Published April 15, 2008


En bloc sales: Consider wider interests of society, not just economic payoffs

I REFER to the report, 'Issues of cost, procedures bubble up in new en bloc rules' (BT, April 12), which mentioned that the Ministry of Law is planning to review the recently amended legislation governing en bloc sales.

I urge the government to take a more holistic approach in reviewing the whole issue of en bloc sales.

Rules are only as good as the institutions that enforce them. An important 'institution' involved in en bloc sales is the Strata Titles Board (STB).

The independence, competence, resources and procedures of the STB should be reviewed because it has a critical responsibility in reviewing and approving transactions involving up to billions of dollars.

It is important that the STB is made up of individuals who are both highly independent and competent. It is also important that the STB follow international best practices for arbitration and have proper procedures for dealing with possible conflicts of interests involving its members.

The STB must also be well-resourced and individuals who serve on it should be properly motivated to discharge their duties with due care and diligence. A robust STB, coupled with clear legislation, can do much to assure all parties that en bloc sales are a 'fair game'.

However, I would like to urge the government to go further than that. I hope that we do not approach en bloc rules purely from the perspective of urban renewal or economic development. En bloc sales should also not be driven primarily by the commercial interests of property developers, consultants, agents and advisers, but rather by the interests of those who are personally affected by en bloc sales, be they majority or minority owners, and the wider interests of society.

As we move towards a more caring society and recognise people with more diverse talents than just academic and business success, we should also take into account the wider societal and environmental impact of en bloc sales.

Can we have the moral authority to play a leadership role on the world stage, which is increasingly concerned with wider societal and environmental issues, if we disregard them in our own backyard?

What are the wider societal and environmental costs of tearing down perfectly good buildings and dislocating communities compared to the economic benefits?

We have gone a long way in terms of economic development, thanks in large part to good public governance. It is time that we look after not just our body but our soul as well.

Mak Yuen Teen