Wednesday, 27 September 2023

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Land for HDB flats “raided” at great cost to people under Land Acquisition Act

by Foong Swee Fong

The Land Acquisition Act, while it gave the government a free hand to build the city, is highly controversial, to say the least.

Implemented in 1967, it gave the Government powers to acquire land for “public benefit, or for any work or undertaking that is of public utility or public interest, or for any residential, commercial or industrial purpose”.

An amendment in 1973 set compensation for the value of acquired land at the market price as of 30 November 1973. Subsequent adjustments were made in 1986 and 1995.

The Government thus acquired large swathes of land at prices independent of market conditions as well as landowners’ purchase price.

Indeed, some landowners had purchased their land at market prices but were compensated at historical prices and ended up with loan repayments for land acquired by the government.

But the most controversial part was that land was acquired on a selective basis, based on the infrastructural plans of the state.

Plans are made by people. Therefore, it begs the question of why land at Ghim Moh had to be acquired but not land at nearby Bukit Timah. Or why Toa Payoh, Bishan, Ang Mo Kio, Woodlands were acquired and not the area around Caldecott Hill, Seletar, Teachers Estate or Serangoon Gardens.

The people who had their land acquired, not only did not receive fair compensation, they did not enjoy the appreciation of the value of the land had it not been acquired, unlike the people whose land has not been acquired. After four or five decades, we are talking of fortunes lost and fortunes made.

Those who had their land acquired have nothing much to pass on to their children. To add insult to injury, their children will have to fork out the current market price for land, albeit at a small discount, just to buy an HDB flat, tying themselves to 20 to 30 years of loan.

On the other hand, those whose land was not acquired can pass them to their children and grandchildren, who thus will have a head start in life. Talk about meritocracy!

Granted that many people made their own fortunes, but it cannot be denied that the Land Acquisition Act helped create the haves and the have-nots, the landed-property class and the HDB class.

In one fell swoop, destinies were altered, affecting not only the pioneer generation, but generations thereafter.

Minister for National Development, Mr Desmond Lee, claims that charging historical prices for land when pricing BTO flats is tantamount to raiding state reserves.

But he should remember that the same land was taken from the people at great cost to them and their offsprings.

Indeed, who raided who?

This was first published on Foong Swee Fong’s Facebook page and reproduced with permission.

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