Saturday, September 8, 2007

Law Society To Run Free Legal Clinics 4 Times A Week

Source : The Business Times, September 8, 2007

SINGAPORE citizens and permanent residents who need legal services but cannot afford them will be able to get a helping hand through the Law Society's newly established Pro Bono Services Office.

The office, set up last month, coordinates and administers all the society's pro bono initiatives. These include the Criminal Legal Aid scheme, which provides free legal representation to needy persons facing non-capital criminal charges; the Project Law Help initiative, which provides free non-litigation commercial legal advice to charities, non-profit organisations and voluntary welfare organisations; and the Law Awareness initiative, a public education initiative which aims to raise awareness of the law.

The Law Society will go one step further with its latest initiative to be launched on Monday. It will establish and run free legal clinics for four nights every week. These community legal clinics will be hosted by the North-West and South-East Community Development Councils (CDCs). They will provide basic legal advice and information to Singaporeans and PRs who need it.

The major project to improve access to justice is made possible by the legal profession's commitment for every lawyer to pledge a minimum of 25 hours of pro bono work a year as well as the support of the various sectors of the community, including the Ministry of Law, the Singapore Academy of Law, and the two CDCs.

Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs Ho Peng Kee will officially open the Pro Bono Services Office on Monday.

Wing Tai Leads 800m Yuan Development In Chengdu

Source : The Business Times, September 8, 2007

Consortium to carry out 900,000 sq ft project due for completion in 2011

Mr Cheng: Wants to create a 'premier' real estate model in Chengdu

A CONSORTIUM led by Wing Tai Holdings will develop an 800 million yuan (S$161.1 million) real estate project in Chengdu, China.

Under a memorandum of understanding that Wing Tai signed yesterday with China's Chengdu Jinli Group, the consortium will own 'more than 60 per cent' of the joint venture, which means its investment will be at least 480 million yuan.

The project, in Chengdu's city centre, will have a gross floor area of about 900,000 sq ft. It will comprise hotel/serviced apartment, residential, office and retail space.

This is the consortium's first move to create a real estate development and investment platform in China after it was set up earlier this year.

Wing Tai said in May that it would lead a multinational consortium to invest in and develop about US$1 billion of real estate in China.

The company entered into a strategic relationship with Germany's SEB Immobilien-Investment, Forum Partners of the US and Israel's Eilam Group.

The consortium said then that it would inject a total of US$450 million into the venture.

Wing Tai said that it will lead the consortium in identifying business opportunities and managing the venture and its assets.

It also said that the venture with the three investors is in line with its strategy to embark on a pan-Asian drive to increase its overseas earnings.

The consortium is now looking at other Chinese cities to expand into. The Chengdu project is expected to be completed in four years.

'I am confident that we will successfully develop a premier real estate model that will serve and benefit Chengdu in its rapid economic development and growth as one of China's leading cities,' said Wing Tai chairman Cheng Wai Keung.

Wing Tai's shares closed six cents higher at $3.36 yesterday. The stock has climbed 47.4 per cent this year.

Living Legends - The Familiar Chans’ Ville Landmark In Katong Gets A New Lease Of Life, and has four new bungalows as neighbours too

Source : The Straits Times, 8 Sept 2007

MOTORISTS driving on Mountbatten Road will be familiar with this Katong landmark amid a row of sprawling bungalows.

At 745 Mountbatten Road stands the former Chans’ Ville, a two-storey Early Modern-style bungalow.

It was the home of the late Dr Chan Ah Kow and his seven children - including Alex, Roy, Patricia and Mark - who were well known in the 1960s and 1970s for their swimming prowess.

The Chan family, who lived there from the mid-1940s, sold it to property investor Simon Cheong of SC Global for $11 million in 2004.

When contacted, musician Mark Chan would say only that ‘we now live’all over’.

Today, Chans’ Ville, which sat on 55,000 sq ft of land, is known as the Five Legends of Mountbatten. It is SC Global’s first bungalow project.

The original bungalow, which was given conservation status by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in 1993, occupies 23,000 sq ft of land. The remaining space, which used to house a tennis court and garden, was split into four plots ranging from 5,574 sq ft to 10,168 sq ft.

Four two-storey bungalows were built and reportedly sold for $5.1 million to $6.3 million. Chans’ Ville fetched $13 million.

SC Global says the buyers are high-net worth individuals, but declines to reveal more.

Mr Cheong says the name was inspired by the five ‘legends’ who lived there - Dr Chan Ah Kow, Patricia, Alex, Roy and Mark.

Though not a Katong boy, Mr Cheong frequented the Chinese Swimming Club nearby when he was younger and had many relatives and friends who lived in the area.

‘It would be a pity if Chans’ Ville was not conserved well,’ he says.

He picked architect Mok Wei Wei of W Architects to work on the project as he felt the latter ‘had the passion and shared vision to return Chans’ Ville back to its former glory in Katong’.

He declines to disclose how much was spent restoring it, but says ‘we were willing to invest whatever it took to do it well’.

Observing conservation rules

MR MOK, 51, is no stranger to SC Global, having designed upmarket condo Three Three Robin in Robin Road and is working on Hilltops condo in Cairnhill.

For Chans’ Ville, he kept most of the house intact according to URA guidelines.

For example, a second-storey balcony had awnings that were installed after the house was built. Mr Mok wanted to retain them but eventually kept to the original open balcony under conservation guidelines.

Other items that remained include metal casement windows and most of the original green-glass window panels.

He also stuck to the house’s original white facade: ‘I cannot imagine it in any other colour.’

Because of the bungalow’s spaciousness, he imagined the new owners to be a multi-tiered family living together under one roof, as was typical of families living in the East Coast in the past.

So he added two wings to the back of the house. Each is two-storey high and comes with its own living room and bedrooms. All in, the whole mansion has six bedroom suites.

SC Global does not know whether a multi-tiered family has indeed bought the bungalow.
The extensions are linked to the main house by a double-volume banquet hall that can seat 20 people, allowing diners to look out into the lush greenery outside.

For the four new bungalows, however, Mr Mok conceptualised them as a ‘walled city’, each having its own garden and pool that are placed almost next to each other, creating the illusion of a shared space.

