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PSP’s Hazel Poa says: Dorm operator reaps the profit, taxpayers pay for Covid

The PSP vice-chairman said that the profit margin on the worker accommodation segment is 61% but taxpayers "are footing the bill for the Covid infections due to the poor conditions in the dormitories"

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The Progress Singapore Party’s newly appointed Vice Chairman Hazel Poa called for accountability with regards to the poor conditions of the foreign worker dormitories.

In a post on her personal blog, Ms Poa wrote about Centurion Corporation, which manages the Westlite dorms.

On Sunday (May 17), she wrote: “Centurion Corporation is a company that runs workers’ dormitories. Their financial statements are available on SGX website”.

She added that in the 2019 financial year (FY2019), with a revenue of S$133.3 million, they made a profit before tax of S$111.0 million.

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Ms Poa explained, “In particular, the profit margin on the worker accommodation segment is 61%”.

However, she opined that taxpayers “are footing the bill for the Covid infections due to the poor conditions in the dormitories”.

She added that she felt this was “astounding and not right”.

“Where is the accountability?” Ms Poa wrote.

She also shared a figure on her blog showing the profit margin.

Formerly Assistant Treasurer of the Progress Singapore Party, Ms Poa, was appointed by the Central Executive Committee (CEC) as Vice Chairman.

Additionally, CEC member Mr Wong Chow Seng has been appointed to take over as Assistant Treasurer following Ms Poa’s relinquishing of the post.

Netizens who commented on her post had mixed reactions:

In response to TISG’s queries, Centurion Corporation said:

We are aware that recent media reports and letters have cited the profit numbers of Centurion Corporation Ltd (“Centurion” or the “Company” and together with its subsidiaries, the “Group”) in connection with discussions on the workers accommodation business in Singapore.

Some commentary have mentioned that the Group reported 4Q 2019 and FY 2019 net profits of S$73.1 million and S$103.8 million respectively. We wish to also clarify that the reported figures are inclusive of a one-time, net fair valuation gain of S$66.3 million recorded during the fourth quarter of 2019.

Fair valuation gains and losses are recorded during the fourth quarter of each year as the Company, based on its accounting policy, has its investment properties re-valued by independent valuers at the year end.

As fair valuation gains or losses are non-cash items and do not reflect a company’s operating performance, we disclose Net Profits from Core Business Operations excluding such one-off accounting gains or losses, consistently in our results announcements annually as well as in our annual report.

Similarly, the Profit Before Tax figures reported in certain blogposts have not considered key costs incurred for developing and operating the business. Unlike businesses where the cost of products sold forms a large part of the cost of business, in the dormitory accommodation business a significant part of the costs comes from the substantial capital invested for land and property development, as well as financing from banks and financial institutions to support such development. These costs, unlike costs of a retail product cost of goods sold, are accounted for after calculating gross profit.

As such, the correct and more representative number to reference in assessing the profitability of a Purpose-Built Accommodation business, would be its Net Profit from Core Business. Excluding one-off items, Net Profit from Centurion’s Core Business Operations attributable to equity holders was S$38.2 million for FY 2019.

This profit number is more representative and was derived from the Group’s global portfolio, which includes Purpose-Built Worker Accommodation (PBWA) business in Singapore and Malaysia, as well as Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) in Singapore, Australia, the UK, US and South Korea.

Our PBWA business accounted for about 65% of FY 2019 Group revenue, of which the share of Singapore and Malaysia business accounts for 88% and 11% respectively of total PBWA business revenue.

About Centurion’s Westlite Purpose-Built Workers Accommodation

At Centurion, we are committed to providing sustainable, safe and high-quality accommodation properties as well as developing management platforms and expertise to deliver living environments that meet regulatory and ethical standards, and are conducive to the mental and physical wellness of our migrant workers and student residents.

All our Westlite worker dormitories are purpose-built and adhere to local regulatory requirements and international ethical standards, including the Foreign Employee Dormitories Act (FEDA) and the Responsible Business Alliance (RBA). Our PBWA go far beyond providing residential apartment units, and are built to provide spacious and well-appointed self-sufficient estates where migrant workers can live, learn and play as a community.

All our Westlite apartment units are en-suite, with toilets, showers, kitchens and dining areas within each apartment. This means that residents do not have to share a common toilet or kitchen with large numbers of other residents of the floor or block but have their own facilities to themselves in their apartments.

As the Covid-19 situation is evolving, extensive measures have been and are still being implemented to contain potential further spread of COVID-19 both within and outside the dormitories, and to provide for the wellbeing of our residents during the movement restrictions. Further measures are being taken to manage the continued safety of workers who have recovered or are confirmed negative, as our country begins to lift restrictions and return to work.

These measures incur substantial additional costs, for thermal scanners and disinfecting equipment, personal protection equipment for our staff and residents, meals, cleaning and waste management, as well as increased operational and security manpower and more. These efforts and costs are not borne by the migrant workers, and we welcome the support of our government, employers, and NGOs in together caring for our migrant worker community.

 

-/TISG

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