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OPINION | Since building HDB flats is funded by public money, shouldn’t the public have the right to know its cost breakdown?

"In his post, Mr Seetoh appeared to give advice to politicians saying: “The only way you can appease and win them over, is to continue being sincere, transparent and accountable. That’s the only winning chip any politician can have”. — Ghui, OPINION

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CORRECTION NOTICE:

This article contains a false statement of fact. For the correct facts, click here:
https://www.gov.sg/article/factually181122


As the Government officially confirms that is it pressing ahead with the planned Goods & Services Tax (GST) this week, the Workers’ Party (WP) has continued to press ahead with ensuring that the issues that concern most Singaporeans get air time – among other things, that of housing and medical costs and the rising costs of living in general.

In Parliament, WP members of parliament (MP) consistently posed questions relevant to the lives of average Singaporeans, including those related to the number of doctors in Singapore, the scheduled rollout of bivalent vaccines for those under 50 years old, HDB units, staggered school openings and even the projected rate of population growth in Singapore.

In Parliament on Monday (Nov 7), WP MP Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) spoke about the impending GST hike, which raises the GST from 7 per cent to 8 per cent from Jan 1, 2023, and from 8 per cent to 9 per cent from Jan 1, 2024, calling it “irresponsible” and saying that it should be postponed.

While the WP may just be a small minority in Parliament, it would seem that the points it is making are striking a chord with members of the public. Many Singaporeans have expressed their support for Jamus Lim on social media, with many also making their own arguments.

One per cent can mean a lot to many,” said one, “especially (the) elderly and lower-income families. (I’ve) been there, so I know how it feels to struggle working multiple jobs just to keep up with the raised standard of living!

The points Assoc Prof Lim made were praised by former GIC economist Yeoh Lam Keong in a Facebook post the next day. Mr Yeoh called the Sengkang GRC MP’s points “excellent,” adding that the GST hike “seems completely unnecessary at the moment” because of the “$30 bn structural fiscal surplus that we have not even begun to publicly delineate clear big spending plans for.”

On the flip side, senior members of the People’s Action Party (PAP) seem to have come under fire for being tone-deaf and out of touch. On Monday (Nov 7), Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh and Second Minister for Finance and National Development Indranee Rajah debated the costs of the development of new HDB flats and the details of subsidies given to buyers.

Given that this is a livelihood issue for most Singaporeans, it was surprising that Ms Rajah refused to provide a breakdown of the total development cost of all new Build-to-order (BTO) projects, saying that it was not “helpful or meaningful” to provide such figures.

Given that the building of HDB flats is funded by public money, shouldn’t the public have the right to transparency? This has raised the ire of many Singaporeans who have taken to social media to denounce Ms Indranee’s seemingly sweeping dismissal, with KF Seetoh calling for sincerity, transparency, and accountability in politicians on his Facebook page.

In his post, Mr Seetoh appeared to give advice to politicians saying: “The only way you can appease and win them over, is to continue being sincere, transparent and accountable. That’s the only winning chip any politician can have”.

This seems to capture the ground sentiments well. At the end of the day, many are feeling squeezed and stressed and are in no mood to be dismissed. This fear of lack also goes some way to explain why some Singaporeans persistently remain suspicious of foreigners no matter what the Government says.

Added to this is a genuine fear that Singaporeans are living in a first-world country while performing third-world jobs. Over the pandemic, quite a number of Singaporeans became delivery drivers, and many are currently still in those jobs. The danger is that young and physically able locals may become entrenched in this industry and not regard it as temporary. 

If Singapore is indeed a Third World country where its citizens are struggling for survival, then let the food delivery business be. But it is 57 years since independence, what has happened to our education system? All this talk about us being a First World country and a world hub seems so ridiculously out of tune. 

Has the Government missed a trick here? By not being seen as transparent, they lose the trust of the public. In losing the trust of the public, the public does not believe in their reassurances. The Government must realise that sometimes, it isn’t about being “right”, but about genuinely listening and engaging with the citizenry.

Ms Indranee’s performance in Parliament this time might be a good example of how the Government could have done better. Did she perhaps miss a golden opportunity to tackle a genuine concern by coming across blasé?

To end on a good note of sorts, the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) saga which has dragged on for years has now finally come to an end.

The AHTC saga first began in 2013 after FM Solutions and Services (FMSS) was appointed as the managing agent. Because FMSS had been founded by WP supporter Ms How Weng Fan, this was questioned by the ruling party over a possible conflict of interest.

On Wednesday (Nov 9) the Court of Appeal held that the leaders of the WP who had run AHTC had acted in good faith in deciding to waive the tender for a managing agent after the General Election in 2011 but added that the WP leaders and some of the senior employees are liable to AHTC for negligence in specific aspects of the payments process.

This has been seen as an exoneration of sorts for the WP leaders, former and current secretaries general Low Thia Khiang and Pritam Singh, respectively, as well as party chair Sylvia Lim given that the apex court has in large part overturned the earlier High Court judgement, as it found that the WP town councillors and senior employees do not owe AHTC fiduciary duties, but have been liable only for negligence in certain respects. This resolution has seen some Singaporeans taking to social media to praise the verdict and Singapore’s judicial system for the fairness it had shown in the matter.

Hopefully, this puts this matter to bed once and for all and the WP can fully focus on the issues that matter to Singaporeans most – their livelihood.

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