In addition, each home has an extra family area at the back for entertainment. Guests can gather in the living room in the front of the house for pre-dinner drinks, before moving to the middle for dinner, and finally to the back for post-dinner drinks.

‘The extra space was created at the back for privacy, and it can be turned into a bedroom if needed,’ says Mr Mok, whose last bungalow project was a house in Morley Road 10 years ago.

A glass-enclosed staircase acts as a ’screen’ separating the front and back of the house, and leads to the four bedrooms upstairs. He says this makes the home more exciting as the visitor cannot see the whole house all at once.

‘It allows for more discovery.’

PAST AND PRESENT LINKS: The new wings of Chans' Ville are built on the space which used to house the servants' quarters, which have since been torn down. A banquet hall with floor-to-ceiling glass doors overlooking the 30m swimming pool links the new extensions to the original bungalow. -- PHOTOS: SC GLOBAL, PATRICK BINGHAM-HALL

HIT THE ROOF: Apart from having its own rooftop garden terraces, the bungalows of Five Legends of Mountbatten also have their own pools (not shown).

SCREEN PLAY: The glass-enclosed staircase in the new bungalows acts as a screen separating the front from the back of the house. -- PHOTOS: SC GLOBAL, ALBERT LIM K S

US Economy Loses Jobs For First Time In 4 Years

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 07 September 2007

WASHINGTON : The world's largest economy was hit with surprise job losses in August as the housing downturn and a credit crunch sparked increased layoffs, a government report revealed Friday.

The Labour Department said US employers unexpectedly shed 4,000 jobs in August, marking the first drop in payrolls since August of 2003.

The unexpected drop in nonfarm payrolls caught Wall Street off guard as most economists had been calling for around 110,000 new jobs to be created in August.

Economists said the report raises the odds that the Federal Reserve will soon move to slash borrowing costs.

The job report, viewed as one of the best indicators of economic momentum, suggests the US employment market has been jolted by a housing slump and rising mortgage defaults which have triggered a credit squeeze that has roiled financial markets.

The national unemployment rate held steady at 4.6 percent despite the month's job losses.

The report was released as the US central bank prepares to meet on September 18 to mull US interest rates amid increased scrutiny.

Calls are mounting for the Federal Reserve to cut borrowing costs. Its key federal funds rate has been anchored at 5.25 percent since June 2006.

"Today's employment report and the revisions are enough to justify several interest rate cuts by the Federal Open Market Committee," said David Kotok, chairman and chief executive officer at Cumberland Advisors.

Ian Morris, chief US economist at HSBC North America in New York, agreed that the Fed would be minded to cut rates.

"The numbers were obviously pretty weak. So I think in the context of what is going on in money markets, it solidifies our expectation of a 50 basis point cut by the Fed on September 18," Morris said.

Other commentators, however, have said the Fed should not cut rates to bail out troubled banks and investment funds which have sustained hefty losses tied to risky mortgage-backed securities.

And economists who anticipate a rate cut are divided on how much the Fed might trim borrowing costs.

Stephen Gallagher, an economist at Societe Generale, said he is only expecting the Fed to cut rates by 25 basis points at this month's meeting.

Nonetheless, many economists and financial market analysts say it is likely that US economic growth will slow in coming months, partly as the housing market is not expected to improve any time soon.

"It is clear from this report and from the other reports on the labour markets that the employment situation in the United States is worsening and the pace is accelerating," Kotok said.

Job cuts in the manufacturing and construction industries accounted for the lion's share of August's employment losses.

The manufacturing sector shed 46,000 jobs last month while the construction industry lost 22,000 jobs. A total 28,000 government jobs were also lost, according to the report.

Some of the losses were offset by job gains in other industries, particularly in the education and health services sectors which created 63,000 new positions.

The snapshot also showed that average hourly earnings ticked up 0.3 percent to 17.50 dollars in August, in line with most economists' forecasts.

The government revised down July's job numbers saying that 68,000 new positions had been created that month, instead of the 92,000 initially estimated. - AFP /ls

She Asks : Why Lock Me Out?

Source : The New Paper, September 08, 2007

Woman pays rent but comes home to padlocked flat. She takes managing company to Small Claims Tribunal.

Ms Pearl Chan, 31, self-employed, standing at the back door to her apartment. She had returned home on 28 July to find it chained and locked.

SHE is usually on time with her rent.

Ms Pearl Chan, 31, self-employed, standing at the back door to her apartment. She had returned home on 28 July to find it chained and locked.
So imagine Miss Pearl Chan's shock when she returned to her River Valley apartment to find a repossession notice pasted on the door. It gave her one day to move out.

The company in charge of the building later locked up the apartment with her things still inside.

Miss Chan, 31, had signed a year-long lease last December, at $1,800 a month for the four-bedroom walk-up apartment.

Rents there can now be more than twice that amount.

Miss Chan, who is self-employed, took the company to the Small Claims Tribunal. She attended three mediation sessions and a final hearing on 20Aug.

The tribunal asked the company to give her back half of her two-month deposit, with the other half to be retained as her rent for July.

She was also allowed to move her furniture out.

The company, which has its office in the same building, refused to comment, despite several attempts by The New Paper to get in touch with the person in charge. (See report on facing page.)

What happened still upsets Miss Chan.

'There was nothing I could do. Despite paying my rent on time, I still ended up homeless overnight,' she said.

She said the company pasted the notice on 11 Jul, informing her that repossession would take place on 12 Jul, with no reason given. It referred to an earlier letter, dated 30 May, which she said she did not get.

She approached the company the next day and was told that her late payment of rent was the reason.

Ms Chan admitted she had once been late in February, and only for three days.

She offered to pay the rent by Giro, or give postdated checks for the remaining lease period. She was told to fax the company a written proposal, which she did immediately.

The reply was equally quick. She said she got a fax the same afternoon, rejecting her proposal. By evening, another paper was pasted on her door, informing her that it was the final notice of repossession of her unit on 13 Jul.


Ms Chan said: 'I was afraid they might lock up the place with me inside, or when I had stepped out, leaving essentials like my laptop behind.'

So she took such items and moved in with a friend temporarily. Some friends who had been staying with her also moved out.

She said she had already issued a cheque for the month's rent. On 23 Jul, she asked the bank not to pay it.

The next day, she filed the claim with the tribunal.

