322,000, while five-roomers of 114 sq m are on sale from $344,000 to $409,000.

The CPF housing grant and the HDB housing loan are two schemes that have helped maintain the affordability. The combined income ceiling of $8,000 a month to be eligible for the schemes has been in place since 1994. Since then, the HDB resale price index has gone up by a staggering 190 per cent.

The CPF Housing Grant Scheme is a housing subsidy provided by the Singapore Government to assist Singapore Citizens to own a HDB flat at a cheaper rate, or we call it a HDB subsidy.

The grant can range from S$30,000 to S$40,000, however there is a catch ( or in fact many catches!), if you had obtained the grant when you purchase your flat, you will be required to pay a resale levey when you sell it. This resale level can be as high as S$50,000 for Executive flat and you need to occupy the flat for 5 years before you could purchase another flat directly from HDB.

Even with a $30,000 housing grant, a young couple buying a new 4-room flat at $250,000 will still have to fork out $220,000 which amounts to a monthly loan of between $800 to $1,200 a month payable over a thirty year period depending on the type of interest scheme.

For a resale HDB flat in a prime area like Bishan, the price ranges from $350,000 to $400,000. The monthly installments will be between $1,100 and $1,400.

The median pay of the average Singapore worker is about $3,440 a month and it has stagnated over the last few years. (source: http://www.worldsalaries.org/singapore.shtml) After the compulsory deduction of 20% to CPF, the take home pay is only $2,750. The Singapore worker will be left between $1,500 and $2,000 after paying for the mortage loan. It will be very tough for one to start a family with such a pay.

Of course the above calculations are just gross estimates and the government should be in a better position to shed more light on the affordability of HDB flats. However, till now, ministers such as Mah Bow Tan and Lim Hwee Hua remain adamant that HDB flats remains “affordable” to the majority of Singaporeans.

It defies common logic for the government to peg HDB flats to that of the private property market which is extremely volatile and inflationary in the last few years with the influx of foreigners buying up properties in Singapore. About 70% of the buyers of private properties are foreigners.

Throughout these years, it is not known if the government has made any “profit” from the construction and sale of HDB flats. What is the price of the land? A significant proportion of the land in Singapore is owned by a government-linked company, Singapore Land Limited. What is the cost of building each HDB unit? What is the difference, (if any), between the construction cost and sale price and where does it go to?

The government has refrained from answering these legitimate questions on the mind of Singaporeans for the past two decades, preferring to congratulate itself for raising the home ownership of Singaporeans to more than 95%.

Though technically, 95% of Singaporeans “own” their HDB flats, they are merely renting it from the government for a maximum period of 99 years since it is a leasehold and not freehold project. Freehold properties usually command a higher price than leasehold ones in the same vicinity by 10 to 20%. The reason why HDB flats are commanding such a high valuation is that shelter over one’s head is a basic necessity. Unlike in Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan or China, where one can pack up and live in the countryside, there is nowhere to go in Singapore.

In other words, prices of HDB flats will continue to climb unless the government step in and modulate its mode of valuation because there is always a ready market for it. The influx of foreigners and PRs have also helped to artificially inflate the price of HDB flats.

Singaporeans may have “double” or even “tripled” the value of their HDB flats in the last ten years, but don’t forget after making a profit from the sale of their properties, they still have to pay for another new flat at a higher price with the unwanted effect of plunging Singaporeans further and further into debt.

According to an AXA study done last year, it is estimated that for the average Singaporean, CPF savings will provide only a quarter of the funds he or she will need in old age which defeats its original purpose of being a retirement fund for Singaporeansn when it was first formulated in 1967.(source: Asiaone)

With no social safety net to speak of, Singaporeans face a grim and uncertain future, especially those from the middle and lower income group. The middle class will be more severely squeezed as they do not qualify for any government subsidies. The “sandwiched” generation – those with children and aged parents to take of, may find life a continuous struggle to earn enough money to keep afloat.

It is not easy to bring up a child. Not only must one ensure he/she is well fed and clothed, time and resources have to be expended to educate them so that they will become well-behaved, productive and useful citizens to the nation. With so many tasks to juggle at the same time, it is no wonder that Singaporeans are opting to have a smaller family, if any at all.

The government should look at and deal with the root cause of the problem rather than giving cash handouts which does little to ameliorate the difficulties faced by Singaporeans trying to start a family. It has been 15 years since the HDB since the HDB housing grant was first introduced. Given the different set of circumstances we are in now, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the scheme.

