Workers’ Party defends housing proposals, slogan

Alicia Wong
Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang and chairman Sylvia Lim counter the People's Action Party leaders' criticism of their proposals. (Yahoo! photo/Fann Sim)
Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang and chairman Sylvia Lim counter the People's Action Party leaders' criticism of their proposals. (Yahoo! photo/Fann Sim)

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan's critique of the Workers' Party's (WP) housing proposals is designed to "confuse" Singaporeans, said WP chief Low Thia Khiang on Thursday, as he rebutted the three points the Minister raised.

On Wednesday, Minister Mah attacked the WP's housing proposals, which included pegging the price of new HDB flats to the median incomes of households that qualify to buy them, rather than to resale market prices.

The Minister said it would devalue existing flats, the WP was against upgrading programmes and that lowering land costs to lower flat prices amounts to an illegal raid on Singapore's reserves.

Speaking at the unveiling of the WP's second batch of General Election candidates, Low questioned how cheaper new HDB flats could cause the price of resale flats to plummet, given that the supply of new flats is determined by the government and not by market demand.

"If the HDB chooses to build 20,000 flats every year to crash the HDB resale market, that is the problem of the government," he said, wondering if the Minister is "overstating the impact" of their proposal.

The veteran opposition politician also stressed, the WP is not against upgrading. It is the duty of a responsible government to improve Singaporeans living conditions, he said.

But the asset enhancement policy is more than just upgrading. "It can only mean that you want to benefit from the sale of a flat. But is that against the government's policy of owning a home?" he queried.

Low also stressed that their proposals do not raid the reserves.

If he applied the Minister's argument that contributing less to the reserves is considered a raid, "then in fact, the government has been raiding the reserves", countered Low.

He said, even with a chief valuer, HDB pays less for the land than if there was an open tender for private developers.

And by distributing Budget surpluses through the Grow & Share package, the PAP government could be accused of raiding the reserves, he said.

Low said, "We're not saying that we should not save for a rainy day. We do, I think we should save for a rainy day. But the question is, one, how much is enough? And what is the trade-off?"

While he believes the party's proposals have minimal drawbacks, he acknowledged it could penalise those who paid more for their flats. "But if we are worried about that, it's forever no change because you are stuck."

"The WP is saying that the current flat prices are too high and would be a financial burden for younger generations of Singaporeans. What's the government's response to that?" directed Low.

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The government will do well to answer those concerns and questions squarely rather than sidetracking the issue and attacking the WP for raising these issues," he added.

Chairman Sylvia Lim also took the opportunity to respond to Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam's comments on the WP campaign slogan.

He challenged the WP to identify another country's Parliament that they felt Singapore should emulate and substantiate their manifesto's slogan.

"He doesn't seem to be too clear about the concept so I think it's good for us to be given another opportunity to explain to the People's Action Party leaders some matters, which they have not read," said Lim.

Just as the PAP government describes itself as a First World government, without imitating the governance model of a specific country, the WP is advocating a model which works for Singapore and which does not have to relate to another country's system, she said.

She noted, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's comments in Parliament have suggested he is aware that Singaporeans want more opposition voices.

Singaporeans also realise the"dangers of unbridled power" and "the signs are there that Singaporeans want to have some effective check in Parliament", she said.

"We look at the First World Parliament as a Parliament where every MP has a mandate from the ground, with the same voting rights. And, the opposition in Parliament is able to function as a robust check on the government," said Lim.

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