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(This post was originally posted here).

My 3rd post and the 6th post of the series. This shall be my last post of this series regardless of whether Jack replies or not. (Unless its very controversial) This is a debate with no end.

1. Jack’s start

2. My reply

3. His counter reply

4. My counter reply

5. His counter counter reply

6. This post as my counter counter reply

Topics of discussion: I would like to add more but I have no time and there is no end of additional topics.

A. Housing (10 sub-sections)

B. Foreign talents/workers (4 sub sections)

C. Grow and share

D. Transport

E. The electoral situation

A. Housing

1. Small flats

I assume from Jack’s words that he is in support of smaller flats if the demand is there.

The building of smaller flats does not mean that the construction of larger flats will stop. This just gives people more choices. People are still free to buy larger flats if their finances can handle it. I raised the popularity of tiny shoebox condo apartments. Although I have no statistics to back this up, anecdotal evidence suggests that they are very popular. On to his arguments

a. Build flats according to demand

The problem is if HDB does not construct smaller flats, there would be no demand for such flats. The fact that there is demand for tiny shoebox apartments means there is demand for small flats. To allay any fears of lack of demand, I have a suggestion.  Since HDB flats have to bought first before they are built, HDB can do a trial run. Let buyers indicate a serious intention (by way of deposit) to purchase small flats. If sufficient numbers indicate their interest, then proceed with building. If not, return the deposit and no harm is done. Right now, there isn’t an option to prove the demand is there.

b. Deter family expansion

Which one deters families more, no flat or a small flat. Those who can afford a larger flat would have bought one. A smaller flat with lower cost would also reduce the financial burden for less financially-able families. In fact, it would also encourage this group who can’t afford a larger flat in the first place to start a family.

2. Land supply

I’m ok with the first part of his point. I take issue with this statement “Ultimately Singapore can only support a set number of people, and the determination of who should and can stay in Singapore should be based on how valuable that person is to his country.”.

What is this suppose to mean? I hope he does not mean we kick out those that does not contribute a up to a set criteria in terms of economic output. I would say, we take in foreigners up to a point if they start to do more harm then good. By harm, I mean the externalities they cause like transport congestion which is already happening on a large scale. If Singapore reaches the critical number, we have to impose stricter restrictions on foreigner intake regardless of their calibre. More on that in the next section

3. Land valuation

As to pricing methodologies of land, I shall not debate any further. As long as land prices are not transparent, we will never know how the Chief Valuer does his job and the current pricing policy. There is no end to this anyway.

4. Profits on land sales

In fact, the profits of land sales are almost 100% since most of the land belongs to the government in the first place since independence. Coupled with the most common 99-year lease, it means that land sales is like a cash cow of the government. Market rates are actually set by the government since SLA has a virtual monopoly of land. How is the market rate set properly based on demand and supply in a monopoly?

As for reserves to help the poor, I applaud this move if it was actually done in the first place. Land sales have not been included in the Budget as incoming revenue as far as I can see. This means the money earned can’t be used for programmes, at least not directly. As to using our current reserves, the government has been notoriously stuck-up in its use. In this election, PAP candidates have been quick to label opposition plans as raiding the reserves. The only time I heard of its use was when $4 billion was withdrawn for the Jobs Credit scheme but it was returned this year. How much of it was actually used is unclear.

I don’t advocate drawing down of reserves as far as possible. I do hope the rate of accumulation is slowed from its current rates. Return the money to the economy by greater expenditure on social services and education.

5. Resale/first time buyers markets and MOP

I concede that resale flats has to come from flats of first time buyers in the first place. Thats why the (extended) MOP is there, its to segregate the markets, more on that below. One has to repair a distortion with a distortion. I know the next question is why not avoid the distortion in the first place. Its because the current housing prices have not abated despite cooling measures. This calls for more intervention.

I bring back Jack’s solution of raising incomes. He admits that solution will take time. I agree with it over the long term. But time is what the housing market may not have. I’m no economist to even try predicting when the housing market will collapse. But common sense tells you it will happen eventually. Better to slow the market increase in line with salary increases to prevent this scenario then to wait for it to happen. Then everyone is worst off.

