Sunday, September 23, 2007

Jurong Lake Centre Of Dragon Boat Racing Action

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 23 September 2007

The serene waters of Jurong Lake were stirred up this weekend as paddlers battled it out in this year's National 5-Crew Dragon Boat Challenge.

The boats in the competition were smaller and narrower than the normal dragon racing boats so balance and power were vital to speed through the 250-metre course.

Steering is by the coxswain using a paddle whereas a long rudder is used on the usual 10- and 20-crew boats.

More than 600 dragon boaters took part in the two-day challenge, organised by the People's Association. - CNA/so

Dialogue On CPF Reforms Focuses On Whys And Hows Of Changes

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 23 September 2007

A dialogue session on Sunday with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and five ministers focused on the hows and whys of the recent CPF changes.

Issues like why the interest rate hike was just 1 percentage point and why there was no opt-out clause for the annuity were brought up and addressed.

To provide life-long income to those who may live beyond 85, the government has announced plans to set aside a sum of money from each individual's minimum sum to buy into a compulsory annuity for all CPF members.

If one dies before age 85, the amount goes into the pool and the payouts for those who are still living.

However, it seems that many Singaporeans are having trouble coming to grips with the idea of living long enough to enjoy the benefits of the scheme.

Goh Aik Kiang, a grassroots leader, said: "Right now, my observation is that there is a percentage of people who don't really believe they will go beyond 85."

Related Video Link - http://tinyurl.com/24lrqe
Dialogue on CPF reforms focuses on whys and hows of changes


Labour chief Lim Swee Say, in typical tongue-in-cheek fashion, then tried to address the issue with what he called "his fortune-telling ability".

The Secretary-General of NTUC said: "I can tell you for sure, half of you will die before 85 - half of you will live beyond 85... what I cannot tell you is whether (it is) this half or that half."

It is the harsh reality of statistics that has prompted the changes to ensure that Singaporeans have enough funds for their retirement. But issues like the annuity have raised concerns about fairness.

Goh Keng Hwa, another grassroots leader, said: "It's likely that this programme, as it is, would result in taking away money from those who are poor and sick, and giving to the wealthy and well-to-do. The reason I say that is because people who live up to 85 and beyond are likely to be those (who are) healthy and well-to-do, people who are poor and sick are likely to be compromised, since everybody contributes."

Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen said: "Professionals calculate which groups live longer and if they do live longer, they have to pay a higher premium. The number one rule – be fair to everyone. So if you want to be fair to everyone, then each person must put aside in the CPF savings so that if you live longer than expected, you can take care of yourself. Because if you don't do that, then those who have put enough to support themselves will have to support you – that's not fair."

To the suggestion that the government should just step in and help old people with funding when their money runs out, the Second Finance Minister said he felt that was a slippery slope.

Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said: "The way we are doing now – we help people build up their savings, we give them incentive to save. If you save, we will help you even more, but if we say we will promise to pay if you run out of money, then what will happen over time? People will save less because they know somebody is waiting there, a grand-daddy waiting there to pay up if you run out of money."

Re-employment beyond the age of 62 was another big issue.

Making the distinction between re-employment and simply increasing the retirement age, Mr Lim said re-employment could mean a different job with a different pay that may not be stressful for the older worker.

The scheme also had the added bonus of preventing resentment from younger workers who could climb the corporate ladder and not be blocked by older workers who would simply stay on in their positions.

Mr Lim said NTUC has been working with 300 companies over the last 18 months, and so far, 3,200 Singaporeans who have reached the age of 62 were re-employed. - CNA/so

CPF Reforms Carefully Considered, Govt Can Deliver: PM Lee

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 23 September 2007

The latest CPF reforms were finalised after carefully calculating that the government can deliver on what it has promised, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday.

Chairing a dialogue with five other ministers for some 500 grassroots leaders, Mr Lee said any scheme devised has to be fair to everyone.

The prime minister said a British pensions expert he met recently had said there were only three ways to solve the problem of living longer and providing for old age.

The first is to work longer and enjoy a shorter period of retirement, the second option is to save more while working, and the third is to choose to have less money when one grows old.

For Singapore, the CPF reform is the right thing to do as it will benefit many, especially the low-income ones.

Related Video Link - http://tinyurl.com/2ovz9q
CPF reforms carefully considered, govt can deliver: PM Lee


He said: "It's not something that is going to make a difference overnight because we are talking about something when we grow old, and you are talking about 10, 15, 20 years from now.

