Andrew Loh / Deputy Editor
Mr Sinnathamby Silvalinkam, 57, is a very disheartened and desperate man.
Five months of correspondences with the Housing and Development Board (HDB) have failed to help him get what he desperately needs – a roof over his head for himself and his 41-year old wife, Emma Joy.
Despite being employed and married, the HDB and the CPF Board have rejected his application to release his CPF in order for him to purchase a 3-room HDB flat. This has led to Mr Silvalinkam and his wife having to put up at his sister’s one-room rental flat. He sleeps in Bishan Park on weekends.
Mr Silvalinkam’s friend contacted The Online Citizen (TOC) as a last resort in the hope that the HDB will be compassionate about his friend’s circumstances.
Mr Silvalinkam’s current predicament started in 2006 when he sold his 3-room flat in Ang Mo Kio to settle some debts he had incurred. He had borrowed some money from a friend to help with his family expenses. Mr Silvalinkam has three younger sisters and two younger brothers, all of whom got married before him. “It was a negative sale,” he told TOC, referring to the sale of the flat which he had bought in 1999 in the open market.
After the flat was sold, he rented a room in the same flat from the new owner for $800 a month and lived there until July this year. The landlord informed him in April that he was raising the rental to $1,200. “How can I continue to rent from him? My salary is only $1,500,” said an exasperated Mr Silvalinkam, who has been working as an operations assistant since 1996. “After I pay rental, transport and food, I have nothing left,” he said. “It’s like living from hand to mouth.”
Caught in a corner
It was then that the couple, who have been married for 14 years, applied to the HDB for a rental flat. Unfortunately, the HDB told them that they were ineligible because one, applicants must not have sold an HDB flat within 30 months from the date of application; two, the applicant must be a Singapore citizen and “have a proper family nucleus comprising at least one other Singapore citizen or permanent resident”; and three, the household income must not exceed $1,500 per month.
“But all our applications for my wife to obtain PR status have been rejected by the ICA,” explained Mr Silvalinkam. ICA is the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority in charge of approving such applications. According to Mr Silvalinkam, the ICA rejected their repeated application “because of my finances”. With his wife not being able to get PR status, his hope of purchasing a flat from the HDB was dashed.
The HDB suggested to him that he could, however, purchase a resale flat in the open market under the Non-Citizen Spouse Scheme (NCSS).
No to HDB flat, yes to resale flat
The couple decided to do that. Mr Silvalinkam had $13,000 in his ordinary account and he had sold his Ang Mo Kio flat for $140,000 in 2006. Since he was also 55 years old then, half of his proceeds went into his Retirement Account while the rest, in cash, was used to pay rental and settle his debts.
But they ran into problems with the HDB again. He was told that the money in his CPF Retirement Account could not all be used to purchase a flat.
The HDB, however, told him that it could give him a loan of $57,000 to purchase a flat under the NCSS and that he could use a part ($28,000) of his CPF Retirement Account as well. However, the total amount of $85,000 would still not be enough to get the couple a flat in the open market. He requested that the CPF Board released the rest of his funds in his Retirement Account.
His request was denied.
Singaporeans above 55 are required to retain a minimum sum of $94,600 in their Retirement Account – half of which must be in cash and the other half in the form of property pledge.
Mr Silvalinkam was informed by the CPF Board that he would be able to draw on his Retirement Account for his living expenses when he has reached 64 – seven years from now.
The HDB explained to him that he needed to retain $47,300 as his part of the minimum sum of $94,600. “It is important that the Retirement Account savings is preserved as it may be the only source of income which members can turn to for financing living expenses when they reach their draw-down age,” the CPF Board explained in a letter to him.
But this left Mr Silvalinkam bewildered. “Why can’t they release my CPF money so I can have a roof over my head?” he asked. He feels that he is being caught in a no-way-out situation.
Thus began a 5-month long attempt to get the HDB to reverse its decision. Mr Silvalinkam turned to his friend, Mr Viswa (not his real name), for help in writing to his Members of Parliament and with the various government departments. So far, he has approached almost all the MPs in his constituency – Mr Lee Hsien Loong, Mr Wee Siew Kim, Mr Inderjit Singh, Mr Ho Peng Kee and had approached the secretary of the Minister of State for National Development, Mrs Grace Fu, as well. All to no avail.
He suffered a heart attack in 2005 and sees a doctor every month. “It costs at least $150 each time,” he says. He visits a cardiologist every four months for his condition.
He sleeps at Bishan Park on weekends and on some week days so that he can save money when he goes to work. He works in Ang Mo Kio and he stays on some days with his sister and her three teenage children in her one-room rental flat in Boon Lay. “It’s expensive to travel from Ang Mo Kio to Boon Lay,” he explained. “On weekends, I sleep at Bishan Park to save money.” Mr Silvalinkam told TOC. He would wash up at coffeeshops in the mornings before going to work.
Mr Silvalinkam told TOC that his wife had tried applying for a job several times but has been unsuccessful. She is in Singapore on a Long-term Social Visit Pass, thanks to PM Lee who had helped her obtain it. She too is presently living with Mr Silvalinkam’s sister. “She sleeps in the balcony,” Mr Silvalinkam told TOC. When he is at the place, he too sleeps in the balcony with his wife.
In his last few correspondences with the HDB in October, the HDB continues to deny him his request. His friend, Mr Viswa, has referred him to the Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centre for help.
The HDB, when told about this, replied that it is waiting for the centre’s report.
“My age is catching up with me now,” Mr Silvalinkam said wistfully. “I am already 57.”
Read also: The right to love, marry and procreate? By Leong Sze Hian.