The MOP functions like the delay between the first time buyers market and the resale market. Call it linked or segregated if you want. I prefer the latter. First time buyers have to wait it out to sell their houses (same time as resale flats now) so the question of quick buck is settled. As to downward pressures on prices, after keeping the flats for so long, do you still want to sell it for a quick buck? Its hard to fathom anybody not wanting to maximise the value of their flats whether they upgrade or downgrade. Of course you want to sell it near the current market price depending on location. Even if you got your flats at a lower price, why would want to sell it lower than the market? Any profits accrued, take it as part of the Asset Enhancement policy the PAP likes to talk about and has been going on for very long now.

And HDB prices tend to rise as estates mature due to greater availability of nearby amenities and transport services. By the time the flats enter the resale market after the MOP, the prices should have risen in line with current market prices or higher.

6. PR housing issue

No disagreement with his suggestion of 10% handicap.

7. CPF on housing

Its precisely many Singaporeans have excessive amounts of their CPF locked up in their houses thats why we want to prevent the problem from getting worse for subsequent buyers. The policies suggested will not lower housing prices from their current levels. I know saying is no use as its all theory.  I can’t back this up unless its actually done. Thats why I will not go further.

8. Financial options for unlocking home value.

As to financial options to tap into the homes’ values, I support reverse mortgage and I hope the HDB or private lenders extends and reinstates this to all homes. I have not read those forum posts but from Jack’s summary, I don’t think its all bullshit. As Wee Siew Kim ( my current MP of Jalan Kayu in Ang Mo Kio GRC) once said in defense of his daughter:“What she said did come across as insensitive. The language was stronger than what most people could take.__…….I think if you cut through the insensitivity of the language, her basic point is reasonable………”

(See the comments in full here. I don’t agree with his words, its just that the context is very relevant here. I believe this reason is partly why he is not seeking re-election)

Back to topic, the other methods Jack suggested are nothing special. They are available already. But remember, those are loans that you have to pay back which is back to square one. And most people don’t need and cannot take up extra loans as they are struggling to pay their HDB loans in the first place.  You can’t get a loan or mortgage if you are still paying as with the norm of 30-year loans. The current rate of growth of housing prices helps no one except SLA, property developers, banks and speculators. They hurt first time buyers. Current owners of flats don’t benefit as their own properties rise generally in line with the market except downgraders.

By the time you can qualify for those options, you are nearing or at your 60s. By then even, most banks will not offer them to you by way of your age. On an unrelated example, the student loan policy for university, the guarrantor cannot be more than 60 years old. 60 seems to be the magical cutoff age for loans.

Only the reverse mortgage merits closer study in preparation for reimplementation.

9. Inheritance

The reason I raised this is to remind readers (for the uninitiated) of the limits of reverse mortgage although I’ve said I’m in favour of it many times already. Not for inheritance to be intended as a major point.  This is the same when Jack has issues with smaller flats and its demand and its association as a short term measure. As for estate planning, I’m sure the lower-income has a lesser need for such experts then the rich for obvious reasons.

10. Final words on housing

No issue with Jack’s conclusion on housing. The illness is not on rising housing prices. Its the RATE of its increase. The removal of speculative elements is what I have brought forward with the MOP (extension). It should be MY summary. Its funny when he summarises his housing section with the inclusion of this statement when he has not suggested anything in this area ( I see so far) other then whacking my MOP.

B. Foreign talents/workers

Shackles on Singaporean workers

1. National Service

The deeper meaning, or rather, deeper problem is the relevance of NS reservist in this day and age. I’m not against* the mandatory 2 years as that does not affect companies at all. The educational\career advancement of the Singaporean male is just delayed 2 years. The problem arises when the reservist duties start to impact the competitiveness of Singaporean men. And I’m not in favour of forcing NS down the throats of foreigners.

*(In this argument context of competitiveness. I would personally hope to see a further reduction in the mandatory NS period although this will no longer affect me. This is a subject out of scope of this article)

Jack says it can be managed by better management of manpower. This is not answering to the point. The very existence of the 10-year service cycle obligation is a huge “prison ball” holding down the productivity of Singaporean men. Better manpower management is going to just vary the size of the ball without removing it.

The better question to ask and answer is if the service cycles are reduced or removed, how much defence capacity are we actually going to forgo in comparison to the increase in productivity and employment prospects of Singaporean men?

