En bloc sales: Time for lawmakers to act in the interests of the public

The Straits Times (Singapore)

May 29, 2007 Tuesday

YOUR editorial, 'Cooling the en bloc frenzy' (ST, May 24), is timely.

However, as reflected in the comments by Mr Shriniwas Rai in 'Let Select Committee hear public views' (ST, May 26), it seems to focus mainly on the need to regulate the conduct of collective sales.

I feel the fabric of our society is under threat as evidenced by the discord among the parties involved and it is time for lawmakers to act in the interest of the general public.

I have two concerns about the impact the en bloc frenzy will have on our society.

First, the Government's efforts at promoting community bonding and building an inclusive society are being threatened.

Neighbours are not talking to each other; and in some cases, the parties involved are resorting to lawsuits.

Such behaviour will erode our social fabric which took us many years to build and will be difficult to mend. Though the number involved may be small, it is, nonetheless, like a thorn in the flesh and it hurts.

There is now a shortfall of some 6,000 units in the private property market and the number is growing. No doubt a large portion is due to sites being sold en bloc which would take perhaps two to three years to redevelop. During this period, demand will outstrip supply, causing prices to escalate.

My second concern is that such escalating prices would put home ownership, both private property and public housing, beyond the reach of the working class.

We can leave the high-end developments to foreigners and speculators but there should be measures to protect the average wage earners against soaring home prices. We are already seeing prices of HDB flats soaring in mature estates and it is only a matter of time before it spreads to the heartlands.

While we should not deprive owners from cashing out and benefiting from selling their properties, the Government should take a broader perspective of the situation and not just allow supply and demand to find its own equilibrium. En bloc sellers are asking exorbitant prices which would in turn result in correspondingly high prices for new properties.

Would the high property prices leave a large segment of the population unhappy, disillusioned and feel left out of our inclusive society?

Are the soaring prices sustainable? I guess it depends on who you talk to. But it doesn't take one to be an expert to know that the next cycle will come around but when the times are good, people simply throw caution to the wind.

So when the fabric of our society is threatened, the Government should act in the interest of the majority. It is time to draw specific parameters to narrow the gaps so that, in time to come, the majority of our working class can afford a decent roof over their heads in a country they would like to call 'home'.

Teo Cheng Peow