For a start, the cost price of new HDB flats should be pegged not at two-thirds of reslae flats in the vicinity, but at the median pay of the Singapore worker, e.g. 5 times for 4-room flats and 6 times for 5-room flats which work to about a price of $170,000 and $204,000 respectively.

With the decrease in the prices of new flats, the resale market will gradually be cooled and fall to more sustainable levels.

The $8,000 ceiling for the grant’s qualification should be increased to $12,000 or more and the housing grant raised to between $50,000 and $70,000.

Though the government may made a “loss” in doing so, it owes the citizens who voted for it a duty of care. Besides, even at much “knocked-down” prices, HDB may still able to make a hefty “profit”.

How much money did the government gain from the sale of HDB flats, the levies earned from resale flats and the CPF contributions of Singaporeans after all these years? Are they used to finance the investments made by Temasek and GIC? Till today, these figures remain enshrouded in a cloak of secrecy.

Boosting the birth rates of Singaporeans will reduce our dependence on foreigners who now made up almost a third of the population. Reducing the pressure on Singaporeans will lead to a happier citizenry and increase our domestic consumption, thereby decreasing on reliance on foreign exports.

A fundamental shift in the government’s mindset and policy is needed to reverse our flagging birth rates. As history has already shown, giving cash handouts in the form of Baby bonus and recruiting foreigners en masse will not solve the root of the problem.

Note: This article was first published in the old Temasek Review in September 2009

 

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8 reasons why living in Malaysia beats living in Singapore

Posted by temasektimes on October 19, 2012

Having lived in Malaysia and Singapore for at least 7 years each, I thought that I would pen down some glaring differences between the two living environments:

1. Freedom and Lawlessness

Law enforcers are not only lax in Malaysia but also easily swayed with money, so you can avoid them most of the time and pay them off, should you get confronted with them. This situation basically means that the law does not apply to you, as long as you have enough money, which relegates the law to nothing more than a mere cost of living.

I value freedom a whole damn lot; there is no amount of security and comfort that I would trade for a high level of freedom: the freedom to speed, park illegally, litter, trespass, indulge in anti-social behaviour, etc. Freedom is crucial for happiness, period. Of course, the lack of law enforcement also means that your own rights may be compromised, but complaining about that is just being overly-dependent on the government to secure your own well-being.

Crimes and infringement of our rights in general only happen because we lack skills of self-perpetuation, such as negotiation, situational awareness, and street-smartness. The correct way to address the problem is to develop self-preservation skills, not cry to the government for protection. You will be a stronger person as well, and more like an independent, hardened adult, not like little children in a school who go reporting to authority anytime anything small happens. Take the law into your own hands.

2. Cost of Living

Relative to the average wages of both countries, the cost of living in both countries is high. However, given how strong the Singapore Dollar is compared to the Malaysian Ringgit, Malaysia works out to be much cheaper, if you can put yourself in a situation to earn foreign currency regardless of where you live. In other words, if you can earn US Dollars or Euros either in Malaysia or Singapore (e.g. by owning a software company serving international customers), Malaysia will feel like heaven for you. Malaysia has a lot of bullshit going on, but consider the fact that the cost of living in Singapore is not 20% or 30% higher; it is 200% or 300% higher than that in Malaysia.

There are also peculiar costs in Singapore that make no sense: S$500,000 99-year leasehold shoeboxes in the air and S$80,000 license to own a car (not the car itself), just to name a few. A very important fact of life is that you can truly own a house and car (no time limit whatsoever imposed by HDB or COEs) with literally less than RM100,000, or S$40,000. Anyone knows having a car at your disposal grants you an uncanny freedom that most public transport commuters can never understand.

3. Choice of Living Environments

The entire island of Singapore is the same shit over and over again: HDB flats, heartland hubs, private condominiums, shopping malls, office buildings, night spots, schools, and the occasional park/nature reserve/beach. If you hate that, tough luck, buddy. In Malaysia, if you are sick of the shitty traffic and rude people of Kuala Lumpur, move north or south to quieter suburban or outskirt areas. If you are sick of city life, move to one of the beach towns. If you are sick of the swelteringly-hot weather, go upwards and live in Fraser’s Hill or Cameron Highlands. Sometimes, the further you move away from your comfort zone, the more it feels like a different country altogether. Using the same logic, USA, Canada, and Australia should offer a greater choice of living environments than both Malaysia and Singapore combined.

