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(Left: MND Minister Lawrence Wong, Right: M Ravi)

Human Rights lawyer challenges MND Minister to debate on the exact nature of public housing

by M Ravi

I noticed that the government is harping on the fact that HDB dwellers are owners just like a 99-year leasehold of a condominium where you can sell the lease. Would the Minister of National Development, Lawrence Wong care to shed light on the legal meaning of public housing which HDB flats are compared to a 99-year-old private lease?

From a legal standpoint and one which is recognised globally, public housing should not be seized even if one defaults on loan from the government or private banks. So why does Singapore government do it?

To elaborate, according to the Singapore law under the Distress Act, states that if you lease a property from the government, as in the case of rental flats, the government is prohibited from applying to court to seize the goods in your house by way of a Writ of Distress (a legal proceeding to seize your goods) or to seek permission from the court to seize the tenant's goods to auction them and apply the sale proceeds towards the rental.

In fact, I had used this provision in the High Court to challenge the seizure by a government-linked company of printing machinery worth almost 200k which was ultimately released back to my client. This was in the context of a commercial lease by a government-linked company.

So why am I bringing this up now? I know several Singaporeans who have lost their homes and flats and sadly, many lawyers do not want to acknowledge this as they work for the panel of the banks who have given the loan.

Since the Minister asserted that the claim of HDB flat buyers are not owners but are "tenants" in practice, is "factually and legally wrong", will he agree to have a friendly discussion or debate on these issues – Whether public housing is capable of being repossessed if one defaults on loans?

When a HDB lessee becomes bankrupt, can a bank seize the property? If public housing is capable of being repossessed and if banks are not able to seize properties, then the whole issue of “ownership” is in the doldrums.

This needs immediate clarification!