On 28 Jul, she went to the apartment, hoping to get the rest of her things out, but found that the lock on the front door had been changed, and the backdoor chained up and padlocked.

She claimed that $15,000 worth of her furniture and her work files were locked inside.

Though she eventually got it all back, she said she spent $500 to hire a lawyer, before approaching the tribunal.

Mr Chandran Pillay, honorary secretary of the Institute of Estate Agents, said: 'A landlord cannot evict a tenant who has observed the terms and conditions of the tenancy agreement.'

Mr Pillay said a similar apartment in that area can now fetch a monthly rent of $4,000 to $4,500.

According to Mr Pillay, even if a tenant owes rent, the landlord has no right to lock up the property.

Instead, the landlord must file for a writ of distress in court, and only a court-appointed bailiff can help to re-enter and regain possession of the property on behalf of the landlord.

He also noted that landlords usually give a grace period of seven days, following which the landlord may charge interest for late payment.

US Employment Drop Triggers Fresh Fears

Source : Weekend TODAY, September 8, 2007

Analysts foresee Fed rate cut, more risk of recession

THE United States economy unexpectedly lost jobs in August for the first time in four years, increasing speculation that the Federal Reserve will have to reduce interest rates to counter an economic slowdown.

Employers cut 4,000 workers from payrolls, compared with a revised gain of 68,000 in July that was smaller than previously reported, the Labor Department said yesterday in Washington. The unemployment rate held at 4.6 per cent as almost 600,000 people left the workforce. Bonds rallied and the dollar weakened.

“The recession risk has certainly increased,” said Mr Zach Pandl, an economist at Lehman Brothers Holdings in New York. “It definitely cements the case for a rate cut at the next Fed meeting.”

The drop in jobs is the clearest sign yet that the deepening housing recession and turmoil in credit markets are hurting the wider economy. Payrolls are one of the main indicators, along with sales, incomes and production, that help determine the start of economic contractions, and yesterday’s report may raise the odds that the Fed reduces rates even before the Sept 18 meeting of policymakers.

Treasuries rose and stock index futures fell. The yield on the benchmark twoyear note slid below 4 per cent, indicating that traders anticipate a series of Fed rate cuts. The central bank’s current target rate is 5.25 per cent. Futures on the Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 1 per cent to 1,464 at 9.02am in New York.

Wages gained 3.9 per cent in August from a year earlier. Workers’ average hourly earnings rose 5 cents, or 0.3 per cent, after a 0.3-per-cent increase the previous month.

Manufacturers, builders and the government led the drop in payrolls last month. Factory payrolls slid by 46,000, the most since July 2003, after slipping 1,000 a month earlier. Economists had forecast a drop of 10,000 in manufacturing employment.

Payrolls at builders dropped by 22,000 after falling 14,000 a month earlier. Government payrolls decreased by 28,000.

Mr John Silvia, chief economist at Wachovia in Charlotte, North Carolina, said :“The decline in manufacturing employment was much bigger than anyone expected. The probability of recession has increased pretty dramatically.”

Service industries, which include banks, insurance companies, restaurants and retailers, added 60,000 workers last month after boosting payrolls by 78,000 in July, the report showed. Retailers added 12,500 jobs after hiring 5,000 in July.

Average weekly hours worked by production workers held at 33.8. Average weekly earnings gained to US$591.50 ($901)last month from $589.81 the prior month.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke last week said the central bank would do what is needed to prevent the credit-market turmoil from undoing the six-year economic expansion.

Job and wage growth are needed to help sustain consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy, as home values fall and loans become more difficult to get. Spending slowed to a 1.4-per-cent annual pace in the second quarter, down from 3.7 per cent in the previous three months. — BLOOMBERG

Repossession Rate On Home Loans Hits Record High

Source : Weekend TODAY, September 8, 2007

More than one in seven home buyers with sub-prime loans in the United States failed to keep up with mortgage payments in the second quarter, in a sign of growing distress in the housing market.

More than 619,000 homeowners — or 1.4 per cent of all those with mortgages — face the prospect of repossession, up from 1.28 per cent in the first quarter, according to estimates by the Mortgage Bankers' Association (MBA).

Total delinquencies rose to their highest level since 2002 — by 0.28 percentage points to 5.12 per cent of all mortgages, reported the Financial Times (FT).

The study was followed by comments from two members of the Federal Reserve Board that the turmoil in financial markets stemming from the weakening US housing market could hurt the economy.

The data indicates an acceleration in the troubles in US mortgage markets, and covers the period before last month's credit squeeze raised the cost of borrowing.

Most of the rise in foreclosures came from growing numbers of seriously delinquent adjustable-rate sub-prime, and prime, mortgages.

Economists expect foreclosure rates to increase dramatically as sub-prime loans re-set to higher rates in the coming months, said the FT report.

The national delinquency rate for mortgage loans also rose to 5.12 per cent, up 0.28 per cent from the first quarter and 0.73 per cent from a year ago. The large increases were down to sub-prime loans given to high-risk borrowers, which are mostly concentrated in just a few states.

"What continues to drive the national numbers is what is happening in the states of California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona," said Mr Doug Duncan, the MBA's chief economist. California is the nation's largest mortgage market.

He added that falling house prices caused by excess supply in the market and weak economic conditions in those states, were making it difficult to refinance the sub-prime loans and intensifying problems.

Meanwhile, Mr William Poole, president of the St Louis Federal Reserve, said there was an increased chance of recession due to the volatility of the markets.

"There is reason to be concerned about how much this market turbulence is affecting economy," he said. — Agencies

Something To Live By After 85

Source : Weekend TODAY, September 8, 2007

A little fine-tuning may make proposed annuity scheme more palatable

IF ONE were to examine it from a bigpicture view, it would be difficult to argue against the Government’s annuity proposal.

It is, after all, meant to provide Singaporeans with financial security in their twilight years. As many Singaporeans live longer, the annuity scheme will ensure that they will have at least a small monthly sum to live on, even after their savings in the CPF accounts dry up.

But I have two suggestions to make the plan — whose compulsory nature has upset some Singaporeans — more palatable.

First, a quick look at the proposed changes: The proposed life annuity scheme will pay a subsistence amount from the age of 85. A small part of the Minimum Sum from the CPF account will be taken at age 55 to pay for this scheme. To help ensure that CPF savings will last until a member’s 85th birthday, the draw-down age will be delayed by three years to 65.