"This is something if we didn't do, it will not disturb us now, it will not affect the next election, nobody will blame us until we are 35 years from now, when the problem is here, then people will say what kind of government did we have 35 years ago, (they) never took care of us. I think it is our responsibility to do that now."

Mr Lee said the CPF interest rate is better than that given by the banks, and he had a tip for wives.

"All the women should tell their husbands that the government's CPF interest rate is now very high, better than the POSBank anytime so better take your money from your POSB (account) and put into my CPF account," he quipped.

The extra one percentage point given by the CPF Board is something Singaporeans will find hard to get anywhere else.

Mr Lee said: "The government is taking care of it – 100-percent risk free. The money is there, it will never disappear. People say go with GIC, Temasek; GIC makes so much money, you should give me the same like GIC. But GIC invests long-term – they buy shares, the stock market goes up, the stock market goes down.

"(In the) last few months, the stock market has gone down. I am sure GIC's portfolio would have gone down. And not just your interest is less – that means your capital gets less. I was persuaded by MOM (Ministry of Manpower) and MOF (Ministry of Finance), against my preference, that it's better for the government to take on this responsibility for the first S$60,000 because it's a big burden."

Measures to ensure that Singaporeans have a secure retirement go beyond just improving the CPF system.

PM Lee explained that the various measures taken by the government to improve the housing programmes, education system and even Workfare all contribute to achieving that objective.

On the Longevity Insurance or annuities, Mr Lee said he is prepared to consider various options.

"You put the money, you buy the annuity, they pay you, you die, (but) they will continue paying your spouse until she dies. That is something we should consider and can be an option in the scheme which will address the needs of quite a number of old folks," he said.

Mr Lee said the CPF changes are major and hopes the dialogue will help community leaders better understand what the government is doing for the country's long-term good. - CNA/so

HSBC To Close Sub-Prime Unit, Cut 750 Jobs

Source : The Business Times, September 22, 2007

HSBC Finance will record an impairment charge of about US$880 million, reflecting a write-down of Decision One assets on its books. It also will incur about US$65 million in after-tax charges for restructuring that includes employee termination benefits and facility closures

NEW YORK - HSBC Holdings, Europe's biggest bank, said on Friday that it would close its US sub-prime mortgage unit, cutting 750 jobs and taking US$945 million in charges and write-downs, because the business is no longer sustainable.

For London-based HSBC, which is under pressure from activist investors to shake up its corporate governance, it was the latest blow from the meltdown in the US market for loans to home buyers with poor credit histories.

HSBC Finance, the US consumer finance arm of HSBC, said the closure of Decision One Mortgage would result in people losing their jobs at offices in Fort Mill, South Carolina, Phoenix, Arizona and Charlotte, North Carolina.

'It's no longer sustainable and not the right place to allocate capital in the future,' HSBC Holdings Group chief executive Michael Geoghegan said in a statement.

HSBC Finance will record an impairment charge of about US$880 million, reflecting a write-down of Decision One assets on its books. It also will incur about US$65 million in after-tax charges for restructuring that includes employee termination benefits and facility closures.

HSBC acquired Decision One when it bought Household International in 2003 for US$14 billion. Decision One is a small part of HSBC's US operations, which include auto lending and credit cards. -- REUTERS

Is The Worst Really Over?

Source : The Business Times, September 23, 2007

According to conventional thinking, an interest rate cut has to be good for stocks. After all, the last time the US central bank started slashing its rates some seven years ago, it eventually reflated a deflating Wall Street and brought about the run of the past three years.

So it's been that Tuesday's decision by the Federal Reserve to cut its federal funds rate by 50 points instead of the widely-expected 25 has been hailed by most analysts and brokers as sufficient to ensure the bull market resumes.

In its Q4 Strategy Outlook for example, BCA Research said 'monetary reflation will be the dominant force in global financial markets and equity performance will be strongly influenced by this theme', adding that rate cuts will mean lower borrowing costs and better profits ahead. Not surprisingly, it recommends staying positive on stocks.

Most other market-related outfits have arrived at a similar conclusion. One of the arguments used is that the rate cut, which could well be the first of many to follow, should kickstart a flagging US economy that was buckling under the weight of a crashing housing market.

Then there's the India and China angle, which can always be relied upon to induce clients to keep buying when all else fails.