The reduction in service cycles should be paired with the plan of increasing the numbers of a professional army as well. (Subject of another day as well)

2. Foreigners abilities to ask for lower wages

Working harder and more productive is easy to say. I also want to work harder mah. Why are Singaporeans so hard up about the paper chase? Does this not prove we are already doing our best to improve our productivity as it is?

**I regret not bringing this up earlier but better late than never. No matter how hard we work and how high we rise, there is always a foreigner somewhere around the world with the same skills. No Singaporean worker/job is indispensable except for probably the civil service and military. The reason why companies locate here is because of our infrastructure and rule of law etc. Workers form just part of the equation. This infrastructure comes at a price in terms of higher cost of living, taxes and costlier workers. Its all the Singaporeans living here permanently that is paying and will be paying for it all our lives. In return, we expect a higher wage to pay for this very expensive environment (multi-national) companies yearn. By hiring numerous foreigners, the companies get the double benefits of a good infrastructure and the lower cost foreigner workers. We may get jobs that pay wages similar to or lower (due to CPF) than the foreigners and yet our whole families still have to pay the higher cost of living here. **

I highlighted the above in bold for a reason. Its the real reason why Singaporeans are so unhappy with the huge influx of foreign workers. The only solution to the above is to restrict the intake of foreigners to a needs basis which is in my previous article.

3. Problems faced by foreigners

This is practically a non-issue. These series of posts is about GE2011 where only Singapore citizens can vote and need be concerned. The crucial difference between local workers and foreigners is choice. The foreign workers CHOSE to work here, locals didn’t. Problems like adaptation are part and parcel of working overseas. Those workers should have been at least mentally prepared for it and the fact they will be treated as third class citizens (second is PR). This scenario is the same for other countries as well.

4. Healthy competition

Healthier competition can only come about if the skills of the foreigner are better than Singaporeans on an average basis. We can’t compete on wages for the bold paragraph above. Thats why I’m ok and no opposition parties disagrees with the input of talents from overseas.

The problem arises when the skills of the foreign worker (Note: I don’t use the word “talent” here) are comparable to those of the average Singaporean. The competition becomes the short-term battle over wages instead of skills which locals will lose inevitably. Upgrading skills can help matters but there will yet be another round of battle with the foreigners of the next level. Only by rising to near the top then the problem for you is solved. How many people have the capacity to reach the top?

Normally, competition is good, but excessive competition takes a toll on the health and well-being of Singaporeans. Using words such as “slack, lazy and incompetent”‘ is a tremendous insult to the workers of Singapore who have put in the one of the longest working hours/week in the world in 2008. No reason to think things have changed since then.

C. Grow and share

If this is investment education\scheme was aimed at the lower-middle-class and up I would have no issues with it. But we are talking about the poor here. They are living from hand to mouth as it is. They can’t afford the stored value in the ezlink cards although cash payments are more expensive overall. Where are they going to get the money however small in invest in such a scheme? The only money they probably have is locked up in their CPF accounts, even then, they may have problems keeping up with the increases of the Minimum Sum.

As to starting young as early as 17, I’m all for it. But what about the numerous elderly poor who are working as cleaners etc earning less than $600/month? Middle-aged workers may not have the time on their hands to see the returns from a small principal amount. They may have to invest larger sums to get a decent return.

Jack says he is against investment other’s behalf. But hasn’t the government been currently doing that with your CPF money? CPF is used to purchase low-interest, low-risk government securities on YOUR behalf regardless of your investment appetite.. The money then goes to GIC and Temasek for their investment activities. Sure, the government bears the risk of losses but that is besides the point.

Right now, you can use your CPF money to invest in unit trusts etc. But that is provided the Minimum Sum has been satisfied in the first place. Tell that to the poor who has to inject cash into their CPF just to maintain the Minimum Sum.

D. Transport

I’m not talking about the COE again as I support its policy in its entirety with reservations in my previous article.

ERP is only in use in peak hours hence its suffice to say this ERP discount (not removal) policy for taxis will only affect CBD traffic during those times.

As to MRT commuters hopping onto taxis instead. Does he know what the price difference is between a typical MRT ride and a taxi ride? The flag down rate of the taxi is already more expensive then the longest transport journey. Even with the reduction in ERP costs, the peak hour surcharges and the distance traveled is no small sum. This will affect the private car drivers as the (running costs of the car) ERP and costs of fuel are a quite a pinch compared to the taxi ride. This is just an alternative, who says private car drivers MUST take taxis?