I agree with the approach to stretch the Minimum Sum — which now stands at $99,600 — over the lifetime of the retiree, but find the draw-down-cum-after- 85 life annuity to be a complicated arrangement.

This will be made more difficult when the interest rate on the retirement account is pegged to a market benchmark. This may require the monthly draw-down to be adjusted regularly with changes to the interest rate.

I prefer a life annuity that pays a regular monthly sum from age 65. This income does not fluctuate with the interest rate and does not drop sharply to a subsistence amount after 85 years.

There is criticism that the payout from the life annuity is quite poor. This is caused mainly by the low interest rate that can be earned on secure government bonds. Currently, this rate is less than 3.5 per cent per annum.

The insurance company handling this has to incur marketing and administrative expenses. These expenses will have to be deducted from the payout to the annuitants.

If the life annuity is administered by the CPF Board and is credited with interest at 4 per cent per annum, the payout will be considerably higher and can be quite close to the amount payable under the draw-down scheme.

The life annuity provides the benefit of pooling of longevity risk. Those who die earlier will leave behind the balance of their money, which will be used to make the payout to those who live longer.

Everyone hopes to be the person who lives longer and continues to receive a payout from the annuity. This is possible only through the mechanism of an annuity.

In fact, the money in the annuity fund is not kept as a separate account for each individual member. They are pooled together in a common fund.

The compulsory after-85 life annuity applies only to CPF members who are now below 50 years old. They will buy the compulsory annuity when they reach age 55 in five years’ time.

In my view, it is desirable for the after-85 annuity to be made compulsory. In many countries, it is quite common for their citizens to draw a lifetime pension payable by the state or the employer, or both. The pension is similar to a life annuity.

The main objection to the compulsory scheme will come from people who are in poor health, and are likely to lose out due to an early demise. In that case, they can be given the option to pay an annuity plan that pays out a lower monthly sum, and refund the balance of their capital on early death.

Up to now, the public discussion on the life annuity scheme appears to be confined only on the investment of the CPF Minimum Sum.

We must not forget that many retirees have personal savings, apart from this CPF Minimum Sum. These savings have to be invested as well.

It is advisable for a retiree to invest a large part of the personal savings in a life annuity. By paying a lump sum, the annuitant will receive an attractive monthly payment for a lifetime. The amount of the monthly payment depends on:
•The amount paid to buy the annuity
•The future yield on the investments of the fund
•The future life span of the annuitant
•The expenses and profit margin of the insurance company.

An annuity provides two valuable services for the annuitant. It frees him from the hassle of investing the money for many years. It allows a pooling of the longevity risks, as the annuitants who die earlier leave behind the balance of their money to pay the monthly payment to the annuitants who live longer.

Compared to other forms of investments, the life annuity does offer, in most cases, a better return. The life annuity can offer some attractive options:
•Participating or non-participating plan
•Refund of balance of capital, in event of early death
•Deferral in the starting date of the payment

Each option affects the amount of the monthly payment. You have to consider which options suits you best. A financial adviser can help you to make the best decision.

The writer TAN KIN LIAN qualified as an actuary in 1975. He served as chief executive of NTUC Income for 30 years prior to his retirement this year.

Wing Tai Plan $161.7m Investment in Chengdu

Source : Weekend TODAY, September 8, 2007

Wing Tai Holdings, through its Chinese joint venture company, and China’s Chengdu Jinli (Group) plan a CNY800 million ($161.7 million) investment to build a mixed-
property development in Chengdu.

Wing Tai will have a majority stake in the 81,000sq-m project, but did not say when it will be completed.

Express Train Services Not Possible

Source : Weekend TODAY, September 8, 2007

Letter from KUEK CHOR LING
Manager, Corporate Marketing and
Communications, SMRT Corporation

I REFER to Mayur Vora’s letter, “Limited express train services could help ease bottlenecks” (Sept 3). The writer suggested that SMRT conduct a trial on limited express train services with selected stops during peak hours.

We would like to explain that this is not feasible as our current track system was not designed to operate express trains. There is no parallel track to allow a train to bypass stations or overtake another train.

In addition, trains arrive at a station every two to four minutes during peak hours. The express train idea will mean that passengers have to wait for selected trains instead of being able to take every train passing through the station. This may create confusion and result in overcrowding in the stations.

Nevertheless, we thank the writer for the suggestion.

Phoenix Court : It's A Real Mess : Judge

Source : Weekend, TODAY, September 8, 2007

Court orders a stay on Phoenix Court en bloc sale

IT HAD seemed like a walk in the park for Phoenix Court residents en route to a windfall, when the owners of all but one of the units agreed to sell off their apartments collectively for $88.1 million.

But just 11 days to go before the owners were due to pocket $1.8 million each, the sale has been stalled indefinitely — in a complicated legal saga that demonstrates why impending sweeping changes to the en bloc legislation, unveiled just two weeks ago in Parliament, are desperately needed.

On Friday, High Court Judge Andrew Ang, after hearing an appeal by the dissenting co-owners ordered that the sale be put on hold as he reserved judgement.

The tussle began in April last year when owners of freehold Phoenix Court (picture), a 13-storey apartment block in River Valley, inked the Collective Sale Agreement (CSA). Out of the 47 units, the only dissenting co-owners were an elderly couple, Mr Yip Hoi Thong and Madam Ng Swee Lang.

Six months later, a deal was sealed with Bukit Panjang Plaza for $88.1 million. The sale committee went on to apply for a Strata Titles Board (STB) order to proceed with the sale in January. After the Board dismissed the couple’s objection, they took the matter to the High Court, demanding that the sale be annulled due to “defective” procedures.

Their lawyer, Senior Counsel Michael Hwang, argued that two of the three majority owners who had applied to the STB for the sale order, were not authorised to do so.

He also took issue with the fact that the valuation report by Savills was done six weeks after the CSA was signed — which while in line with current legislation, would flout new laws which are expected to kick in next month.

Furthermore, the method of distribution of the sale proceeds was also omitted from the sale and purchase (S&P) agreement.

Lawyer Christopher Yong, who was acting for the sale committee, pointed out that it was common industry practice to set out the method in the CSA only, adding that it was “at worst a technical error” that should not jeopardise the whole sale.

