Ko Siew Huey / Picture by Woon Hian Chong.
Rebutting National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan’s comments that the proposal by the Worker’s Party (WP) to lower the prices of new Housing Board (HDB) flats is dangerous and against the interest of Singaporeans, WP Secretary General Low Thia Khiang said that Mr Mah’s statements were “calculated to confuse Singaporeans.”
At a press conference convened to introduce the WP’s second batch of candidates on Thursday, Mr Low took the opportunity to address Mr Mah’s recent remarks that the WP’s plan to lower flat prices by paying less for state land is an “illegal raid” on the reserves.
Noting that the government is currently paying less than market prices for land to build public housing and is therefore already contributing less to the reserves, Mr Low observed that by that same definition, “the government is raiding the reserves now. “
He added : “If the logic is that (whenever) we talk about the government collecting less is raiding of the reserves, then I think everything the government does can also be constituted as raiding the reserves. Where does it end?”
Clarifying that the WP is neither advocating drawing down on the reserves nor is it against the accumulation of reserves for future generations, Mr Low stressed that it is important to consider the tradeoff involved. He said, “We do not think the government should, for the sake of… building up reserves, mortgage the future of Singaporeans.”
On the issue of resale flat prices being adversely affected by falling new flat prices, Mr Low pointed out that the impact could be overstated as HDB new flats do not operate within a free market system. He said that since the government controls the supply of land and building programmes, it should be able to determine the optimal number of HDB flats to be made available in order to ensure stable prices.
Finally, Mr Low said that while he supported HDB upgrading as a means of improving the living conditions of Singaporeans living in HDB estates, he objected to the use of government funds to secure electoral advantage for the ruling party.
Sounding a note of caution, Mr Low said that the benefits of asset enhancement need to be balanced against the government policy of facilitating home ownership.
Throwing the ball back to Mr Mah’s court, Mr Low said: “I would advise the Minister not to sidetrack the issue of public housing the WP has raised in its manifesto. The WP is saying that the current new flat price is too high. It will become a financial burden of a younger generation of Singaporeans. What is the government’s response to that?”