A group of residents of Centrale 8 have issued a statement following the report of numerous defects in their Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) flats in Tampines, describing the problem as "systemic" and in need of reform in enforcement, penalties and training.
While acknowledging that Tampines Member of Parliament Baey Yam Keng has, together with residents of Centrale 8 and the Tampines Town Council, embarked on an inspection of the common areas under the town council purview, the residents felt the episode highlighted systemic issues, and urged improvements in quality control and regulation standards.
"While much damage and inconvenience has already been done to residents, this is a good opportunity for the government to step in to set things right for both present and future homeowners. Our view is the problem is systemic and requires a hard look at both the government policy and current state of developer/contractor work culture and their responsibility to society," they wrote in their statement.
The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) works with a self-certification system, limiting their authority in regulating the quality of materials and workmanship involved in the construction of new flats.
In their statement, the residents pointed out that it was a full year after completion that the Public Utilities Board had discovered that the water pipe valves at Centrale 8 had been installed incorrectly, prompting major works.
"This and other instances lead residents to question government standards, their monitoring and enforcement, and the quality of the developer themselves," read the statement.
The residents urged the authorities to adopt more stringent enforcement measures, better training for construction and maintenance workers, as well as meting out harsher penalties for developers that deliver shoddy work.
"Businesses are profit driven, and unless there is a culture of ethical care and stewardship within society, penalties may be the only way to ensure such adherence until such culture becomes the norm," they said.
According to the residents, the Housing Development Board (HDB) and the town council had both carried out inspections of a number of units and common areas before the keys were handed over to occupants, yet buyers still found a high number of defects to be resolved.
"Given the high number of outstanding defects, why is it that these bodies had not taken action against the developer or communicated with home owners on these issues? There clearly is a gap here," they wrote in the statement. "We believe that more independent, professional and stringent inspection of the units is required."
The residents also said that it had been difficult to report their troubles to HDB, as it often referred them to back to the developer, Sim Lian Group. However, the developer had not been particularly responsive to their complaints. The residents now urge HDB to be "more proactive and take direct ownership in managing homeowner issues."
The statement also pointed out that all penalties currently doled out to developers are paid to the state, while homeowners are the ones who tend to bear the brunt of substandard buildings. For these people, options in seeking compensation are limited.
"Legal action against the developer is costly. Class action is also not possible in Singapore. This leaves residents to bear most of the down side of a sub-standard development," the statement read. "The question is, what the government can do to address this imbalance of power?"
FULL STATEMENT REPRODUCED BELOW:
1. The task force comprising MP Baey, Tampines Town Council (TATC) GM and C8 residents were involved in an inspection of various defects and issues in the common areas that are under TC purview on 11 July 2015.
2. The committee representing residents on the task force welcomed this inspection. We are of the view that MP baey and TATC have serious intentions to address these key issues. We also understand that MP Baey and several other MPs will be tabling an oral Parliamentary Question (PQ) on 13 July 2015, which will address some of the residents’ concerns. We also understand the task force has successfully negotiated with Sim Lian for the BSC to be kept open indefinitely, a move which Sim Lian had earlier resisted when approached by residents.
3. While much damage and inconvenience has already been done to residents, this is a good opportunity for the government to step in to set things right for both present and future homeowners. Our view is the problem is systemic and requires a hard look at both the government policy and current state of developer/contractor work culture and their responsibility to society. Only then can we have a sustainable and equitable solution for present and future homeowners.
4. Regulators need to be more deeply involved and accountable for monitoring and inspecting standards. We understand that BCA requires only self-certification for the quality of interior finishing. There is potential moral hazard involved, whether by collusion, acquiescence or negligence. This is also clearly not working out given the spate of problems associated with the recent batches of BTO and DBSS units.
5. Further on self certification, a further question is what other government agencies practice self certification for aspects of housing developments and whether such practices may pose potential dangers to home owners. It is also befuddling why, only after one year of operation, that PUB discovered that that water pipe valves were installed incorrectly? As a result, major works had to carried out to rectify this problem. This and other instances lead residents to question government standards, their monitoring and enforcement, and the quality of the developer themselves.
6. We also refer to the BCA CONQUAS standard that covers structural, architectural and M&E quality for public housing. CONQUAS is compulsory for all public sector projects, but only voluntary for private sector ones. A check on the BCA website does not show Centrale 8 listed as a CONQUAS project. The question is why Centrale 8 is not listed as a CONQUAS project, even if it is considered a public sector development for all intents and purposes.
NB: Of interest to note that Sim Lian scores seems to be on the low end to average, and pale in comparison to even some foreign developers. Even Sim Lian’s DBSS projects score worse for CONQUAS than a number of HDB developments, despite the stated aim of better quality in DBSS developments compared to BTOs. The question is whether BCA has been doing anything to actively engage Sim Lian to increase their standards, and why are DBSS CONQUAS scores lower than BTO ones? (http://diva79.blogspot.sg/2015/06/dbss-centrale-8-woes.html)
7. In addition, penalties need to be seriously meted out in order to remind developers and contractors to take codes and ethicL business seriously. This can be in the form of more stringent and clear thresholds for violation, higher fines and even exclusion from government projects. Businesses are profit driven, and unless there is a culture of ethical care and stewardship within society, penalties may be the only way to ensure such adherence until such culture becomes the norm.
8. We understand that HDB had inspected some Centrale 8 units prior to handover to owners. Likewise with the Town Council for common areas. Given the high number of outstanding defects, why is it that these bodies had not taken action against the developer or communicated with home owners on these issues? There clearly is a gap here. Someone must be doing his/her job. We believe that more independent, professional and stringent inspection of the units is required.
9. HDB needs to be more proactive and take direct ownership in managing homeowner issues, rather than push them to developers and other government agencies. When residents earlier approached HDB to address these issues, we were always referred to the developer. Needless to say, Sim Lian has been less than forthcoming and transparent in addressing our concerns. In the case of sanitary pipes in the yard, they even misrepresented the rationale as being a PUB requirement when it was not the case. Residents are powerless against a developer, which can either drag out our cases or even mount protracted legal defence against resident’s suits. Would it not be expected for HDB - as the relevant government body - to represent public housing homeowners interests?
10. While stricter regulation and enforcement will help, adherence is another issue. Trained and professional personnel are needed to ensure adherence by companies and workers. We need to end a culture of dependence on "outsourced" expertise of questionable standards. We need to build a core of experts that can professional manage construction and maintenance teams.
We cite the lack of care in construction safety (no cordons, slip-shot finishing, mis-installed pipes,substandard parts) and service providers (violation of poison controls act by providers spraying toxic insecticides into residents' home, and no measures made to mitigate or prevent negative implications) as cases in point. While this may cost more, developers / contractors will need to realize they cannot have their cake and eat it. If they seek to improve their margins, do so by improving efficiency and productivity and not cutting back on quality of manpower and materials.
11. Also, penalties imposed on developers are paid to the state. Current frameworks for defect rectification is limited, and does not cover the spectrum of problems and damages associated with sub-standard developments. This leaves residents uncompensated. Legal action against the developer is costly. Class action is also not possible in Singapore. These leaves residents to bear most of the down side of a sub-standard development. The question is what the government can do to address this imbalance of power?
12. It should be further noted that many residents do not purchase the Centrale 8 development for capital investment / short term gain, but to create a home for our families. In fact, many families were driven by urgent housing requirements (growing families, getting married etc.) to choose a DBSS development rather than a BTO as there had been a crunch earlier in the supply of the latter. We hope that the task force and the PQ address these issues.