4. Diversity

Diversity comes from within, but, if we define diversity as the observable differences among people and things, Malaysia is more diverse than Singapore, and it is the little things that make the most difference. For instance, Chinese, Malay, and Indian dialects actually survive in Malaysia (not just Mandarin, Standard Malay, and Tamil), depending on which part of Malaysia you go to. There are definitely more things to do than shopping, working/studying, and food-hunting in Malaysia. You can even send your children to different types of schools: vernacular schools, independent schools, private schools, home-schooling, real specialised technical schools (none of that “ITE” umbrella nonsense), or, hell, even the School of Hard Knocks, since Malaysia is not exactly a safe playground for kids.

Malaysia is more interesting, less monotonous, and interesting environments tend to produce interesting people. People who have lived in Malaysia and then went on to live in Singapore for an extended period of time eventually become more one-dimensional in their personalities over time, and vice-versa.

5. Living vs. Surviving

Both people in Malaysia and Singapore live hectic, fast-paced lives, at least if you compare the urban areas of both countries. In Singapore, almost everything is done for the money: doing well in school, doing well in the workplace, not driving out during certain hours of the day, and even marriage and child birth (since you get to buy HDB flats and get baby bonuses for getting married and having children, respectively). You know something is wrong with a country when the government has to pay its people to have sex and bang each other. People in Singapore are too busy surviving to actually live. It takes a lot of effort to even have a low standard of living in Singapore.

In Malaysia, if you are lucky enough to inherit a small home and pay off a motorcycle early on in your life, you can literally grow your own crops, hunt, or fish and survive day by day. A lot of villagers do just that. In Singapore, if you ask people to name two things that they do regularly outside of work/school that they consider hobbies, you would get a lot of blank faces. They are too busy working and studying to have free time to even pamper themselves by doing things they like or even think about their actual dreams (that would be too audacious). The sad irony is that a lot of people in Malaysia work less and play more and still make way more money or do better in their academic pursuits.

6. Empirical Happiness

Both people in Malaysia and Singapore have to put with an awful amount of bullshit. In Singapore, you have semi-competent yet greedy politicians in charge, making life a living hell for everyone with price hikes, non-sensible immigration policies, and even more new laws to curb personal freedoms or scare people into voluntarily surrendering their freedoms (CPF withdrawal age, anyone?). In Malaysia, we have lazy, blood-sucking, idiotic, racist politicians with no sense of good governance whatsoever, hopelessly-inefficient everything (bureaucracy, legal system, public transportation, education), and a lot of social crime. Empirically, however, people are complaining less and smiling/laughing/joking more in Malaysia.

People in Malaysia also commit suicide not as often as people in Singapore. People walk slower in Malaysia, and you can even see people sitting down in coffee shops for literally the whole day just chatting happily away in Malaysia. My personal experience also revealed that it is much easier building rapport with a stranger in Malaysia than in Singapore (in Malaysia, just call the other person “boss” or “bro” or “leng lui” for starters; you cannot do that to strangers in Singapore – they are too damn stuck-up). In short, people in Malaysia have not forgotten how to relax and take things easy. Try going out one day in Orchard Road and in 1 Utama Shopping Centre, look at the first 100 faces that you come across, and then compare the proportion of smiling faces, and you will feel what I feel.

7. Social Discrimination

Malaysia is known for its xenophobia and racism, no doubt, but so is Singapore – to a larger extent. In Singapore, you get discriminated for virtually anything: for being Malay/Indian (jobs with Mandarin literacy as a prerequisite), for being a neighbourhood school student (scholarship applications), for being an academically-weak student (Special/Express/Normal streams), for being a fat student (TAF Club), for being an able-bodied Singaporean male (National Service), for being a local tourist (Singaporean casinos), for being an MOE foreign scholar (the Sun Xu incident), etc. “Meritocracy” my ass.