But Mr Hwang argued that the S&P agreement must define the contractual obligations between a buyer and the individual owners — since members of sale committee “lose interest very quickly, especially if they have gotten their money”.

The prevalent practice of treating the owners as one collective entity has resulted in many problems arising from “post-completion issues”, including the deadline for each owner to vacate.

Mr Yong maintained that what mattered was for the STB to be satisfied that the deal was done in “good faith” . He said the statutory requirements “are not absolute” and a deal must be allowed to go through as long as the procedural lapses are immaterial.

But Mr Hwang disagreed: “This is in effect a compulsory acquisition. The onus is on those who acquire my clients’ properties to adhere strictly to the requirements set out by the law.”

With the sale due to go through on Sept 18 and with many owners already committed to their new properties, Justice Ang did not hide his unease at ordering a stay on the deal — a move that could potentially result in further lawsuits by the buyers.

“Aptly summed up, it’s a real mess,” the judge said as he shook his head.

This is not the only “mess” for Phoenix Court residents. In a separate development, a group of 13 majority owners — who had turned their backs on the sale —have filed an appeal after their case was dismissed by the High Court. The group argued that the extension to the CSA — which had already expired — was not valid.

Horizon Towers Committee Quits

Source : Weekend TODAY, September 8, 2007

The meeting at Holiday Inn Parkview Hotel was meant for the Horizon Towers majority owners to think of ways to fight a looming lawsuit filed against them by the buyers of a botched $500-million-deal.

Instead, it ended in disarray when the three remaining sale committee members stunned the 200-odd residents present with the news that they were quitting.

One of them, a woman in her 30s, told Channel NewsAsia that she “couldn’t take it anymore” after receiving threats from her neighbours.

The majority owners face a potential $1-billion lawsuit after the buyers – Hotel Properties (HPL), Morgan Stanley Real Estate and Qatar Investment Authority – sued them for loss profits.

Lawyer Shriniwas Rais, who was present and was representing some of the majority owners, told TODAY: “It’s quite bad. There’s no sale committee now. Who’s going to instruct the owners?”

At around 11pm on Friday, two-and-a-half hours after the meeting started, pockets of residents lingered on, locked in intense discussions. — LOH CHEE KONG

What They Say About Hsien Yang Appointment

Source : Weekend TODAY, September 8, 2007

F&N’s chairman-designate a good catch, despite what doubters say

WHEN that expensive consultant you hired presents a plan, chances are you’ll want to make sure his ideas deliver bang for your buck — especially if it involves big money. If you disagree with him, there is little to stop you from sending him back to the drawing board.

The relationship between paymaster and payee is therefore clear.

But how would you behave if the dynamics were not so black-and-white? What if the consultant also happens to be the company chairman?

That’s a thought for Fraser and Neave’s (F&N) staff and directors to chew on in the month leading up to Oct 15. On that day, corporate hotshot Lee Hsien Yang, 49, will take his seat at the head of the conglomerate’s boardroom, succeeding long-time chieftain Michael Fam, 79.

Apart from his fees as a non-executive chairman, Mr Lee will receive $1 million a year as a “consultant to assist with the overall strategic planning for the group”, F&N said on Wednesday.

The consultancy contract, dependent on Mr Lee remaining a director or chairman, is for three years and will be automatically renewed for another three years.

Seldom seen in corporate circles here, this dual appointment raises some questions. Is the move good corporate governance? Are there potential conflicts of interests — actual or perceived? And was there no other candidate suitable to be either chairman or consultant?

While not taking “much issue” with F&N’s moves, corporate governance observer Mak Yuen Teen, said: “Strictly speaking, as he is consultant, the board will need to ensure objective evaluation of his services.”

Dr Mak, who is regional research director of consultancy Watson Wyatt, added it would be “useful to have a lead independent director in this case to help ensure that possible conflicts are well managed”.

Small investor champion David Gerald called for more disclosure. He said directors had an obligation to ensure all appointments stand up to scrutiny by shareholders.

“I am confident that F&N’s board would have carefully considered its duty making the decision.

“Therefore, the necessary disclosure on the nature of consultancy and the need to appoint a chairman also as consultant, we hope, would be forthcoming in the interest of good corporate governance,” said Mr Gerald, president of the Securities Investors Association of Singapore.

When contacted, F&N declined to go into Mr Lee’s consultancy work in strategic planning. Neither would it reveal the chairman’s yearly fees.

“That is put up during the general meeting every year and determined by shareholders,” a spokesman said. The next annual general meeting is in January.

He also disagreed with the perceived governance concerns.

“How can there be a conflict of interest? Anytime someone is the subject of some evaluation or the discussion on compensation, the person does not participate in that discussion because clearly, yes, that person would be conflicted,” said the spokesman.

What does the Singapore Exchange (SGX), regulator of listed companies here, think about F&N’s latest appointment?

“The remuneration of directors, including that of the chairman, is the responsibility of the board. Listed companies are obliged to observe and adhere to the code of corporate governance, and when they deviate, they will have to explain and provide reasons,” said a spokeswoman.

She added: “The chairman, whether executive or otherwise, has the same responsibilities as directors, to ‘act honestly and use reasonable diligence in the discharge’ of their fiduciary duties as stated in Section 157 (1) of the Companies Act.”

While there may be issues about F&N’s latest board appointment, observers also pointed out some positives in the firm’s manner of dealing with the announcement.

For instance, Dr Mak felt F&N was “more transparent than most” in disclosing it was paying separate consultancy fees to the chairman, whereas some companies have actually been known to have done so without informing shareholders.

Plus, there is no governance problem since F&N is not claiming that Mr Lee is an independent director, said Mr Jamie Allen, secretary-general of the Asian Corporate Governance Association in Hong Kong.

He added that regardless of whether a chairman is executive or non-executive, every board’s independent directors still have to exercise their independent judgment.

For F&N, this is not the first time it is roping in a new director as a consultant at the same time.

In November 2000, Dr Han Cheng Fong joined F&N’s listed property arm —Centrepoint Properties now known as Frasers Centrepoint — as a non-executive director and project consultant.

