Excerpts from Straits Times article “WP ‘not looking to raid reserves'” (22 April 2011) by Kor Kian Beng:
WORKERS’ Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang yesterday accused National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan of trying to distract Singaporeans from the issue of keeping new HDB flat prices affordable.
The opposition veteran said Mr Mah’s remarks on Wednesday, suggesting that the WP is trying to raid the reserves with its housing proposals and abolish the elected presidency, were ‘calculated to confuse Singaporeans’.
‘I would advise the minister not to sidetrack (from) the issue of public housing that the WP has raised in its manifesto,’ said the Hougang MP.
‘The WP is saying that the current flat prices are too high and would be a financial burden for younger generations of Singaporeans. What is the Government’s response to that?’
The ruling party, with Mr Mah largely at the forefront, has been attacking the WP’s manifesto, in particular its housing proposals, in the past fortnight.
Mr Mah said on Wednesday that the WP’s suggestion to peg new flat prices to median incomes to make them cheaper would devalue the one million existing flats.
This is because buyers would flock to new apartments if they are significantly cheaper, he added. Now, prices of new flats are tied to the resale market and then discounted.
It is possible to make flats cheaper because the Government could lower its price for state land for HDB blocks, said Mr Low earlier.
But Mr Mah slammed the suggestion, saying it would mean less contribution to the reserves and is thus considered a raiding of the reserves.
Mr Low fired back yesterday, saying that based on such logic, the People’s Action Party (PAP) has been guilty of taking from the reserves for years.
‘The PAP’s election budget and the Grow and Share package to please the voters also mean that we will have less contributions to the reserves. This is also raiding the reserves,’ he said, referring to the $3.2 billion package to help Singaporeans cope with higher costs of living.
In addition, the land cost for new HDB flats is usually lower compared to the land set aside for private developments, he said, which means the PAP is also raiding the reserves.
Private developers have to tender for the land, and thus the price is usually higher than that of land for HDB flats, Mr Low explained.
Stressing that the WP is not trying to raid the reserves in any way, he said: ‘We are not saying that we should make use of reserves, we are not saying that we should not accumulate reserves, we are not saying that we should not save for a rainy day.
‘I think we should save for a rainy day, but the question is how much is enough? And what is the trade-off?… you can save everything and make Singaporeans poor if you want to.’
* * * * *
Mr Low also took issue with Mr Mah’s comments that the WP is against upgrading programmes as part of the asset-enhancement policy.
The WP does not object to upgrading, he clarified, but it is against the PAP making use of government money to ‘threaten the people during elections’.
And despite the growing heat on the WP’s housing proposals now, Mr Low insisted that the party will not shy away from the thrust and parry.
‘At this point, I think the PAP has chosen this particular issue to attack the WP and attempt to confuse Singaporeans. We will take them head on,’ he said.
He added that the PAP is addressing this issue now only because the polls are near. Despite complaints about high prices of HDB flats over the last few years, Singaporeans ‘did not see Mr Mah jumping up and down like this’, he said.
‘Why not? Because it’s election time. Why election time? Because your vote is precious and can make a difference. Election time is when you’re most respected because you can exercise your power,’ he observed.
‘However this power is valid only if there is competition, and opposition parties are able to provide you with a choice. I urge you to value your vote.’