8. The Focus on Numbers

Singapore is all about the numbers and only the numbers: GPA, CAP, L1R5, PSLE T-Score, GDP growth rate, GDP per capita, median income, net worth, crime rates, and even IPPT timings. People in Singapore are not bothered by anything that cannot be measured by a number: creativity, music/art, quality of life, and happiness (fuck the happiness index crap). It is a sick, toxic culture; people who do not perform well in these numbers are treated like dirt. I have personally received the better end of Singapore’s brand of favouritism in secondary school, and I felt sick to the core. If kindness from others to me is driven by admiration of my CAP/L1R5/whatever useless number, you can stick that kindness straight up your ass.

The only reason that Malaysians would choose to work and live in Singapore is the higher wages across the causeway. Their modus operandi has always been to work long enough there to save enough Singapore Dollars, and then come back to spend the money like a king. We already have our own clean, green, efficient, and economically-successful (and, hell, even Chinese-dominated) island-state; it is called Penang. What do you think about living in Malaysia as compared to living in Singapore?

ALVIN TAN JYE YEE

The above is taken from a note from the author’s Facebook. A third year undergraduate in Law in NUS, Alvin Tan caused a stir lately by posting photos and videos of him having sex with his girlfriend on his personal blog.

Posted in Commentary, Opinion | 59 Comments »

Is Chen Show Mao Singapore’s Wei Zheng (魏徵) or Wei Zhong Xian(魏忠賢)?

Posted by temasektimes on October 14, 2012

In his maiden speech in parliament last year October, Workers Party MP Chen Show Mao proclaimed to the entire Singapore that he will be Singapore’s ‘魏徵’ (Wei Zheng) in parliament to be a fearless critic to check on the ruling party?

Wei Zheng is a Chancellor of Emperor Taizong during the Tang dynasty and was well-known to be an upright and honest official who dared to speak his mind to the extent of offending the Emperor.

When he passed away, the Emperor lamented:

“Now that Wei is gone, I have lost a mirror!”

There were high hopes for Chen when he was first introduced as a candidate for the Workers Party during last year’s general election.

A high-flying corporate lawyer who was based overseas before returning to Singapore to contest in last year’s General Election, Chen was regarded as many Singaporeans as a credible candidate to take on the ruling party in parliament.

Unfortunately, Chen’s performance in parliament has been most dismal so far. Not only did he fail to raise important national issues of concern, being completely overshadowed by PAP backbenchers such as Tin Pei Ling, he was accused of plagiarizing a netizen’s article to be used on his Facebook.

While one might expect Chen to spear-head discussions on current affairs and politics on social media, his Facebook has degenerated into a sort of coffee-shop circus filled with mundane chit-chat and gossips.

Is this the kind of performance we expect from Singapore’s self-styled ‘Wei Zheng’?

By saying and doing nothing, Chen is giving legitimacy to the ruling party and indirectly helping it masquerade Singapore as a ‘democracy’ to the international community.

In this aspect, Chen is more like ‘魏忠賢’, an infamous eunuch in the last days of the Ming dynasty who gained absolute power by currying favor with the Emperor and shutting his eyes and ears.

As a matter of fact, the entire Workers Party is performing well as a ‘忠’ (loyal) and ‘賢’ (virtuous) ‘opposition’ of the ruling party which earn party chief Low Thia Kiang praises from its Supreme Leader Lee Kuan Yew a few years ago.

Aljunied residents voted for the Workers Party in the election last year partly because of Chen’s ‘star power’, believing that he will bring some change in parliament. They did not vote for him just to ‘wayang’ in the constituency now and then for photo shoots.

The Workers Party’s election slogan was ‘Towards a First World Parliament’ and not ‘Towards a better-run Aljunied and Hougang’.

One does not need to be a lawyer to be a grassroots leader. An opposition MP who does not oppose is worse than a dummy. With his impressive credentials, Chen should emulate the opposition MPs in other countries like Tony Pua of Malaysia to fight for greater democracy in Singapore.

Will Chen be remember as Singapore’s Wei Zheng or Wei Zhong Xian ten years down the road? Only time will tell, but at the present moment, his words and actions (or non-action) are resembling those of the latter rather than the former.

Posted in Commentary, Opinion | 44 Comments »

Highly qualified risk manager who earns $11K replaced by FT

Posted by temasektimes on October 13, 2012

What can Singaporeans do to save their jobs from foreign talents?

Since stepping off the Scoot plane three weeks ago, I have being frantically catching up with readers who have emailed me while I was still in Sydney visiting my family.

I must thanked them for waiting patiently as some of them have emailed me at least two months ago and wanted to speak with me about their jobless situation.