Six months later, in May 2001, Dr Han rose to take over as Centrepoint’s chief executive officer from Mr Jeffrey Heng, who retired — but only temporarily. Mr Heng returned to the helm in April 2002, when Dr Han hopped over to F&N to become joint managing director with Mr Tam Yam Pin.

Again, within months, Dr Han the highflier ascended to the post of deputy CEO, second to Dr Fam, who was executive chairman at the time.

In January last year, when Dr Fam semi-retired to become non-executive chairman, Dr Han — now 64 — stepped into F&N’s newly created post of group CEO.

The similar way in which Mr Lee is being ushered into F&N invites speculation on whether he is slated for an even deeper commitment to the business.

However, Mr Lee is already going into the topmost position. Making him executive chairman would vest more power in his hands, but that would be a reversal of F&N’s steps towards stronger corporate governance by separating the chairmanship from the CEO post last year.

Perhaps, Mr Lee’s key role is to push F&N onto a fast-track expansion path. Just like how he turned SingTel into a telco with annual revenue of some $13 billion, up four-fold from about $3.5 billion at the start of his leadership in 1995.

When Temasek Holdings injected $900 million late last year for a 14.9-per-cent stake, F&N flagged plans to use the cash to make acquisitions in the food and beverage business including Tiger Beer.

Given his experience in investing overseas, the appointment of the former SingTel chief is a “coup” for F&N, said Citi analyst Lim Jit Soon in a research report dated Sept 5.

It’s easy to see why Mr Lee is a good catch in talent-scarce Singapore.

As CEO, he led the transformation of local-centric SingTel into a giant telecoms outfit with an Asia-wide network during his 12-year leadership — a feat that is particularly commendable as Mr Lee had forged ahead despite hitting wall after wall in places such as Hong Kong and Malaysia.

Braving scepticism, he proceeded to capture targets in places like Australia, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines. These overseas operations proved to be much needed boosters, especially after SingTel lost its domestic telco monopoly in 2000.

Accolades were aplenty when Mr Lee retired from SingTel in April. So was speculation about his next move.

Media reports linked him to leadership positions at big names such as Hong Kong telecom giant PCCW – bigger fish that would be more challenging for the man, since SingTel’s market capitalisation of S$57.6 billion is already the largest in Singapore.

Yet, Mr Lee appears to have settled for a relatively smaller fish at home.

In size, F&N’s sales came to $3.8 billion in the year ended Sep 30, 2006, a pale shade of SingTel’s.

In terms of compensation, Mr Lee is unlikely to receive as much as the $2.14 million pay packet in his final year as group CEO of SingTel. His predecessors at F&N cannot be taken as a guide because Dr Fam’s remuneration of “between $2.75 million and $3 million” last year included four months as executive chairman. Exactly how much is uncertain, as F&N discloses remuneration only in bands, not dollars and cents.

Based on F&N’s fees for non-executive and independent directors, Mr Lee might receive “below $250,000”.

Add on the annual consultancy fee of $1 million and Mr Lee could get below $1.25 million a year.

Whether that is a commensurate compensation for a consultant cum chairman is an issue for F&N’s shareholders to decide. But can they wait till January’s AGM for answers to remuneration questions and more?

F&N could help itself and the talent it has snared by offering more information on the nature of Mr Lee’s consultancy.

Still, one wonders if the current scrutiny is due to Mr Lee’s connections to one of Singapore’s founding fathers. If he were not a Lee, would anyone raise eyebrows at the corporate move?

$300 For A Night Here: Survey

Source : Weekend TODAY, September 8, 2007

GUEST room rates here may have been among the fastest growing worldwide, but Singapore hotels are still far from being among the world's most expensive to spend a night in.

According to corporate services company Hogg Robinson Group (HRG) UK's 2007 half-year hotel survey, the average room rates here stood at £105.86 ($327.34), registering a six-month increase of 12 per cent.

This makes Singapore the city with the second-fastest growth in Asia. World number one Mumbai saw average room rates rise 30 per cent to £147.55 because of limited supply in the upper end of the market to meet demand from the expanding banking, finance and IT sectors.

According to Singapore Tourism Board figures reported earlier, while hotels here did cross a historic threshold in June, room rates averaged $210 a night, the first time the $200 mark had been breached.

This represented a 22.6 per cent jump in average room rates over June last year.

Even with the higher figure cited by the survey, Singapore hotels are still comparatively affordable for visitors, at least when matched up against the world's 10 most costly countries.

The most expensive city to sleep in is Moscow, where room rates averaged £236.06, up from last year's £220.57.

Bangalore, with an average room rate of £162.04, was the most expensive city in Asia and fifth on the global scale.

Another Asian city that made it to the top 10 was Hong Kong, ranked 8th with an average room rate of £153.86.

With demand outstripping supply, the growth in global average room rates looks set to continue in the near future, noted HRG.

Sisters Fight Each Other Over More Than 20 Properties Left By Late Mum

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 8, 2007

TWO sisters will be battling it out in court over who should inherit the more than 20 properties here and in Batam left by their late mother.

The family's youngest daughter, Ms Caroline Chee, a doctor, is standing by a will drawn up in 1989 by the clan's matriarch, Madam Goh Hun Keong, which leaves most of these properties to her.

But her elder sister, law graduate Muriel Chee, disputes this, and claims that their mother made a second will in 1996, which leaves almost everything to everybody else except the youngest girl.

Madam Goh had three sons and three daughters.

The case was brought up in the High Court yesterday, where an application by two other Chee siblings, who are now based in the United States, to join in the proceedings was approved by Assistant Registrar Chung Yoon Joo.

A pre-trial conference is due next week.

Based on court documents filed, at least one half of a $9 million house in Holland Road, two shophouses in Holland Village, three walk-up units in Jalan Loyang Besar, and 26 properties in Batam are at stake.

The actual number of assets left behind by Madam Goh, who died in 2004 and whose doctor-husband died before her in 1990, remains to be determined, as the sole issue before the courts is which will should apply.

Under the first will made in March 1989, Madam Goh appointed Ms Caroline Chee as the sole trustee and bequeathed her the two shophouses and whatever was left of the estate after the proceeds from the sale of the three walk-up units were used to cover the medical bills of her then-bedridden husband.

Anything left over from the proceeds was to be used for any of the grandchildren's education at Ms Caroline Chee's discretion.