Regular readers of the business pages would be familiar with this line of reasoning, which in a nutshell says that even if the US slides backwards, the engines of global growth have shifted to this part of the world and are being driven by the emergence of India and China.

So it doesn't really matter if Fed chief Ben Bernanke and his economists have acted too early or too late or should not have acted at all, Asia is insulated anyway.

All of this reasoning is fine - it sounds plausible, it's well-grounded and is easily understood even by the most naive of investors.

And it may well be that US rate cuts are just what every market needs to get things up and running again.

But is there a flip side that perhaps has been underplayed, or glossed over in the eagerness to get everyone buying again?

Put differently, are investors at risk of making the same mistake they did two months ago, which is to underestimate the magnitude of risk in the market?

First, the last US easing cycle came when Wall Street was being seriously battered by Nasdaq's crash. This time, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was only 5 per cent off its all-time high when the Fed cut rates on Tuesday.

Similarly, the Straits Times Index was only 4-5 per cent below its own all-time high when the rate cut was made. Check all the other markets and the numbers are roughly the same. Is the visible upside really that attractive?

Second, is it possible that the rate cut will not have much effect on the crashing US property market and that the rally of last week was a knee-jerk relief rally that might soon fizzle out?

Third, if oil is at an all-time high above US$81 and if core inflation picks up, will the Fed take back the rate cut? If it's forced to do so, what might the impact be on Wall Street?

Fourth, when the Japanese economy crashed in the late 1980s under the weight of its own over-hyped property market, its government brought interest rates down to zero but was unable to head off a recession that has lasted for more than 15 years. Is there any reason to think that the US situation could be different?

Finally, there's always the nagging worry that the sub-prime story has not fully played out yet and that there could be more shocks in store. Last week's wobbles came not from Wall Street but from Europe, where the ripples are now being felt and could start appearing in bank earnings.

The best that can be said that although the chances of markets regaining their stability have increased compared to a month ago, the risks have not abated proportionately. Glib urgings to buy and keep buying without equal weightage given to risk should be digested critically and investors have to remain open and cognisant of the likelihood that the worst may not yet be over. -- BT

One-North

Source : JTC Corporation (http://www.jtc.gov.sg/portfolio/one-north/pages/index.aspx)

Our aspiration is to create an exceptional place of vision and inspiration.

Imagine an environment bounded only by imagination itself. Where you can work, live and be inspired by leading scientists, researchers and technopreneurs from around the world. Where groundbreaking ideas are born from a stroll in the park and conventions challenged over coffee at a sidewalk cafe. Where anything is possible.

Welcome to one-north - a vibrant place and a lifestyle choice for the most creative minds of the new economy. A small piece of Singapore with a big part to play in shaping the future.

one-north comprises an area of about 200 hectares in central Singapore, to be developed in phases over the next 15-20 years. The purpose is to create a vibrant mix of commercial, residential and recreational environments, conducive for generating ideas and creating success. The master planner for one-north is Zaha Hadid Architects, a leading London-based practice whose work pushes the boundaries of architecture, extending and intensifying existing landscapes in the pursuit of a visionary aesthetic.

Focusing on the biomedical sciences, infocomm technology(ICT) and media industries, one-north is a meeting place of minds. An exceptional place for exceptional people to live and work, relax and learn. Where you can inspire and be inspired to push the boundaries of knowledge and turn ideas into groundbreaking innovations.

Biopolis, Asia's home for Biomedical Sciences

Located within one-north and in close proximity to the National University of Singapore, National University Hospital and the Singapore Science Parks, Biopolis is envisioned to be a world-class biomedical sciences research and development hub in Asia. This 185,000 sqm world-class R&D hub provides dedicated space for laboratory-based activities and an environment that fosters a collaborative culture among the private and public research community.

To seed growth, core elements of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is co-located at Biopolis Phase 1. The strategy is to encourage growth and strong interaction amonst the public research institutes, private biomedical companies, nearby hospitals and tertiary institutions. This will create a vibrant research community and pave the way for the birth of new ideas.


Fusionopolis, where science meets business and the arts

Envisioned to be one of the most happening places in one-north, Fusionopolis Phase 1 is designed by renowned architect Dr Kisho Kurokawa. It sizzles with energy 24/7. This is a gathering place for leaders and innovators in the infocomm and media industries, where research institutes, multi-national companies and start-ups work together in pioneering the development of technology products and solutions.