However, after meeting up with them, my heart sunk as the same old complaint cropped up frequently – our local executives are been replaced by foreigners at the work place.

I met up with John a few days ago – my second appointment with him after seeing him for the first time about four months ago in June.

John was a classic case of a highly educated local PMET who was caught out by the lax foreign talent policy here.

Earning close to $11,000 just five months ago, he came and saw me the second time at my office a few days ago and during this time he appeared desperate and frail.

He is married, have a young child and in his early forties. His boyish good looks could have charm a few girls’ hearts if he is still single.

It was fortunate that he managed to pay up his house mortgage several years ago and do not have to worry about having a roof over his family’s head when he is still jobless.

I was nevertheless aghast how four months of unemployment could do to the confidence and esteem of a highly educated PMET.

When I saw him for the first time four months ago at my office, he appeared calm and composed and we could even laughed and joked during the session.

He was just retrenched and armed with a severance package, he has some financial back-up as he went about to look for a job.

The second appointment was a disturbing and cold one – a chilling sign that unemployment has bit hard into the psyche of one of our brightest and fittest.

Educated in the best local university here and burnt through the meritocratic furnace of our system, John is now reduced to a mixed bag of uncertainty and disappointment – betrayed by the very ones who told us that they will take care of the people if we excel in our stringent educational system and be diligent in our work.

During the second session, we remained silent occasionally for a full twenty awkward seconds as I do not want to interrupt his train of thoughts as he tried to come to terms with his emotions.

I always find that our male jobless professionals are rather stoic in how they respond to their jobless circumstances compared to our women counterparts who tend to be a bit more emotional and fiery.

John was a risk manager for all of his career life so far – a skill he told me is still very niche and in high demand.

He is also the headhunter’s favourite darling as their high pay package means that the commission reward is also very lucrative.

Most risk managers are paid handsomely – between $8,000 to $10,000 on average less bonuses.

However, due to the lax foreign talent policy, many risk managers from the US and Australia have recently came over and John was squeezed out of the lucrative career.

Someone from the HQ in Japan came and replaced him five months ago and he left the Japanese bank with some severance package and a worried look.

Though he has gone for some interviews, he couldn’t land any offer yet as most of his interview competitors were from overseas – US, Australia and Europe.

As his interviewers are also foreigners, John felt that there may be some bias here.

“I couldn’t speak as well as those foreigners and this probably is my biggest handicap during an interview,” John lamented to me in one of his rare show of displeasure at his jobless situation.

John is also one of the rare few PMETs whom I have met who only reproached himself for his unemployment situation and I have never hear him blame anyone for his plight – not even the easy-target government.

Mild-mannered and rather shy in his demeanor, John will definitely lose out to a more vocal foreigner from the US or Australia during a job interview – who are known to have the gift of the gab.

For us to compete in the global job market, Singaporeans must learn to speak better English and express themselves more at the work place.

Trained to be followers from young and patted on the head approvingly by both teachers and parents for not speaking out against authorities, Singaporeans tend to lose out a lot when it comes to verbal articulation.

I have spoken to many Aussies while staying in Sydney the past few years and found them to be fluent in their spoken language as it’s their native language.

Even the uneducated road sweeper spoke better English than me!

I told John maybe he can consider joining a Tostmaster programme as they teach people how to speak properly in front of an audience.

However, after meeting up with John and a few other professionals who were squeezed out of the global job market by foreign talents here, I must add that there is little protection from the system to ensure that the local professionals have a place in our own country.

It’s like you have a plot of land to till and for a long time you could grow potatoes and wheat without fear that you will go hungry – so long you work hard to till the land and fertilise the ground.

You realise later that your village chief decides to let in more people from other villages to share your plot of land and you could do little to protect yourself and family from being squeezed out of your own plot.

Now, you have less potatoes to harvest as the plot of land is being shared by many other strangers let in by the village chief and they all also have to eat.

You try to be kindhearted and let them have some space to grow their potatoes but soon you realise that the whole plot is being taken over by strangers leaving you hungry and angry.

The worse is you can’t do anything about the loss of land and potatoes as that means you are branded as unwelcoming and xenophobic by your village chief who have always asked you to love and accept them.

You begin to look at other villages to move to as you need to survive and take care of your own family members.

This is a simple analogy of what is happening to us at the work place now.