The 1989 will also left some $150,000 to her third son, Ping Swee.

But Madam Muriel Chee, who is represented by lawyers from Harry Elias Partnership, claims this will is void because of the 1996 one Madam Goh drew up, for which the matriarch appointed Madam Muriel Chee and her cousin, Dr Goh King Hua, as trustees.

Among other things, this later will provides for Madam Goh's assets to be distributed between her three sons and two daughters, excluding Ms Caroline Chee.

All the youngest girl and her spouse stood to get was the first option to buy up Madam Goh's half of the Holland Road house - at market rates.

The will was signed at Madam Muriel Chee's Greenleaf Place house in the presence of two lawyers and Dr Goh.

Ms Caroline Chee, an opthalmologist at the National University Hospital, is expected to raise doubts about the circumstances under which the second will was made by suggesting that Madam Goh, then aged 75, had patchy memory and senile dementia, among other problems.

Her lawyers from law firm Wee Swee Teow are expected to cite medical evidence to support her case.

Her sister is expected to counter this and question whether undue influence was exerted on Madam Goh when the first will was made in 1989.

By K.C. Vijayan, Law Correspondent

Allow Medisave Payment For DPS Annual Premium

Source : The Straits Times, Forum, Sep 8, 2007

FIRST of all, I would like to thank the Government for doing all it can to help senior citizens and retirees to cope with the rising cost of everyday living.

Our Prime Minister has introduced Workfare and the goods and services tax rebate which benefit most senior citizens and retirees.

Recently, he announced the HDB lease buyback scheme which is very practical for asset-rich but cash-poor elderly Singaporeans as most of them live in two- and three-room flats on their own as they do not want to inconvenience their children who have their own families.

May I suggest that the Government look into the mode of payment of the Dependants' Protection Scheme (DPS) which requires senior citizens and retirees to pay the annual premium in cash and not from their Medisave Account.

Most senior citizens and retirees have 'ample' savings in their Medisave Account, yet they are not allowed to use these savings to pay the DPS annual premium though they can do so for MediShield and ElderShield.

After all, the DPS is another protection scheme implemented by the Government.

Every year, this group of people aged 55 and over has to pay more than $200 in cash towards the annual premium.

This is a big burden. The money could be used to pay for other daily necessities such as utilities, buying groceries and polyclinic visits.

David Soh Jin Hoe

Still No Decision By Horizon Towers Sellers As Deadline Looms

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 8, 2007

EXTENSION SOUGHT: The buyers have urged the sellers of Horizon Towers units to extend the sale deadline by four months. -- ST FILE PHOTO

HORIZON Towers sellers met last night to discuss their next step in the face of a huge lawsuit from the developer which wants to buy the estate for $500 million.

The meeting ended late at night, with no decision made. The last three members of the sale committee resigned, after four other members resigned over the past week.

As next Tuesday's deadline given by the would-be buyers looms, a range of sellers expressed their opinions on what step to take next.

One of the issues raised at the meeting was the need for more sale committee members.

The sellers' meeting, held at the Holiday Inn Parkview, started half an hour late at 8.30pm. It was the second major meeting held after the developer sued 255 sellers for failing to go through with the deal.

Hotel Properties (HPL), Morgan Stanley Real Estate-managed funds and Qatar Investment Authority have been trying to buy Horizon Towers collectively for $500 million, a price inked in February.

But the sale hit a snag about a month back when the Strata Titles Board threw out the estate's sale application because of a technical error over paperwork.

On Thursday, the buyers filed an affidavit in the High Court, which was served on some of the sale committee members yesterday morning. It claimed that some members had tried to scupper the collective sale by trying to get other majority owners to go back on their agreement to sell the property.

In mid-week, the buyers had sent a letter to all the sellers on a 'without prejudice' basis - delivered to their mailbox.

In the letter, they explained the situation they are in and urged the sellers to extend the sale deadline by four months to Dec 11.

The Horizon Towers sale application could be refiled if not for the Aug 11 deadline in the contract.

The buyers now allege the sellers did not do their utmost to get the collective sale order from STB.

'There's an obligation in law for them to use their best endeavours,' said a lawyer. 'Their best bet is therefore to reapply.'

If the sellers do not, they can fight the suit.

Horizon Towers Sales Committee Quits, Sellers Split On Lawsuit

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 08 September 2007

SINGAPORE : Horizon Towers has lost its sales committee.

The last three members of the committee have thrown in the towel, after a meeting on Friday night.

It's the latest twist in an already complicated en bloc sale.

The September 7 meeting was held so that owners can decide on what they need to do next.

They are facing a lawsuit filed by Hotel Properties Limited (HPL) and its partners who are buying over Horizon Towers.

The buyers are taking the sellers to court for failing to file a proper sales application.

Related Video Link -
The last three members of the committee have thrown in the towel, after a meeting on Friday night. It's the latest twist in an already complicated en bloc sale.

The buyers also alleged that owners are backing out of the deal.

The latest developments put the entire en bloc sale in limbo.

Security was tight at Friday's closed-door meeting. A hotel ballroom for 450 people was booked for five hours so that owners can unanimously decide the next step forward.

But about two hours into the meeting which started at 8:30 pm and ended after 10 pm, the last three standing members of the sales committee quit.

One of them, who did not want to be identified, said it was just difficult to stay on.

"Some owners say we should do this, while some say we should do that. And they're using the lawyers' letters to threaten the sales committee. If I turn right, I have a lawyers'. I turn left and I have another lawyers' letter. So you can't really function. There were originally a sale committee of nine people, but over the last few days, many have resigned because of the threatening letters and the pressure, which is quite large," said a former sales committee member.

As to the lawsuit filed by HPL, the former sales committee member said: "It's actually quite disappointing that it's a big corporate who is doing such a thing. And all these people (the owners), they're so frightened. Everyone is split and now homeowners are suing one and another, trying to put blame on one another. I think it’s quite sad."

Inside the meeting, opinion amongst the owners was also split.

One camp said they should give in to the buyers' demand and delay the sale by another four months.

Another camp wanted to wait for the High Court decision.

The homeowners had filed an appeal to the High Court against the decision by the Strata Titles Board which had rejected their sales application because of a technical error.