Fusionopolis Phase 1 comprising a two-tower cum podium complex integrated with work-live service apartments, amenity clubhouse, technology showcase, media studio and retail outlets is slated for completion by early 2008. It is almost fully taken up with several SERC institutes and laboratories as anchor tenants – namely, the Institute for Infocomm Research (I2R), the Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC), the Network Storage Group of DSI and the Industrial Informatics Group of SIMTech. Several private sector companies and the Media Development Authority have also confirmed that they will be taking up space at Phase 1.

Located at a 1.3-hectare site at Ayer Rajah Avenue, Fusionopolis Phase 2A will comprise a new science and engineering R&D complex to be developed JTC. With 103,600 sqm of gross floor area, the new complex will have dry and wet laboratories, clean-room facilities and ground-floor retail units. The S$567 million complex is scheduled to be ready by end-2009.


Vista Xchange, corporate and business support hub in one-north

Vista Xchange is the corporate and business support Xchange in one-north. Covering 17 hectares in land area, it houses high-rise offices, a business hotel, retail-cum-entertainment centres and quality residential developments. Itis also the transport hub for one-north. The Buona Vista Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) station, a Circle Line (CCL) MRT station under construction and a future bus interchange provide seamless access to Singapore’s central business district, Changi International Airport and other parts of the island. At Vista Xchange the combination of offices, hotels, shops, entertainment, convention facilities, corporate retreat villas and artists villages bring out the excitement of 24/7 city centre living.

one-north will be a dynamic community for the new dynamic generation. A fun place that is always pulsating, never dull and never short of ideas, Chic apartments, open green spaces, arts and culture, sports and recreation. one-north has a creatobe atmosphere which seamlessly integrates all the elements of the mix.


One-North Park

Spanning 16 hectares in land area and divided into 13 land parcels,the one-north Park is a key component of the one-north master plan. It is a principle relief space for one-north’s work, live, play, and learn communities. one-north Park is a continuous, multi-purpose spine of landscaped spaces that encompasses the one-north site and its graceful form provides a strong counterpoint to the sharp edges of future buildings. It is the ideal venue for informal gatherings, spontaneous events and a meeting point for talents across industries in various xchanges to interact and exchange knowledge.


Rochester Park

Rochester Park is one of the three preserved heritage sites in one-north. Where green space meets urban space in an eclectic mix of styles, this place has 11 units of bungalows for interim periods of residential and commercial/retail usage. These bungalows, set amidst tree-lined winding roads, accomodate a variety of lifestyles such as restaurants with al-fresco dining, spas and wellness centres, art galleries and specialty boutiques. To retain the heritage and rustic environment in Rochester Park, the exterior façade of the bungalows will be conserved. However, the interior of the bungalows can be customised to suit the individual tenant’s requirements.


Wessex Estate

Nestled amid lush green vegetation, Wessex Estate is a colonial-style residential estate surrounded by open spaces and trees to provide a soothing and relaxing ambience for its residents. Narrow roads that wind around the ubiquitous Black and White houses create a closely-knit cluster of residential housing. Constructed around the 1940’s, the Black and White walk-up apartments and semi-detached houses have now become home to a community of artists, teachers and actors. As part of the one-north development initiative, Wessex Estate is slated to be a hub for the creative enclave. It is envisioned as a place where the gathering of diverse and creative minds will create a bohemian culture that transcends norms and boundaries.

I Love The Heartland

Source : The Sunday Times, Sep 23, 2007

Eat laksa, visit an HDB flat and the wet market. Heartland tours enable tourists to see, taste and smell the real Singapore
















YIN-YANG TOUR: Tour East's Joisse Chin (right) shows tourists around a Chinese medicine shop at Toa Payoh Hub. -- ST PHOTO: LIN SIN THAI

IT'S hard to imagine, but bamboo laundry poles, urine sensors in lifts and the sight of porridge in your rice cooker make up snippets of heartlander life that can be a draw for tourists.

Forget the major sights of Orchard Road and Sentosa, sometimes seasoned travellers just want to see the 'real' side of a country, at a person-to-person level.

That's according to tourism experts and bosses on the corporate scene here, who reckon showing visitors what's truly uniquely Singaporean - the HDB heartlands - appeals to those seeking to do something different during their stay.