To make matters worse, just the other evening, I was told that a local employer whom I have some contact with, decided to hire a foreigner over one of my jobless referral – over cost matter.

Naturally, my local jobless client was devastated and inconsolable when I told her about the bad news.

Nevertheless, the crucial question remains: What can Singaporeans do to save their jobs from being snatched away by foreign talents?

Our Prime Minister has warned us that he will be gunning for a 6-million-population Singapore.

How many local Singaporeans will lose their jobs then in order to please our government’s wish?

You can’t let in 800,000 more foreigners without providing them with good jobs and housing facilities.

Moreover, is a 6-million-population the ultimate wish of our own citizens?

The next few years will be tough for Singaporeans as they have to stay on top to retain their jobs or else they will be replaced by 800,000 more foreigners flooding the tiny red dot looking for work.

Let’s hope that our government can come to their senses and stop the country from sinking into chaos and oblivion.

.

Gilbert Goh

* Gilbert Goh is the founder of transitioning.org. It is a non-profit society specially set up to cater to the emotional needs of the unemployed Singaporeans.

Posted in Commentary, Opinion | 67 Comments »

First Hand Acccount : Population Dialogue Session with Ministers

Posted by temasektimes on October 12, 2012

I was there at the dialogue session, it was so well orchestrated that it felt like a multi-level marketing “sales” event. It started with DPM Teo giving the presentation on fertility rates, immigration numbers etc and reinforced that immigration is needed to fill in the missing babies since 1980s. Charts, numbers and graphs were all used to appeal to the head to assure that infrastructure was being upgraded, immigration was calibrated etc. There was also an innovative use of an instant survey to ask a couple of questions.

Kicking off the questions was Dr Amy Khor with whether the two child policy was so successful to cause the problems today. It was textbook answer of that the policy was needed at that time etc etc and they changed it in 1987. Then came the questions fast and furious. Out of the 35 questions I estimated, about one or two thanked the government, the majority about twenty questions were harsh and upset with the government, the rest were relatively neutral. The quality of some of the questions were quite weak, either unprepared or too narrow in focus. But some were thought provoking and related, e.g. Would Singapore return to Malaysia in the future if we did not have enough Singaporeans ? Why are PRs allowed unlimited time to decide if they want to be Singaporeans or not? Why still have landed properties if there is so constrained land in Singapore? Make it non existent for everyone. Why are we still selling our property to foreigners and the highest bidders when there is such a crunch ? Now the urban planning says 6 million in Singapore, but similarly in the past, Singapore was designed for 4 million, now we have 5.3 million. Who will know if the government screw up again and increase it to 8 million ? Would the government be ready to accept non traditional families like lesbians and single moms ?

The mood was definitely not kind to the Ministers. Whenever someone said something supporting Singaporeans, the audience would clap and cheer. One young Singaporean even addressed Dr Amy Khor’s clarification that he was okay with 10 million in Singapore, he quipped,”I am okay with 10 million in Singapore with the appropriate infrastructure, ten million SINGAPORE citizens!” to loud applause. Another guy at the end of his question even said,” I will be more comfortable with a Singaporean lesbian and her kid, then a foreigner!” The final blow was from a small business owner that even chided the Ministers Grace Fu and Tan Jin Chuan calling them managers rather than leaders and not having conviction to set a path forward or vision (Grace Fu on non traditional families) and unsure what economic growth is for Singapore (Tan Jin Chuan, which led him to return with a lengthly merry ground defense of himself)
So much so that DPM Teo had to admit that we are so used to scoring 99 percent that when we score 75 percent we get upset.

To be fair, I have to give credit to the Ministers and organizers for staying an extra hour till 10.30pm to try to address all the questions. I think some of the audience members should reflect how they wasted their opportunity to ask in-depth questions. Only two suggestions were picked up, one possible re-zone of the land use to increase land for housing and a special needs person as an NMP in the future.

From my perspective, the most disturbing was the wrap up by DPM Teo, he asked three questions, where Singapore wants to be in the future? What is the definition of a Singaporean ? And how these two questions affect the population in Singapore. For the first question, he painted an appealing vision that now 50 percent of the world’s population lives in urban cities, and the future even more will live in cities, and that Singapore wants to be one of the key global cities in the world – vibrant and dynamic and cosmopolitan. The answer to the second questions is that the Singapore identity is always in flux and we are a migrant society. Everyone of us have some relative or parent or grandparents that were immigrants to Singapore. And the third question, was the text book answer that we needed a core of Singaporeans with the values and mores for society but we need to continue to supplement with young dynamic immigrants who provide the economic drive and the foreigners will return home and not be a burden to our society. All of these questions and their answers are logical and true, but it begs the question….

