Sunday, April 27, 2014

In memory of my Brother, David.

3 years ago, on this day 28 April, my brother David died during the General Elections while helping me in my election campaign in Tampines. It is a painful loss to me and my family.

David was the eldest brother in my family. He was a quiet and soft spoken guy. However, he was also a man of convictions.

David was a warm hearted, compassionate and helpful person who would always ready to help friends and family members. He had learned how to fix computers and would always offer to help poor family to fix their computers for free when he deemed fit. He had also refurbished old computers from my shops and gave them away to poor families whenever he could.

When I first joined Workers Party in 2001, David was all excited, though a bit worried about me. But he was definitely very supportive of me all along my path in opposition politics. When I first gave him the Workers Party membership application form, he gladly signed it.

From then on, he had been consistently on the ground to sell WP newspaper Hammer and knocking doors with me prior to GE2006. He had done all these without any expectation nor expecting anything in return.

David became my election agent in GE2006 when I contested in Aljunied GRC under WP banner. Without David, our campaign in Aljunied GRC may just end up chaotic. He had gone around the whole constituency and practically counted the lamp posts to estimate the number of posters we need. He had worked overnight just to make sure the contractors have put up the respective posters on time for the campaign on the next morning after nomination day.

Resources were always lacking in opposition parties when elections come. But David had basically utilized every means to recruit people to do the job. Although he wasn’t the “Principal Election Agent” of the team but he had basically run the whole logistics needs for the team. I owed him for that good campaign run.

When I announced my resignation from Workers Party, David was shocked and disappointed but he didn’t question my decision at all. But he did express his wish that I should join back Workers Party without being assertive.

I know my departure from Workers Party has caused some pressure on David. He was caught in between his party and me, his brother. I told him that he didn’t need to resign from WP as we are all in the same cause, no matter which opposition parties we are in.

However, it seems that not everybody in his party thinks like us. Although David didn’t tell me but I knew from various sources, he had been subtly distanced or even ostracized by some of his party members. Suspicions and distrust against David grew after I have decided to join National Solidarity Party. There were some who thought David was my “spy” in Workers Party but they had really underestimated David’s integrity. I have avoided asking him about Workers Party matters and he had never volunteered any information of his party to me.

When I decided to run in Tampines, I requested David’s help to be my election agent again. I knew this would put David in a tight spot but we have the understanding that we were in the same cause, we could choose our party and platform but not our parents. We are Brothers of the same bloodline. We have come to this understanding very early (about 2008-2009) so that we can let his party to have time to prepare new people to replace his role as election agent. Of course, I have to approach WP to tell them of this arrangement.

Unfortunately, this has caused further tension and awkwardness for David in WP. But David didn’t complain at all. He has endured it quietly. I do not understand the mentality or sentiment of some of the WP members. I do not work to contest against them but PAP. But it seems that they do not understand that at all.

A couple of months before GE2011, Yaw Shin Leong has spoken to me with much aggression that they decided not to contest Tampines (in GE2011) but would do so in the next GE. I sensed the kind of aggressive attitude of wanting a fight from him and WP. The immense arrogance demonstrated was astonishing. I realized then that my brother David must have suffered greatly but quietly from his party comrades’ attitude.

David must have felt torn apart when his party, WP announced their intention to contest in Moulmein Kallang after NSP has announced its candidates for this GRC. But he has kept quiet about it and didn’t approach me nor try to persuade me to pull out our team. He had felt a sense of great relief after I told him I was going to pull out our team from Moulmein Kallang GRC. He trusted me and our mutual understanding that we are working towards the same cause. I didn’t fail him in keeping that focus dedication to fight in what we have believed in.

It wasn’t easy for David to be the brother of Goh Meng Seng. Even though David was the eldest brother while I am the youngest in the family, he had always respected me in all aspects and supported me in my political struggle for the whole decade. He has never used his Eldest Brother’s status to lecture me or pressure me in any ways but treated me as a leader instead.

I am really fortunate to have a brother like David, who has put in real effort and time to support me in my political cause. But I am also really unfortunate to lose a brother like David in the midst of this struggle. He has not only suffered quietly the unwarranted distrust, slander, pressure and such in his party, but also gave up his life in supporting me, his brother, in my political struggle. It is indeed my greatest loss in my life to lose a brother like David. I owe him for my political status this life and I really wish we can be brother again next life to repay him.

