Wednesday, 9 May 2012


HDB flats didn’t shrink, says Khaw
The government is also watching the trend of 'shoebox units' built by private developers and will step in if need be.

Contrary to what many people think, the Housing and Development Board has not shrunk the sizes of flats, Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan said.

Speaking to participants of a forum on Wednesday (2 May), Mr Khaw said the sizes of apartments have remained unchanged for the last 15 years, The Straits Times reported.

The paper said HDB figures show that since the mid-90s, the size of a four-room flat has remained at 90 square metres.

Mr Khaw said prices of HDB flats will not spike as they had in the past; neither will the sizes of apartments shrink to uncomfortable proportions – like those in Hong Kong.

“I would consider that a deterioration of our quality of life and we should avoid that,” Mr Khaw said.

He was speaking to about 200 participants of the Contributors’ Forum, organised by Reach, the government’s feedback unit.
The minister explained that prices of HDB flats had spiked because there was a “temporary imbalance” of the demand and supply of flats due to Singapore’s rapid population growth.

He said the HDB has been releasing more units and the housing market will stabilise once the imbalance is corrected, the newspaper reported.

“In the next five years, I am committed to building at least 100,000 HDB flats if necessary,” he said.

On the topic of a surge in “shoebox units” of 500 square feet or less built by private developers, Mr Khaw said the authorities are watching the trend.

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HDB four-room flat sizes, 1996 to 2011

Per the Straits Times, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said on Wednesday that Housing and Development Board flats have not shrunk in recent years, and that flat sizes have remained unchanged for the past 15 years.

According to the ST: A four-room flat, for instance, has remained at 90 sq m since the mid-90s, HDB figures show. HDB has also said that the amount of living space per person has risen, as the number of people in an average household has dropped.

The ST reporter, Jessica Cheam, later wrote this on her Facebook page:

A few people have asked me if it’s really true that #HDB flats have not shrunk in the past 15 years. And why it doesn’t match a previous report I wrote in Nov last year on the same issue. I’ve doublechecked with HDB and both reports are right – Minister Khaw is accurate in saying the flat size hasn’t changed in the past 15 years because the mid-90s was the last time that HDB changed flat sizes.

So, more accurately – The size of a four-room flat, for example, has been 90 sq m since the mid-90s. It was 100 sq m prior to that, and 105 sq m in the 1980s, according to HDB figures. (emphasis added)

The table given to us by HDB in the Nov report used a more generic timeframe (1980s, 1990s, 2000s) to show the sizes over the decades.
So yes, HDB flat sizes have shrunk in the past 3 decades – but it has not shrunk over the past 15 years.

It isn’t clear what type of four-room flat those figures refer to (models include: A, Simplified, Improved, Standard). They also appear to be average figures.

Compare them to the following list, which includes details of some HDB four-room flats sold in the resale market this year. The data is drawn from the HDB website, and is available here.

This list is not exhaustive (there is far more data for older flats than newer ones, as expected). I’ve also tried to provide some geographical variety for each year. It starts from 1996, although Khaw’s statement apparently covers the 1997-2011 period. For comparative purposes, I’ve only included model A flats.

Note: The existing Build-to-Order system was launched in 2001 to replace the Registration-for-Flat system. RFS was phased out in 2002. This is something to bear in mind, since construction of flats sold under the BTO system would have commenced up to four years prior to the start of the lease.

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900k for HDB

Looks like 3 HDB units just got sold at the $900k mark and the psychological barrier of $1m is inching closer. Many analyst give their 2 cents to say it is an exception and unique circumstances, rather than the norm, ya da ya da.

Regardless, it looks set that $1m is probably going to be hit in the next 1-2 years. Wonder if it is fair to become millionaires from government subsidized public housing.

Anyhow, who is going to be the 3 famous people? Huh, what are you talking about?

Basically, every single news agency and blogger out there is going to want to write about the buyer, the seller and the agent who closed that first $1m dollar deal!

So, I was thinking, why don't we work together, I sell my house at market rate, say $800k, you buy from me at that agreed price. But we declare it at $1m, under the table, I refund you the $200k. All 3 of us get famous and interviewed.

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Worker's Party's idea on transport comes to the fore

During the 2011 General Election, WP released a manifesto that proposed we re-nationalize our transport system combine rail and bus to create operating efficiency and savings by cutting down on management overheads.