The idea of taking tourists to the heartlands received a new fillip following a Business Times report recently which polled CEOs about what the tourism industry can do to accommodate the flood of tourists here in the coming years.

It turns out that amid the glitz and glamour of upcoming attractions like the Integrated Resorts (IRs) and Formula One racing, a few of the bosses could see opportunity closer to home, literally, in the form of Housing Board flats.

The founder of network operator AXS Infocomm, Mr Joey Chang, thought this could be the Singaporean version of the Australian farmstay. 'It would provide a more authentic atmosphere for visitors,' he said, adding: 'HDB estates are a success story to be shared.'

The CEOs were eyeing the heartlands to provide much-needed accommodation to promote cultural exchange and relieve the squeeze on hotels in the city, but HDB estates' potential as a tourist attraction is already on the map.

Some tour operators have been taking small numbers of tourists - many of whom are above 40 - on such tours, and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) recently presented heartland tours as part of its visitor promotion during the Great Singapore Sale this year.

The positive sentiment is echoed by tourism experts like Dr Judy Siguaw, who agrees that the heartlands are a good way to showcase 'exotic Asia'.

She says skyscrapers, sophisticated restaurants and shopping malls mask the 'Asian-ness' of Singapore, making it similar to other large global urban areas.

But 'wet markets, heartland food courts, retail shops and grocery stores are a novelty for Western visitors', notes the dean of the Cornell-Nanyang Institute of Hospitality Management at Nanyang Technological University.

The American, who has lived here for over two years, says she has taken visitors from her home country to the heartlands - and their response has generally been positive.

Associate Professor Chang Tou Chuang from the National University of Singapore (NUS) points out that as the world becomes more accessible, cities start looking alike and so tourists seek something different.

'Furthermore, with better education, their understanding of culture is deeper. They want to go 'behind the scenes' of a country,' says Prof Chang, who teaches tourism geography in NUS.

To that end, the STB's recent tours were intended to give visitors an insight into the Singapore way of life and a taste of local culture, with three itineraries - 'The Quaint and Quirky', 'Eastern Escapade' and 'Journey West' - designed to showcase the best in enclaves such as Chinatown, Katong, Marine Parade, Little India and Hong Kah.

Australian tourist Ray Flanagan, who joined his first heartland tour last Friday, is one such happy tourist. He has been to Singapore more than 10 times but has visited only 'usual' tourist destinations like Sentosa and the Singapore Zoo in the past.

'It's good to visit the heartlands to see how some Singaporeans live. It makes me realise how densely populated the country is,' he says.

Turtle soup in Chinatown

BUT heartland tours have had a bumpy road at times.

At least two local agencies offer heartland tours on a regular basis: World Express has one of Toa Payoh and Bishan, while Tour East runs one to Toa Payoh and Holland Village.

But others have failed. For instance, SH Tours, which has been in the inbound tourism business for more than 20 years, ventured into the heartlands twice but found little success.

Its first attempt was in 2001, when it tried to kickstart a tour of Tiong Bahru. Customers had breakfast at Tiong Bahru Market, then visited the wet market. They then proceeded to Chinatown to visit another market and try turtle soup.

It started off on a daily basis, but after poor demand, the tour was cut to three times a week before being scrapped a year later. The Tiong Bahru tour is now run only on an ad hoc basis, which averages about once a month.

The agency tried another heartland tour - this time of Toa Payoh - in 2005, taking the tourists to shop at the town centre, visit the Shuang Lin temple and try nasi lemak at a hawker centre. But this, too, stopped after a year.

SH Tours manager Catherine Khng says the company, which sells more than 200,000 tour packages yearly, went into heartland tours because of the potential. After all, while it is easy to visit the major sights by public transport, venturing to the heartlands is more challenging - and hence tourists would sign up for a tour package.

But the agency discovered that most visitors still prefer the tried-and-tested.

Furthermore, while established attractions like the zoo can embark on their own marketing blitz, there is no one to drum up publicity for, say, Toa Payoh or Marine Parade.

The prices were a deterrent, too. Due to smaller group sizes, it cost each tourist $39 to go on a tour of Tiong Bahru, compared to $31 for a regular city tour.

Still a niche market

INDEED, even for those who have made it, the ride hasn't always been smooth. Tour East's first dabble in heartland tours around 1992 met with little success.

The programme included a trip to Toa Payoh to visit its temples, sports complexes and the Chung Hwa Free Clinic.