Goh Meng Seng

Monday, April 07, 2014

Myth of HDB “Ownership” – Do you really “OWN” your HDB flat?

Recently there was a discussion on “HDB Ownership”. It seems to be a “strange” debate at first look because most Singaporeans have been told that they “own” their HDB flats and how successful PAP was in raising “Home Ownership” for the past decades.

HDB has tried to circumvent the fundamental question on whether we really “own” the HDB flat by saying we can “sell it” to make money etc. (Read article from The Real Singapore )

HDB’s assertion is totally flawed in trying to draw parallel between leasehold private properties vs HDB’s own “leasehold”. Private property owners with leasehold do not consider their property as “rental” in nature basically because in all legal terms, they OWN the land where their property sits on! The same cannot be said of HDB.

For a start, you must understand that there are TWO basic types of leasehold properties in Singapore:

1) Right to rent for 99 years OR
2) Private Ownership for 99 years!

There is a Distinct and VAST DIFFERENCE between the two!

1) Private property with certain number of years of “leasehold”, in which, you are the rightful OWNER of the LAND which your property sits on. If it is a condominium or private apartment, you will be allocated “Strata Titles” on the percentage and RIGHTS of your OWNERSHIP of the land and property in the whole estate.

2) In the case of HDB leasehold, you DO NOT own the LAND where your flat sits on and technically speaking, you are only considered as HDB Tenant without any rights of ownership to the land and property of your flat. This is just like a RENTAL LEASE which, will last for 99 years if you bought it straight from HDB itself. You only sign “Lease Agreement” with HDB when you buy the flat from it, not “Sale and Purchase Agreement” . This Lease Agreement only gives you the right to stay in your flat for 99 years but NOT the ownership of the land which it sits on. 

Prior to 1980, we were not ALLOWED to sublet nor “sell” our HDB flat. By 1990, HDB “ALLOWS” (yes, you need HDB’s consent because technically speaking, HDB is the OWNER of your flat and land!) you to trade your flat or rather, the lease of your flat. Note, you are not trading the land of your flat but rather, only the lease aka the RIGHT of staying in your flat.

HDB’s “lease agreement” may be one of its kinds in this world because it is made to look so similar to “private ownership” but in legal terms; you do no have any “private ownership” of the land nor property.

1)      You are allowed to “trade” on the lease (of rent) for profits and it makes it looks as if you “own” the land and property.
2)      Although you can trade your lease but this is subjected to HDB’s approval as it is the rightful owner. HDB, as the owner, dictates on who you can sell the lease to, which race, which nationality… etc. If you really own that HDB flat and land, they have no right to dictate that!
3)      But you have absolutely no right whatsoever over that land where your HDB flat sits on. Eg. You cannot fence up the place just like what private condominiums do to keep out “trespassers” because you don’t own it in the first place. i.e. it is NOT considered as “private property”.
4)      You can’t have strata titles over the land and property nor decide on whether to Enblock the whole block of flats to sell it to private developers. You can’t initiate that Enblocking but ONLY HDB, the real rightful OWNER of the land could initiate such process to capitalize on the value of the land.
5)      You might have paid for the construction of the carparks for your estate via the pricing mechanism dictates by HDB but you do not own these carparks. i.e. you will have to pay rent for using these carparks.
6)      You cannot form your own management board to decide on maintenance issues or even for simple landscaping decision. i.e. you can’t even decide what trees to plant in your estate!
7)      Anytime the government or HDB want to do anything to your estate, they can just do it without compensation or consent from HDB tenants. For example, HDB can just decide to “monetize” the carpark at the back of your block to build DBSS flats and you have no say nor compensation because you don’t own anything there, though you might have supposedly paid for the building of that carpark.
8)      The reason why you have to apply for HDB approval to “sublet” your flat out is basically because HDB is the landlord. This is unlike private property owners where the government or URA has no say over who you can or cannot sublet to.

Thus you can see from the above, there is basically no “property ownership” to speak of when you don’t own that land where your flat sits on. Then the fundamental question is, what exactly are you buying or selling in that HDB flat? What are you actually buying or selling if you don't really OWN that land your HDB flat sits on? You are just trading on the AGGREGATE RENTS for the balance number of years in the lease in the HDB flat when you buy or sell your flat! That's what you are trading. Nothing more, nothing less. You do not buy any "ownership" in legal terms of any rights to the land and your flat.

