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‘Go beyond social media posts’: Sim Ann asks Leong Mun Wai to debate housing policies in Parliament

SINGAPORE — Responding once again on Tuesday (Dec 20) to opposition party member Leong Mun Wai’s online criticisms of the Government’s housing policies, Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for National Development, has invited him to a “full debate” in Parliament.

Ms Sim Ann (left), Senior Minister of State for National Development, and Mr Leong Mun Wai (right), Non-Constituency Member of Parliament from the Progress Singapore Party, have been engaged in exchanges over Facebook on the prices of government-built flats.

Ms Sim Ann (left), Senior Minister of State for National Development, and Mr Leong Mun Wai (right), Non-Constituency Member of Parliament from the Progress Singapore Party, have been engaged in exchanges over Facebook on the prices of government-built flats.

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  • Ms Sim made another reply on Facebook to opposition party member Leong Mun Wai on the pricing of BTO flats
  • The Senior Minister of State for National Development invited him to fully debate the matter in Parliament
  • Mr Leong has been posting his comments on Facebook about the costs of government-built flats since Dec 8
  • In another post on Dec 16, he said that it is not clear how the Government has priced and subsidised HDB flats over the years
  • Ms Sim said that BTO flats are sold at significant subsidies, along with grants for many buyers

SINGAPORE — Responding once again on Tuesday (Dec 20) to opposition party member Leong Mun Wai’s online criticisms of the Government’s housing policies, Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State for National Development, has invited him to a “full debate” in Parliament.

An hour after she told him on Facebook to “go beyond social media posts” and “file a motion in Parliament” to formally discuss the issues he has been grinding at in recent weeks over the prices of Build-to-Order (BTO) flats, Mr Leong shared her response on his Facebook account but made no comments about it.

This was not the first time that Ms Sim was responding to him, having already done so on Dec 11.

Mr Leong, a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament from the Progress Singapore Party, sparked the back-and-forth exchanges online starting from Dec 8, when he posted on Facebook to ask if subsidies from the Housing and Development Board (HDB) were “really very generous” and called for the removal of land costs from the pricing of HDB flats.

He said then that the pricing of HDB flats should only account for construction costs and price differences between locations, and not the cost of the land itself.

A day before that, HDB and the Ministry of National Development released information for the first time disclosing that when pricing BTO projects, they do not apply a profit margin to development costs, which include land costs.

In his post last Friday, Mr Leong made more comments, saying “it is not clear how the Government has priced and subsidised HDB flats over the years”.

Ms Sim replied on Tuesday that BTO flats are sold at significant subsidies, along with grants for many buyers. 

"First, he says that BTO flats are not subsidised. This is simply incorrect," she said.

“The subsidy is realised”, she added, when homeowners sell their BTO flats on the resale market.

Under the heading of “Should HDB flat pricing be affected by the reserve accounting policy?”, Mr Leong wrote at length on Facebook about Singapore’s national reserves. He was following up on Ms Sim’s Dec 11 response that drastically lowering prices of BTO flats to the extent of disregarding land costs would end up hurting all Singaporeans instead of helping them.

He said it was the Government’s “usual defence that taking out the land cost in pricing HDB flats will require the Government to draw from the national reserves”.

“If public housing is treated as public infrastructure like schools and hospitals, which sit on what is regarded as state land because they are used by a ministry for public purposes, there will be no drawdown of reserves if we do not charge land cost when building HDB flats,” he added.

He then asked: “So how much money do we need to save for future generations? Is there any point in talking about providing for future generations when they are already assured of a few trillion dollars of inheritance?”

Ms Sim countered that Mr Leong has “mixed up” the discussion on BTO flat prices with his questions on the accounting of land value as part of the national reserves.

“There is no room for magical thinking here. Although the Government has explained it many times, it appears we have to do so again,” she wrote.

She has said before that state land is considered part of Singapore's reserves, so HDB disregarding land costs and not paying back the fair market value of the land would negatively affect the value of the reserves.

‘WRONGHEADED PROPOSAL’

Prices of HDB flats have been rising of late and property analysts have supported the Government's position that land costs should continue to be included when determining the prices of BTO flats.

Ms Sim added that the Government, which considers public housing a core commitment, has actively been listening to the public, especially through the ongoing Forward Singapore conversations and it remains focused on continuing to maintain the affordability of BTO flats.

"We cannot possibly be any less concerned than Mr Leong about housing affordability," she wrote.

Describing Mr Leong as “far from being the first Government critic to have over-confidence in the adequacy of our reserves”, Ms Sim said that he wants Singaporeans to believe that the Government should save less and is able to afford to draw down more of the reserves for present needs.

Mr Leong claimed that with the passing of the Monetary Authority of Singapore's Amendment Bill on Reserve Management Government Securities in January this year, the Government is now able to use the securities to accumulate even more reserves.

“The Reserve Management Government Securities will be used to absorb the S$200 billion of additional reserves accumulated in the last few years on top of our excess savings,” he suggested.

Ms Sim denounced Mr Leong’s suggestion as a “wrongheaded proposal which carries serious consequences”. 

“I therefore invite Mr Leong to go beyond social media posts and file a motion in Parliament, so that we can have a full debate,” she said.

TODAY has reached out to Mr Leong for comment.

Related topics

Sim Ann Leong Mun Wai BTO HDB social media

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