IS THE SURVIVAL OF SINGAPORE OR THE SURVIVAL OF SINGAPOREANS ? The key focus for our existing government ?

I pondered on this question as I took the Somerset MRT train north bound to the suburbs at 10.50pm after the dialogue session and found the train packed including a group of merry Americans, a loving Filipino couple and a Malaysian watching Ipoh parody of Gangnam style.

Then I realized the message I got from the dialogue session and the path our current leaders are taking us down, and the sad reality being, “

Singaporeans are essentially migrants helping the survival of Singapore for the next batch of migrants.”

Source: http://www.youarebetteroffted.blogspot.sg/

Posted in Commentary, Opinion | 22 Comments »

Why National Conversation will just be another ‘managing expectation’ exercise

Posted by temasektimes on September 11, 2012

I have to say that the article “PM Lee: ‘National Conversation’ is about managing expectations” did little to give an accurate analysis of the Prime Minister’s comments.

While I encourage my fellow citizens to examine the messages that the media puts out to us, it is important that we remain discerning and objective when reading and interpreting what the state media or the new online platforms publish.

Let us first take a close look at the article carried by Today newspaper. Comments about which the article is based on are:

“”But some stones, after we look at them, the original place was quite nice, we put it back. There has to be a balance,” said Mr Lee, as he pointed out that managing expectations would be a key challenge of having the conversation.”

If you look carefully at what the Prime Minister is saying, he has made it clear that we should be willing to leave certain issues be, if there is no need for a change.

On the other hand, the commentary by the newspaper or reporter noted that there will be difficulties in managing expectations in the conversation.

To put it in layman-speak, the conversation will not shy away from slaughtering sacred cows, but it will not go on a Sacred Cow culling exercise. At the same time, we must manage the expectation that the National Conversation will be about making any and all changes demanded by the vocal majority (as opposed to the silent majority), some of whom may already expect that their views and ideas will result in radical changes or immediate action, and are ready to dismiss the National Conversation.

Now that we’ve dealt with this confusion, I would hope that the Government will take note of the phrases they should avoid, because the citizens have begun to associate these words with negative connotations or negative experiences.

(1) Manage expectations – enough said. Citizens do not want to be heard only to have their expectations managed, they want to be understood, and have solutions offered, even if such a solution is actually an exception to a policy that must be applied consistently across the board.

(2) Xenophobia – the citizens do not fear foreigners. They fear the loss of their jobs, career progression, salary increments, seats on buses and MRT trains and the way of life they have built up and served to protect (militarily and socially). I think we can just call this “anti-foreigner sentiment”.

(3) Foreign Talent – citizens do not see talented foreigners as key contributors to the economy any further. Foreign talents are now merely new immigrants who compete for space, jobs, housing, education and more. Citizens seem to think of “FT” as wage suppressors, alternative to Singaporean voters, and more. Let’s call a spade a spade – FTs are merely “locally-employed foreigners”.

(4) Engagement – citizens seem to think of this as “I talk, government listens, in one ear and out the other, and they decide on whatever they feel is right”. No need to re-word this term though, we should just work on engaging Singaporeans.

(5) Opposition – while the legal or traditional term of the non-ruling party might be the “opposition”, this term seems to imply that the Government is calling the other parties “opposition parties” as the ruling party is unwilling to work with alternative voices. Since we are able to coin “Uniquely Singaporean” terms on our own (think ‘Integrated Resort’, ‘foreign talent’, ‘group representative constituencies’ etc.) I think we can acknowledge that the opposition parties are merely “Non-ruling Parties”.

(6) Integration – Singaporeans want harmony, but they do not want to be integrated with locally-employed foreigners, new citizens or other non-NS contributing groups unless their interests are taken care of. While integration is key, we need to give Singaporeans sufficient resources and advantages to survive and thrive on the very land they grew up on, defended, built on, and lived on. Only when Singaporeans are less disadvantaged will we be able to fully integrate and harmonize Singaporean society.

WONG WEI MING

Posted in Commentary, Opinion | 6 Comments »

 
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