But the tours lasted for just a year because of the poor response, says Tour East's group vice-president for sales and marketing Judy Lum.

'When we told them that HDB flats were subsidised housing, they got worried, because in their countries subsidised housing meant crime-infested places,' she recalls.

'We had to explain to them that it was safe, clean and doesn't have graffiti all over. Even then, some were suspicious that the HDB tour was a propaganda tool showing them 'what the Government wants them to see'.'

Similarly, although World Express has been running its 'The Way We Live' tours for a decade now, managing director Darren Tan admits that it remains a niche market which makes up less than 5 per cent of the company's total sales.

The tour takes tourists for walks around Toa Payoh and Bishan to show the difference between an old town and a new one. They take public transport, sip coffee at a hawker centre and even visit the home of an HDB dweller.

He says the agency has continued running the tour because customer satisfaction levels were reported to be 'much higher than the regular tours'.

He is also modest about the potential growth of this market.

'The reality is that Singapore isn't a seven-day destination. Within a finite time-frame, tours here tend to be a 'best-of' that won't include the heartlands,' notes Mr Tan, who says that heartland tours tend to attract more repeat, rather than first-time, visitors.

Ms Lum agrees: 'The perception of Singapore as a stopover city is very strong and not easy to change. Most people still see us as a three-day, two-night destination. If they have more time, they may go off the beaten path, but first they must do what everyone who has been here talks about.'

However, she is quietly optimistic of the growth potential for heartland tours. The agency re-entered this market in 2004 with a 'Shop and Eat Heartland Trail', which has met with 'moderate' success.

She feels that the opening of the IRs will push Singapore to 'make its mark as a holiday destination and convince people to stay longer'.

'Hopefully the heartland tours will really take off then,' she says. 'And that will allow more tourists to experience the real heart and soul of Singapore.'


EXPATS' FAVORUITES #1















ST PHOTO: DOMINIC WONG

Malls, parks and beaches so close by
SWATI CHAUGULE MURLIDHAR, 26
Nationality : Indian
Occupation : Accountant
Years in Singapore : Two
Living in : Private apartment in Kembangan
Top attractions of the heartlands:

Tiong Bahru wet market, because you can get very fresh vegetables, meat and fish. The vendors are friendly and have a good attitude.

The neighbourhood playgrounds are great places for the kids to have fun.
Heartland malls such as Tiong Bahru Plaza, which has a wide range of shops that offer everything from music to clothing to food.

Beaches in Singapore, such as the one at East Coast Parkway near Marine Parade estate, are clean and nice places to relax at. Parks are also close by in all neighbourhoods and good places to go for a stroll.

EXPATS' FAVORUITES #2













ST PHOTO: ALAN LIM

Sip kopi and do taichi
P.J. ROBERTS, 33
Nationality : Australian
Occupation : Vice-president of ipac Financial Planning Singapore and an ESPN Star Sports football analyst
Years in Singapore : Five
Living in : Condominium in Serangoon
Top attractions of the heartlands:

Coffee shops and hawker centres, such as Serangoon Gardens' Chomp Chomp food centre, where the variety of food is tremendous, from Chinese to Muslim to Indian cuisine.
The banter and atmosphere of the wet market in Serangoon Avenue 3. It's interesting to see people buying and selling things.

The neighbourhood pubs and karaoke joints near Serangoon Stadium are great for having a quiet beer and a laugh and to watch football. Happy Daze in Serangoon Gardens has an easygoing, cosy retro decor and plays laidback tunes. It is very casual and has a friendly vibe.

Exploring Toa Payoh Town Centre with its little nooks and crannies offering everything from mobile phones to clothing.

Early morning exercise classes, in particular taichi, at the Serangoon and Bedok sports stadiums, in which hundreds of people take part.

EXPATS' FAVORUITES #3














ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Danish delights in Singapore's wet markets
IBEN WAN, 33
Nationality : Danish
Occupation : Sales and marketing manager
Years in Singapore : Six
Living in : HDB flat in Hougang
Top attractions of the heartlands:

The gatherings of elderly men with their birds in their cages in places such as Ang Mo Kio. We don't have this kind of practice in Denmark.

Going to Geylang for food such as the famous frog porridge, where you get to see a more unpolished and perhaps more authentic side of Singapore.

Sembawang Park offers many different things including a small beach. It is also a venue for bird-watching.

