The howl that was heard across the island was not about the sighting of a red moon, but the $880,000 price sticker for a 5-room Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) flat in Tampines. National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan could have chosen his words better when he commented about the outrage committed on HDB premises, "If buyers find a price too high, they can walk way." Doesn't that sound remarkably similar to SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa's truculent dismissal, that if the train is full, take the next one?
DBSS flats are housing units wedged between regular Build-To-Order (BTO) Housing Board flats and executive condominiums. Buyers must have a household income not exceeding $10,000, whereas the income ceiling for ordinary HDB flats is $8,000 (a number which the minister has already announced intention to raise to $10,000). The HDB website makes the incestuous link very clear: “Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) flats will be offered for sale under similar eligibility rules, terms and restrictions as applicable to new HDB flats." Which means housing grants are also available. Khaw tried to downplay the loop hole in national housing policy by claiming that "they form a tiny portion of the total housing options for Singapore." On one hand, Khaw maintains his ministry has no control over the flats' pricing. On the other, he promises to ramp up the supply of ordinary BTO flats and "price them appropriately." Does the man even comprehend the scope and responsibility of his new portfolio?
Maybe the minister has forgotten about the hot-button election issue of affordable housing. Maybe he needs to have it explained to him in simple language, that even a 4 year old can understand:
"Not everybody rich. Like minister family. House for staying. Not for speculation. No house, no marriage. No marriage, no kids. No kids, more foreign talent." (in 25 words or less)
Khaw Boon Wan was once upon a time one of the more credible ministers in the cabinet. At one stage, even the PM was envious of his popularity. After the affordable heart by-pass operation, he's starting to sound more like his despicable predecessor in the Ministry of National Development. "When they tendered for the land, price control was not a term of the tender," wrote Khaw in his blog. Land for DBSS, BTO or plain vanilla HDB flats are government acquired and priced by the Chief Valuer. The mark to market valuation results in large amounts transferred to the secretive reserves, of which Shanmugam says only the past reserves are guarded by the elected president. Who knows what profligate plans they have designed for the present and future reserves? If a percipient Khaw is privy to the key for affordable housing, he does not seem to have the political will to apply it. The marionettes may have been changed, but the wayang goes on.