Acquisition act updated

By Loh Chee Kong, TODAY | Posted: 12 April 2007 1131 hrs

The Government's practice of acquiring land and dishing out compensation based on outdated prices has led to perceptions that it is profiteering at the expense of displaced owners, as Members of Parliament (MP) put it.

This should now change, as Parliament yesterday passed amendments to the 41-year-old Land Acquisition Act, pegging the compensation at prevailing market rates. This new practice will kick in for land that was acquired on or after Feb 12 this year.

Previously, compensation by the Government was based on the market value of the acquired property as of Jan 1, 1995, or the day it was gazetted for acquisition, whichever was lower.

Conceding that the previous practice was "a source for contention", Minister for Law, Professor S Jayakumar said: "Over the years, we have sought to cushion the impact of such an approach by periodically updating the statutory date and also through ex-gratia payments. However, after reviewing the Act, we have decided that these provisions are no longer appropriate."

Most recently, the acquisition of Hock Kee House in Paya Lebar for the development of the Circle Line stirred up much unhappiness among the occupants, who turned to the media to voice their displeasure over what they felt were inadequate compensation. The issue was only resolved after numerous meetings over several months among the residents and the Singapore Land Authority.

Welcoming the move, MPs felt that it would prevent similar fallouts in future between the authorities and the residents by ensuring fair compensation.

Sembawang GRC MP Ellen Lee added: "We have a Government that has been seen by many to be very rich. Many people deem it right that if the Government's intention to acquire land is ultimately to sell it to developers then the Government should not be the only one to profit from the astronomical sums it collects from the developers."

However, several MPs called on the Government to ensure that seized land is quickly developed for the stated purpose. Otherwise, it would lead to accusations that the area was unnecessarily acquired. In particular, Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Hri Kumar cited a plot of land along Geylang Road that was left undeveloped for more than 20 years since it was acquired.

Prof Jayakumar, who is also the Deputy Prime Minister, said that all land acquisition proposals had to be approved by the Cabinet. Major acquisitions must also be presented to a ministerial committee.

Currently, only 12 per cent of land acquired has yet to be developed, he added.

Responding to Mr Hri Kumar, Prof Jayakumar said the land was acquired for the development of a commercial-cum-transportation centre. But the land use plans were reviewed and it was re-zoned for part residential and part open space use.

Said Prof Jayakumar: "Sometimes, due to new factors which arise after acquisition, it is no longer optimal to put the land to the original planned use. This is a fact of life due to changes in demographic and land use needs which evolve over time." - TODAY/sh