In today's Today (3 May), it was reported that analysts examining SMRT's financial statement and the expenditure needed for upgrades and maintenance feel that there may be a need to re-nationalize the SMRT:

In the 2012 Budget, our transport ministry proposed to allocate $1.1B to SBS Transit for the purchase of buses[Link]. Recently, the LTA announced that it will finance part of $900M cost to upgrade the required to upgrade the SMRT system. Analysts believe that the upgrade will strain SMRT's financial health unless LTA finance a significant part of the $900M. It is always controversial for govt to inject money into private companies that are still paying dividends to shareholders. How do we account for this money? How much profit should the transport companies be allowed to make after receiving govt funding?

The $1.,1B to be used for buying buses is double the entire capitalization of SBS Transit of $521M. The govt can buy the entire bus company privatize it and still have some spare.change.

The bus company makes $36M in profits a year. This large part of money goes out as dividends to shareholders. It can be used for maintenance or paying the low wage workers in the company more - SBS has 5300 bus drivers [Link] $36M translate to $500 more per month for each bus driver.

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The bathtub effect? A Singapore problem.

When Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew was recently pressed on why newer train systems were breaking down, he attributed this to the "bathtub effect". This is a cutesy metaphor that engineers like to use to give the impression that they have a human side, and that they do take baths.... sometimes. Essentially the metaphor refers to the high frequency of breakdowns in machines early during installation, and then again much later in its life cycle. The breakdown frequencies show a bathtub shaped curve.

The early breakdowns are usually due to the operator being relatively naive. The later breakdowns are due to the expected wear and tear when the machine nears the end of its lifecycle.

By referring to the bathtub effect, Minister Lui is essentially telling us that the SMRT had synced the train systems so well that the old system was failing at the same time as the new ones were. The sides of the two bathtubs were in perfect alignment. Well done, guys! You were precise about this, at least.

There is actually another interpretation of the bathtub effect. This is a metaphor used more by environmental scientists.

Essentially here, the bathtub represents that container where the water level is determined by the rate of water flowing in and the rate of water draining from it.

Are children being stifled by ‘model answers’?

Are children being stifled by ‘model answers’?
“I will not give up the pear".

A netizen recently posed a question on whether schools are stifling the creativity of children with expected answers to open-ended questions.

The man had uploaded an image of a marked worksheet that his son had attempted in school.

On the worksheet was the story of a boy named Kong Rong.

Kong Rong had picked up a smaller fruit from a basket of pears so that his elder brother could have the larger one.

The pupils were asked what they thought the moral of this story was. “If you were Kong Rong, what would you do?”, the students were asked.

The boy who attempted the question answered: “I will not give up the pear.”

This was marked by the teacher as a wrong answer.

Wondering if there is really a ‘correct answer’ to the question, the boy’s father posted the worksheet onto the Internet.

“Did Kong Rong really have to give up the pear?” he asked.

“Are kids wrong if they don’t do the same?” he added.

These are just some of the questions raised in the wave of discussion sparked by the post.

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MOH and hospitals should spell out downgrading policy clearly

I am pregnant with twins and am following up with a gynaecologist in a private hospital. Since multiple pregnancies have a higher risk of complications and premature deliveries, I wanted to find out whether I would be able to switch to a subsidised ward in a public hospital should complications arise during my delivery which necessitates neonatal care in the intensive care unit for my babies.

However, getting information about the downgrading policy of public hospitals has proven to be extremely frustrating. If I understand correctly, the Ministry of Health (MOH) introduced a downgrading policy some years ago where patients who transferred from private to public hospitals would be allowed to downgrade to the subsidised ward classes if they passed a simple means test.

Patients with a per capita family income of less than $500 per month can downgrade to Class C, while those with a per capita family income below $1,000 per month are eligible for a downgrade to Class B2.

Patients who fail the means test can also request a downgrade if their hospital bills in the public hospitals (following their transfer) exceed $15,000.

In summary, the downgrading criteria were clear and transparent.

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Review gender-biased taxes to encourage men to share parenting

WOMEN taxpayers are entitled to the following income tax reliefs: foreign maid levy relief, grandparent caregiver relief, and working mother's child relief.

Can the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) explain the rationale behind these gender-biased and discriminatory policies when men are expected to share the burden of household chores and parental responsibilities?

Men do, and can play equal roles in parenting.

Our tax laws should support men who are willing to do more for the family.

I am certain that if men can play a greater role than only bringing home the bacon, it will go a long way in encouraging couples to have babies and improve birth rates.

The Iras should also review alimony and maintenance payments.

From year of assessment 2012, women taxpayers will be exempted from paying tax on alimony or maintenance payments.

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11th hour death row plea

11th hour death row plea
Yong is in Changi Prison awaiting the outcome of a clemency appeal

An international advocacy group has written a letter to ask President Tony Tan to commute the death sentence of a convicted drug trafficker.