"Emotions were running high. But I think the meeting was orderly and people gave their views. And people respected the views given although they disagree with each other," said Shriniwas Rai, a lawyer representing five of the owners.

After the meeting, home owners disbanded and discussed amongst themselves on the next step.

Horizon Towers' lawyer Chelve Rajah who was also present at the meeting refused to comment.

The High Court will hear the property's appeal on September 28.

In February, HPL and its partners, Morgan Stanley Real Estate and Qatar Investment Authority, signed a deal with more than 84 percent of owners of the property at Leonie Hill for $500 million.

But the sale did not go through. Last month, the Strata Titles Board rejected the sale due to a technicality.

It is understood that there was an error in the application, submitted by the sellers.

So HPL and its partners sued the sellers for not making a proper application and for alleged breach of contract.

If the sellers lose their case, owners of 173 units who agreed to sell may each be personally liable for $5.78m. - CNA /ls

Horizon Towers Deal In Limbo As Sales Committee Quits

Source : The Business Times, September 8, 2007

(SINGAPORE) The majority sellers of Horizon Towers were supposed to get together last night to resolve a problem, but things ended up being possibly worse.

The sales committee quit last night at the meeting held at Holiday Inn Park View Hotel, and even up to 11pm, no new committee had been formed, BT understands.

The majority sellers who arrived with their lawyers in tow were supposed to decide how to respond to a lawsuit which they face brought by Hotel Property Ltd (HPL), Morgan Stanley Real Estate managed funds and Qatar Investment Authority after the en bloc sale of their Leonie Hill property fell through last month.

The Strata Titles Board (STB) refused to grant a collective sale order, saying that Horizon Towers had filed a defective application. HPL and its partners are suing the majority sellers for failing to file a proper application.

HPL and its partners in February signed a deal with 84 per cent of the owners of Horizon Towers to buy the property en bloc for $500 million, for redevelopment. There have been media reports that some sellers regretted their decision to sell at that price when neighbouring developments later sold for twice as much per square foot.

Last night's meeting plunged into limbo when the sales committee quit. Sellers who appeared at the meeting said volunteers were being asked to serve on a new sales committee, and that two men stepped forward on condition they would be granted blanket immunity from legal proceedings.

However, they did not get their condition, and no conclusion was reached.

BT understands that by the time the meeting started, there were only three people left on the committee as the other members had quit in the past weeks. This fails to meet the quorum needed of five people on the committee.

Throughout the meeting that started at 8pm and was scheduled to end by 11:59pm yesterday, groups of people and individuals were seen leaving the ballroom at different times to discuss and to smoke.

The meeting was tightly monitored by about six security officers who made sure only majority sellers were allowed into the ballroom. Applause interspersed with cheering was heard at different intervals of the meeting.

The majority owners whom BT spoke to estimated there were more than a hundred people who turned up.

They had a mixed response regarding the outcome. One man seemed upset that the sales committee had quit and said: 'I don't know what's going to happen now. Who cares?' Another seemed pessimistic about the chances of another committee being formed: 'Who would want to be on the sales committee now with the threats of legal suits?'

At press time, the meeting was still going on, BT understands.

Steep Rise In S'pore Hotel Room Rates

Source : The AsiaOne News, Sep 7, 2007

The average room rate in Singapore hotels has gone up by 12 per cent , making local rates the fifth steepest in the world. -- FULLERTON HOTEL

THE rise in Singapore's hotel room rates is the fifth steepest in the world, a global survey has shown.

The average room rate in Singapore hotels has gone up by 12 per cent - to 105.86 pounds (S$327.01) - in the past six month, according to a mid-year survey by the Hogg Robinson Group (HRG).

Mumbai has the highest increase in rate - up by 30 per cent - with hotels charging an average of 147.55 pounds per night. This is followed by Barcelona (18 per cent to 126.40 pounds), Berlin (17 per cent to 83.05 pounds) and Aberdeen (12 per cent to 119.75 pounds).

HRG attributes the rising rates to a 'limited supply of hotels with rooms in the upper end of the market to meet the demand from the expansion in the Banking, Finance and IT sectors'.

'With India's 'open skies' policy and an expansion in capacity at Mumbai's International Airport, the city has been exposed to increased traffic into the region,' said the report.

Other cities with fast rising hotel room rates are Barcelona, Berlin, Aberdeen, Stockholm, Munich, Glasgow, Houston and Dubai.

HRG survey, carried out in UK, is based on a combination of industry figures, actual room nights booked and rates paid by its UK clients during January to June 2007.

Ms Margaret Bowler, Director Global Hotel Relations, HRG, said, 'The figures show average room rates are generally performing well and the global hotel industry has once again experienced healthy growth in the first six months of 2007.'

'Europe has seen strong increases, and rates in the Middle East and Asia have also risen. As these two particular markets have yet to reach full maturity, we expect to see the trends continue over the foreseeable future.'

For the second year running, Moscow remains the city with the highest room rates of 236.06 pounds - a seven per cent jump compared to the same period in 2006.

Although Hong Kong saw a fall in average room rates, it retains its eighth position among the top ten most expensive cities, with a rate of 153.86 pounds.

Paris slips one position from its 2006 ranking to take fourth place, with rates continuing to grow by five per cent, while London falls from the sixth to the ninth spot despite posting a steady five per cent increase.

New York City, Dubai, Bangalore, Milan, Stockholm and Rome round up the top ten list of most expensive cities worldwide.

With hotel room rates set to head north, Ms Bowler advises travellers to book in advance, if they want to secure the best rates.

'Last minute bookers are increasingly suffering from inflated rates in the most popular locations, and clients need to ensure that they have negotiated last room availability in their corporate rates to avoid this,' she noted.

Room rates will rise further in Singapore
Industry players expect no let-up in Singapore's hotel room rate. A report released by investment bank Merrill Lynch in June predicts that by 2015, rates will inflate to an average of S$600, driven by a room shortage.

Merrill Lynch attributes the increasingly strong demand for rooms to the burgeoning rise in visitor arrivals.

'We expect Singapore to attract 17.7 million visitors by 2015, an increase of 7.0 per cent per year between 2007 and 2015,' said the Merrill Lynch report.

'The main contributors will be from the leisure visitors, new visitors attracted by the integrated resorts, and growth of the business and meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (BTMICE) segments.'