This point is further expressed in the various "conditions" on your HDB flats imposed by HDB and the government. eg. Who can "buy" the "aggregate rent" of your flat to stay in that flat. If you "own" anything, you will have the right to decide on what you can do with what you "own". But for HDB flat, even though you have "paid" or "bought" the flat, there are a lot of restrictions put on you, technically by the LANDLORD, HDB aka government! In the past, you can’t even decide on what door or window grills you can put in your flat!

When you sell your HDB flat, you have to transfer the document of the lease to the new “leasee”. It is a very unique arrangement in Singapore and I believe there is no international comparison to Singapore’s HDB in the world.

Now, the fundamental questions emerge, IF WE are considered as mere HDB TENANTS who do not have any ownership or LEGAL RIGHTS over the land our flats were built on, then:

A) WHY is HDB selling flats that include "LAND PRICE" pegged to market rate when we do not own the land at all?

B) The HDB flat prices we pay are already inclusive of the construction cost of those amenities like carpark, landscaping, void deck, roads, etc on the land we do not own! Why do we still need to pay for the land price?

C) After we pay for the construction of carpark, why are we still made to pay for the carpark space?

D) If we do not own the land, why are we paying property tax?

E) When the government wanted to “upgrade” your place, you are expected to pay for such upgrading but in actual fact, you do not own that land! This is something strange because in normal circumstances, it is the OWNER of the property and land who is responsible for all expenditures on constructions or enhancement (eg. Lift upgrading) to the property. But yet, in HDB upgrading case, you are made to pay for something which is NOT of your responsibility and in return, to feel “grateful” to the owner for providing the “subsidies”! So the fundamental question is, why are we paying for “upgrading” on property or land which WE DO NOT OWN?

F) Are we being charged more than we get in reality? PAP has the cheek to make comparison to “market price” of land or property and claim that they are giving “market subsidies” to HDB “buyers” when fundamentally, these are totally irrelevant! Private properties come with private ownership of land and property but not HDB! This applies to comparisons made to housing prices listed in other foreign land as well.

G) Last but not least, it is really very misleading for PAP to use “Asset Enhancement” to sell their high HDB price policy because if we don’t own any land, what “asset” are we talking about?

I believe the reason why, prior to 1980s our HDB flats are cheap because land price was hardly included in the pricing because rightfully, we do not own the land, thus, we do not need to pay for it

You will be surprised with the conclusion. We have been hoodwinked into making that kind of "relationship" between land price and HDB prices for the past decades! For example, it is absurd to to even say that HDB pricing should include "land price" because you are NOT buying the ownership of that land at all!

The right concept is about the "RENT" of that land for 99 years. What's the difference? For example, if you own that land with strata titles, as owner of that land, you could possibly get consent from other flat owners within your flat to agree to ENBLOCK it to PRIVATE Property Owner anytime, WITHOUT the involvement of HDB at all! But no. HDB doesn't allow you to do that because you are not the land owner but just “renting” it.

Seriously, I don't know why people keep paying higher and higher Aggregate Rents for a shorter and shorter lease agreement with no ownership to any land but that's what Singaporeans are doing.

Even for private properties, if the lease is getting lesser, or just left 1 or 2 years, it could well cost less than a HDB flat because the "OWNERSHIP" of the land and private property will cease when the leasehold expires!

And the funny thing is, HDB use such inflated prices to peg the aggregate rents or prices to the new HDB prices! Yes, it is a crazy situation we have here. 

I do hope that Singaporeans should pause and reconsider their “belief” of HDB ownership which may give them the wrong idea which make them decide to pay more than what they get in return. The worst poison PAP has fed to Singaporeans is the misleading notion of “HDB is a good (property) investment”. How could it be a “good investment” when you don’t really own anything from the deal in the first place?

HDB is just meant to be a cheap home to us and our future generations with aggregate rents for 99 years pre-paid upfront. It is not meant to be an “investment”. But over the years, due to PAP’s silly diversion of policy direction due to greed and political agenda (yes, HDB upgrading is a political agenda), we are made to believe in the MYTH of “HDB ownership” which never really exist at all.

Goh Meng Seng