In a letter dated 27 April to President Tan, Brad Adams, Asia director for the Human Rights Watch (HRW), wrote that if Yong Vui Kong’s appeal for clemency failed, he could be executed within weeks.

Yong, who is from Sabah in East Malaysia, was given the mandatory death penalty for trafficking 47g of heroin in 2007. He was 18 when he committed the offence.

Earlier this month, Yong, now 24, exhausted all legal avenues after the Court of Appeal rejected his third attempt to escape the gallows.

His case drew the attention of many and some have set up blogs to highlight his case and save his life.

A petition to then President SR Nathan pardon Yong garnered nearly 42,000 signatures in Singapore and across the Causeway.

Pleas for him to be spared the gallows came not just from members of the public and death penalty critics. In 2010, Malaysian Foreign Affairs Minister Anifah Aman appealed to Singapore for clemency for Yong.

In the letter to President Tan, Mr Adams said while the HRW opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, Yong’s case “raises additional human rights, humanitarian, and due process concerns”.

Singapore is not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), but it should at least meet the requirements for imposing the death penalty set by the ICCPR, Mr Adams wrote.

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Inflation: Offer more relevant figures

SINCE the headline consumer price index (CPI) inflation has significance mainly for non-home owners and new car buyers, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) could consider having and highlighting a set of inflation figures that directly impacts the majority of the population ('What Govt is doing to tame domestic inflation', joint reply by MTI and MAS; last Saturday).

Such a figure could incorporate a large percentage of basic food prices, and energy and public transportation components which the man in the street can relate to easily. Notwithstanding that the current CPI has its value for analysts, focusing on an inflation figure which is useful for the general population is also warranted.

A very cost increase has a knock-on effect, and rental expenditure and new car prices will eventually filter down to everyday cost of living, whether justified or not. We have hundreds of thousands of foreigners who rent rooms and if their rental goes up, they will ask for higher wages.

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5.2% Inflation in Mar 2012

Singapore's inflation rate rose to 5.2 per cent on-year in March 2012, from 4.6 per cent the previous month. MAS has also projected that inflation will likely remain elevated over the next few months, before easing gradually in the second half of this year.

In a Labor Day message, someone mentioned that wages should be kept ahead of inflation and must rise faster. While it is a simple logic for the immediate solution, the equation is not uni directional and problem solved. It is a vicious loop with a exponential feedback effect.

Bus drivers have recently announced a 16% wage hike to "cope with inflation". Nurses and doctors are going to be paid more. Basically, most sectors will be seeing a wage increase if they are capable of giving it. Property prices have also been on a steep climb, resulting in rising rentals. This will have a significant impact on commercial leases and shop rentals.

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QE and the Balance Sheets of the World's Central Banks

The effects of quantitative easing by the central bank of China

When talking about QE (Quantitative Easing), it is easy to lose site of just how big some of the numbers are. We are, therefore, going to do a series of posts briefly showing some of the hugely engorged balance sheets of some of the world's major central banks as a result of QE.

First, a quiz: Can you guess which central bank has the largest balance sheet in the world? Whilst many might guess that its the United States Federal Reserve due to how closely the FED is watched (and frequently criticized) by analysts and world leaders, but the Fed's balance sheet - at approximately US$2.8 trillion - is not even close to being number one.

As you can see from the graph, the central bank of China - the PoBC - is far and away the highest at approximately US$4.5 trillion. Its no wonder that inflation has consistently remained high in China, and that the Chinese leadership is concerned about inflation's effect on the Chinese Middle class. As we have said before, if you are worried about the inflationary effects of QE, the best strategy is to hedge with real assets such as farmland investments and forestry investment.

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Time for wage reform in Singapore – Yay or Nay?

A tiny country with shining skyscrapers. An Asian tiger, an economic miracle. When most people think of Singapore, that’s what comes to mind. But underneath all that sparkle lies a widening gap between Singapore’s rich and poor.

Over the years income inequality has been on the rise, and the country’s reliance on cheap foreign labour has persisted. As the cost of living skyrockets, Singapore’s residents are beginning to really feel the strain, and many are of the opinion that whatever the government is doing is simply not enough.

Foreign workers put on finishing touches to a high end fashion boutique in Singapore. A flood of cheap immigrant labour has kept wages stagnant for many and widened the gulf between a very wealthy minority and the island's poorest.

Enter Lim Chong Yah, Professor of Economics and Director of Economic Growth Centre of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Nanyang Technological University. During a public lecture organised by the Economic Society of Singapore, Prof Lim proposed a three-year wage restructuring plan aimed at tackling income inequality and raising productivity.