This was a cut delivered in Parliament on 5 March 2010 by Workers’ Party Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang during the Committee of Supply debate, on the budget for the Ministry for National Development (MND).
The Economic Strategies Committee (ESC) called for “bold steps to enhance land activity, so as to gain the greatest economic benefits from land”, but in land scarce Singapore, we cannot treat land solely for economic benefits.
We should guard against looking at all available resources from the economic benefit perspective. We must not forget the ultimate aim of any economic benefit derived from our policies will only be meaningful if the outcome is a better society with happier citizens.
Land is needed to provide for necessary social activities that carry low or no economic value. It provides community space for social interaction. Some examples are wet markets and hawker centres. Hawker centres have become a feature of Singapore and provide fairly inexpensive food for the people due to the relatively low rentals. If we apply the principle of maximizing economic benefits from the land occupied by hawker centres and wet markets, these iconic features of Singapore would become super markets and food courts in no time.
The current trend of the Government to release land for tender by private developers to build and operate markets and hawker centres is worrying. When private developers bid for the land for wet markets and hawker centres, they are out to maximise profits. In a competitive bidding exercise, especially during times of economic growth, private developers compete against one another to secure the tender. The highest bidder who is successful would need to recover their investments and recoup their returns through higher rentals charged to individual stall lessees. In the end, these high rentals tend to translate into higher prices which consumer would have to pay for their cooked food and market produce.
The Government should continue the practice of building markets and cooked food centres at new locations for NEA to operate, to ensure Singapore remains a liveable and at the same time an affordable city.
Read other Workers’ Party statements at wp.sg.