[UPDATE: 3 March at 10:15am - adding explanation from Khaw Boon Wan]
A comment that Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam made in parliament on Thursday has sparked an outrage among Singaporeans online.
Responding to concerns expressed by non-constituency member of parliament (NCMP) Gerald Giam in Thursday's session about Singaporeans being unable to afford a flat here, Tharman said that families with household incomes of just $1,000 can now purchase one.
"I would like to assure Mr Gerald Giam, who might not have caught up with all the developments, that our enhanced housing grants for lower income families are such that a family with a monthly income of as low as $1,000 can now purchase a small flat," said Tharman, who added that a family that earns "a bit more, say $1,500," can afford a medium-sized flat.
"The housing grants that we have been giving are more aggressive than what any other government would give. For those who really cannot afford it, we have other schemes to help them," he continued. "So home ownership is a very important plant of how we are helping our low-income group, and in particular helping them to accumulate savings over time."
[Read the full text of his Budget 2012 Debate round-up speech here.]
Shortly after news of his statement emerged, the online space was abuzz on Thursday evening and most of Friday with internet users disputing what he said.
Commenting on Yahoo! Singapore's Facebook page, user Ho Kian Wan asked, "Hmm, any idea why my friend who earns $1k a month couldn't even get a loan for his BTO flat?"
Another reader, Masharno Wolfe, said, "Yes, it might be possible. If you don't plan on eating, going anywhere or paying your bills, that is."
A third reader, Ethan Sia, added, "It's statements like these that make me wonder if the common citizens actually live in the same dimension as the PAP MPs."
Threads on HardwareZone were discussing the plausibility of his statement, and Singaporeans soon started making fun of what Tharman said because of how preposterous it sounded to them.
A new Twitter hashtag (#maybetharmanmeanttosay) appeared as well, first coined by user @geekmat, who tweeted just before 4pm: "#maybetharmanmeanttosay If you make $1k per month you can buy a flat... OR you can eat, your choice." Popular blogger mrbrown then picked it up and ran with it, sending out a series of tweets using the hashtag, which caught on with other Twitter users and made it to the top of the Singapore trending list by about 6pm on Friday.
At the same time, he created a "Success Kid"-themed meme, with the caption: "MAKE $1K A MONTH / CAN BUY A FLAT", that he attached to his tweets on the topic.
Tweets attached to the hashtag included one from @boboiscrazy, reading, "#maybetharmanmeanttosay you can buy a flat… piece of plywood to keep you sheltered." Others added to the mockery of cheap housing options, suggesting flat-packed tents that can be pitched along East Coast beach, paper houses that are traditionally under Chinese customs burned for a person who passes away into the afterlife, as well as the old faithful piece of cardboard.
Perhaps in an attempt to respond to the barrage of tweets, Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin tweeted with the same hashtag, saying, "#maybetharmanmeanttosay $1k/mth CAN buy 2RHDB flt@$100k? YES! 1st timer get $60kHDB grants. $40k balance fully covered in 25/30yr by ur CPF."
Khaw Boon Wan explains
Speaking on Friday in Parliament (see point 26 of his speech), Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan explained more clearly Tharman's statement while announcing new measures to improve home ownership here.
"(Tharman's) comment caused a stir, precisely because it sounded so incredible," he said. "DPM was referring to a two-room HDB flat, which we started building in 2006. The subsidised BTO price for such a unit in a recent launch is about $100,000."
He continued, explaining that if the head of the household is first-time buyer, he will be entitled to a total subsidy of $60,000 from the Additional CPF Housing Grant and the Special CPF Housing Grant, introduced recently.
"The net selling price to him is therefore about $40,000, (and) the monthly mortgage payment on such a HDB loan can be fully covered from his CPF contribution, without out-of-pocket," added Khaw.
The minister also noted that in practice, most 2-room HDB flat applicants earn combined incomes of more than $1,000 a month, with median incomes for applicants at recent 2-room BTO launches coming to about $1,400 per month.