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Dear PM Lee Stop Equivocating About Affordable Homes for Singaporeans and Acknowledge That Your Government’s Policies Have Created a Country in Which We Feel Second Class


Dear PM Lee

Earlier this week you posted on Facebook that “Singaporeans, now or in generations to come, would not have to worry about having an affordable home to call their own“.

However you fail to acknowledge that your own policies have deliberately created a shortage of housing so as to push up land prices and create a disguised tax on the people to channel more and more of their hard earned income to the reserves under the disingenuous claim that this is necessary to protect future generations. The state has a near monopoly of land in Singapore after your father expropriated huge swaths of the country’s land in the 1960s and 1970s, paying derisory compensation even for that time to the holders of the land. Some of them were extremely wealthy and thus arguably less deserving of sympathy but many were not, including farmers who owned small holdings.

Your ownership of this land bank that your expropriation created has allowed your Government to control the supply of housing and ensure that Singaporeans have to buy public housing from your monopoly supplier. Since you succeeded the interim PM Goh in 2004 you have got much better in keeping HDB prices marching upwards by restricting supply so that the Resale Price Index has increased by about 250%. At the same time HDB unit sizes are at least 10% smaller than they were in the 1990s.

If Singaporeans owned the freehold of their HDB then rising prices would at least allow them to enjoy real asset enhancement, rather than the fake one you have deceptively marketed to them over the decades. You and your father have falsely claimed in the past that Singaporeans should be grateful that the Government gave them an appreciating asset. Back in 2010 before the GE you said:

“The HDB flat is not just a shelter but also a key investment asset…over the long term, the value of HDB flats depends on the strength of the Singapore economy.  Provided Singapore continues to do well, our flats will maintain their value, and Singaporeans can enjoy an appreciating asset.”

Your father went further:

We intend to keep the value of these homes up, it will never go down. Because it will be renewed, the surroundings will improve, and as Singapore prospers, GDP goes up, the value of homes will go up.”

and:

“We never went for the iron rice bowl. Each person has their own porcelain rice bowl and if you break it, it’s your bad luck. And they’ll look after it when it’s their own and its porcelain.”

To mislead Singaporeans that their leases would expire and that their flats would be worth nothing (long before expiry it would be difficult to near impossible to get a mortgage) is shocking coming from the leader of the Government and should definitely have a received a Protection from Online Manipulation and Falsehood (POFMA) notice from your Ministry which stands ready to issue one at your Government’s command to members of the public who dare to question the received history. In 2018 you backtracked and said that after the 99 year lease was up an HDB flat would be worth nothing after your chosen (at least for now) seatwarmer-in-waiting Lawrence Wong had admitted the same in Parliament. This caused some consternation suggesting that many Singaporeans had been misled as to the true nature of an HDB lease and may have overpaid though this may have been masked by continued price appreciation.

You say that having HDB leases expire after 99 years is necessary in the interests of equity to future generations of Singaporeans. However as usual this is disingenuous and does not bear scrutiny. If you were really concerned about the welfare of future generations then you would make HDBs freehold or provide a reasonably priced route to lease extension. This would allow the current generation of Singaporeans, which include many whose parents also lived and worked here and paid taxes helping to build up the reserves over six decades, to benefit. As you often point out, Singapore’s total fertility rate is about half that needed to maintain the current population. That means that in the future it is likely that a majority those who benefit from your policy of limited leaseholds will be first-generation immigrants who have not contributed to the build up of the reserves and who, under current policies, will, if male, not have had to do NS and do not have to give up a month every year to reservists, making them more attractive to employers.

This is just one aspect of the way in which your Government, in an effort to attract immigrants as a global city, favours foreigners over Singaporeans, to the extent even of allowing the children of FTs and PRs to live in Singapore, enjoying the socioeconomic benefits of low taxes and cheap domestic labour, and then to leave without serving NS and subsequently return to work in Singapore. In addition FTs do not have to pay CPF, which functions as a regressive tax squeezing consumption of the less well off and the threshold salary for an Employment Pass is set too low making it more difficult for Singaporean men, burdened with NS obligations and entering the degree job market later, to find work. I have calculated that the labour force participation ratio for Singapore citizens may be as low as 50%, showing that many have been discouraged from seeking work or forced to stay too long in education that has no real job prospects at the end of it. Your Government also awards generous scholarships to students from other countries who are then required to work here after graduation, excused NS if male, and fast tracked to PR and citizenship in 5 years. There are substantial economic benefits to immigration but there must be a level playing field first. Over the last 30 years your Government has increased the number of Singaporean residents by nearly 50% which has had a substantial effect in pushing up HDB prices. Allowing HDBs (bedrooms with no Minimum Occupation Period) to be rented out to foreigners has also had the same effect (see here, here, and here).

I have highlighted repeatedly before how this policy of increasing population at a rapid and ultimately unsustainable rate to drive up GDP growth without productivity growth has pushed up land prices and augmented the reserves. What I did not realise until recently was how important pushing up land prices through HDB demand was to your Government in secretly channelling billions in under-the-radar funding from the pockets of Singaporeans directly to our sovereign wealth funds through the Budget. You classify the state land bank as part of Past Reserves and insist it must be priced at the level set by the HDB resale market, prices for which are largely within your Government’s control. HDB is then given billions of dollars in grants every year to cover the resulting accounting loss (though cash flow is positive) from buying the land, constructing BTO flats and selling them to Singaporeans while allowing you to falsely proclaim your generosity in providing “subsidies” to Singaporeans to keep HDB affordable (see here and here)

Dear PM Lee, please stop equivocating. Instead of the fake spiel about how your Government will provide an affordable home for future generations of Singaporeans, most of whom will not have helped to build up the nation or the reserves through decades of austerity that the current generation and their forebears have endured but have received little tangible benefit from, start explaining what has happened to these reserves under your and your wive’s stewardship. If they are not at least $2-3 trillion, which they should be under any reasonable estimate of their growth, your Government should explain the shortfall. Why is it, that instead of Singaporeans receiving a dividend of possibly as much as $80 billion a year, they are instead asked to pay more tax to cover a “funding gap” that you insist exists?

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