I’ve said already that the traffic is generally one way during morning peak hours. Taxis won’t enter the zone unless they are carrying a passenger to begin with. If many private car owners choose to drive instead, why would extra taxis ply the CBD? Then why would they stay in the zone when there are virtually no passengers taking taxis then?

I can see a possibility of the problem during the evening peak hours. Thing is, peak hours in the evenings are stretched as people leave work at different times. Traffic exiting the CBD is alot less congested then the morning. There’s a reason why the yellow lane marker for buses is one hour longer in the evening. Normally, the taxis will move into the zone just before the peak hour starts to capitalise on being the first birds. Getting the passenger (should not be hard by then) and then leaving the zone. Long queues at taxi stands are the norm in the evening peak hours currently. More taxis would certain alleviate these queues.

E. Electoral situation

Of course, I want my MP to be a good one. Who does not? My friend chao has written a detailed post regarding the qualities his ideal MP should have. ( Its on facebook but I dunno if its set for public viewership.)

Jack implies most opposition candidates are trash. May I know where did he get this idea from? With his long trip to Vietnam, I’m pretty sure he would have missed most of the rallies much less the oppositions’. The mainstream media has been fairer to the opposition in this election but the tinge of biasness is still obvious. And rallies are the only viable way to reach out to people who don’t read about their plans online.

I’ve been to the PAP rally at Serangoon Stadium. Unlike the opposition rallies, what you see on the mainstream media is exactly just what the PAP rally looks like for real. The atmosphere of the opposition rallies are vastly different though.

Did he look at the profiles of the opposition candidates? What about their manifestos especially WP and SDP which are written in in greater detail than the PAP’s despite knowing most if not all the policies they suggest will never be carried out? And the candidates of the PAP, are they picture perfect as well? Or does the mainstream media like to emphasise* the flaws of the opposition like the “gay” MP and plans that “raid” reserves? As they say, look hard enough, you can find that everyone has skeletons in their closet.

*(The time spent on talking about them is alot less then the Gomez scandal in the last election. I applaud the media from exploding this into a full smear campaign in this regard)

The opposition candidates have to spend time from their work and money (16k electoral deposit for a start)  to stand in the limelight. They were prepared for their backgrounds to be scrutinised to their last hair. Words have to be more properly chosen then the PAP due to their history of resorting to defamation suits. With this kind of odds stacked against them, does one still believe the opposition candidates in this election will talk trash in parliament and not serve the residents well? From their rallies, one can feel the sincerity they have in serving the people. But all those are just empty talk unless voters give them a chance to put that into action.

Even if they do get elected and act as he insinuates, they will get booted out the next election. Hougang and Potong Pasir have been run well for decades despite the numerous hurdles placed on their funding. I would dare say, if Aljunied or any other GRC falls to the opposition, they would try their best to use that opportunity to make it a model GRC for them to point to.

As to conflicts on which party to contest in which district, the fact is that except for a single three-cornered fight in an SMC, they did manage to reach a desired solution before Nomination Day. Which discussion does not have conflicts? All it matters is that they managed to get their act together to reach a desired result.

The above would not have happened if the Elections Department releases the voting district boundary early enough. Although it is earlier for this election, there is still room for improvement. The almost last minute release means that the opposition cannot work the ground beforehand and the history of gerrymandering further adds to this uncertainty.

Unlike other First-World democratic countries which are independent, the Elections Department here is under the Prime Minister’s Office. The general public wouldn’t know how the voting districts are drawn up. Till now, no satisfactory answer has been given to the criteria and reasons for drawing up the districts in this manner. This feeds speculation that the districts are drawn to suit the PAP. Don’t even get me started on the hidden purposes of the GRC. Finally, other countries doing it does not make it acceptable. Its the same with the death penalty, most countries abolishing* it does not mean Singapore has to follow.

*( I’m in support of the death penalty but not the mandatory aspect of it. Subject not in scope of this article)

Today is Polling Day. It is unlikely many will reach this point after a nearly 4000-word article. Nevertheless, if you do read to this point and have not voted, to bear in mind my arguments of the need for more opposition candidates in parliament. The PAP may not deserve to be out of the Cabinet, but we do need more voices to voice out the effects of its policies. Constitutional amendments have to be stoppable by the opposition if they are detrimental to the rights of the typical Singaporean.

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