June 27, 2007

$128m en-bloc sale windfall for Hakka clan

By Lee Chee Keng

WHILE the recent en-bloc property boom is making a million or two each for home owners, one of Singapore's major Hakka clan associations has really hit the jackpot.

The Char Yong (Dabu) Association will pocket a cool $128 million from the sale of the 93,300 sq ft Char Yong Gardens condominium in the Cairnhill area.

The association - which owned 36 of the 106 units in the condominium sold to CapitaLand recently for $420 million - is now looking at how to best use the windfall.

Discussions have started on enriching clan activities, developing its youth wing, providing better care for old or needy members, as well as expanding its charity work.

The need for these talks nearly did not arise as some clan members had opposed the sale, despite the support of the 41-strong management council, said association president Lang Chin Ngau, 59.

If the dissenters had prevailed, the sale would have failed as the clan's 36 units gave it more than the 20 per cent of votes needed to scrap the deal.

The opponents had noted that the flats sat on ancestral land and wanted it to stay that way. They also said a tree planted on the grounds in 1963 by Mr Lee Kuan Yew, now the Minister Mentor, should not be disturbed.

The issue was put to a vote in a special general meeting on Aug 27 last year. Of the 209 members who showed up, 168 voted for the sale and 23 opposed it. The other votes were declared void.

The Char Yong (Dabu) Association, founded in 1857, now has more than 2,000 members.

It bought the land in 1947 to house its office and the Khee Fatt School founded in 1906. But pupil numbers kept dropping and the school was handed over to the Ministry of Education in 1985.

The same year, the clan struck a deal with DBS Land and Char Yong Gardens was built in 1991. The clan's 36 units were managed by The Ascott Group as service apartments, earning $4,000 a month each in 1995 - but rents slid to $1,500 in 2005.

Talks to sell the property began the next year.

Although the deal has now been sealed, the clan's link to the land will not be completely lost

Said Mr Lang: 'CapitaLand will give us priority to buy a few units in the development before it is open to the public.'

The tree planted by MM Lee will stay at the site or be relocated.

The focus now is on how to best use the $128 million, which the clan will get in 11/2 years' time.

Its constitution dictates that one-third will go to the association for its operations, activities and charity work. The rest will go to the Char Yong (Dabu) Foundation for educational and cultural work.

Every year, the association hands out $250,000 in scholarships to pupils from Qifa Primary and Da Qiao Primary schools, and to members' children. It also donates to charitable and cultural groups.

It recently gave $300,000 to the Confucius Institute Fund, making it the largest donor to the fund set up this year to establish a World Chinese Literature Award, and to fund the institute's research projects and other events.

Mr Lang said plans to use and invest the money from the sale will be discussed thoroughly at management council and general meetings.

The association has three other properties which it rents out.

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