A lot of places in Europe don't have wet markets like the ones here. They are good for trying all kinds of exotic fruits like durian, pomelo and mango.

EXPATS' FAVORUITES #4
ST PHOTO: ALAN LIM

Line-dance in the Lion City, anyone?
KAZE TEFFO ETIENNE.GISCARD, 20
Nationality : Cameroonian
Occupation : Footballer with Balestier Khalsa Football Club
Years in Singapore : Two
Living in : Semi-detached house in Potong Pasir

Top attractions of the heartland:

The Toa Payoh Town Park has many flowers and it's quiet so I like to go there for long walks and jogs and to relax.

The shops in Toa Payoh Central as they sell many interesting things. Goods are cheap and there is room for bargaining. There is great local flavour in the products, for example, the clothing.

Eateries such as food courts, coffee shops and hawker centres. My favourite dishes include Hainanese chicken rice, nasi goreng and roti prata.

The Toa Payoh swimming pool because it's great for doing laps when I train as well as a good way to meet Singaporeans.

Line-dancing at the HDB Hub which takes place about once a month. It's very nice to watch what's going on because the dancing is nicely choreographed.

S'pore Just For Rich? Not Possible, Says PM

Sep 23, 2007

Govt strives to ensure that ordinary S'poreans, who form majority, have a good standard of living

SINGAPORE is not a country just for the rich, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

It cannot be. Otherwise, the Government would lose elections because there are not enough rich people around to vote it in.

Instead, Singapore has to be a place where the majority of the people enjoy a high quality of life, he said at the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum on Friday night.

He was responding to a National University of Singapore student, who feared that he, as a middle-income person, might be squeezed out here, and that the country is increasingly for foreigners, tourists and the rich.

Said Mr Lee: 'Singapore has to be a place where the vast majority of Singaporeans will enjoy a high quality of life, and be able to have jobs, where you can earn well and do well for yourself.

'You may not be able to do as well as the most successful banker or lawyer or property developer, but you do well for yourself, your career. You have good schools for your children; good health care for your parents; good leisure for your family; good opportunities for your future.'

He stressed that if Singapore were a society where everybody was equal, it would be a 'recipe for poverty'. Inequality is unavoidable, but the Government must make sure most people have a good standard of living.

With the job market thriving, he told the 900 students at the forum that a job awaited them when they graduated.

'I'm told that it used to be that a student would wait six months to get employed. Now the employers are waiting six months to hire the students. Six months before you graduate, (they will) sign you up,' he said.

He was speaking at an hour-long dialogue that saw students quizzing him on a range of issues, from human rights to the Government's attitude towards public consultation.

The dialogue came after a speech in which Mr Lee sketched the challenges that Singapore faced in the years ahead.

The country was poised to remake itself in the next five to 10 years, by transforming the economy and creating a more vibrant and open society. It was doing so against a backdrop of an Asia on the move, fuelled by the rise of China and India.

Encouraging the students to take advantage of the promising future, he added: 'You're in the middle of a period when Asia is going to do very well. Singapore, I think, is going to do very well.

'And you should be looking at the opportunities and saying, I want to be up there succeeding with them. And I think you can do that.'

Catering to the vast majority

'Singapore has to be a place where the vast majority of Singaporeans will enjoy a high quality of life, and be able to have jobs, where you can earn well and do well for yourself.' PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG

Singapore Is Not Just For The Rich: PM Lee

Source : The Straits Times, Sep 22, 2007

SINGAPORE is not a country just for the rich, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

It cannot be. Otherwise, the government would lose elections because there are not enough rich people around to vote it in.

Instead, Singapore has to be a place where the majority of the people enjoy a high quality of life, he said at the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum on Friday night.

He was responding to a National University of Singapore student, who feared that he, as a middle-income person, might be squeezed out here and that the country is increasingly for foreigners, tourists and the rich.

Said Mr Lee: 'Singapore has to be a place where the vast majority of Singaporeans will enjoy a high quality of life and be able to have jobs, where you can earn well and do well for yourself.

'You may not be able to do well as the top-most successful banker or lawyer or property developer, but you do well for yourself, your career. You have good schools for your children, good healthcare for your parents, good leisure for your family, good opportunities for your future.'

He stressed that if Singapore was a society where everybody was equal, it would be a 'recipe for poverty'.

Inequality is unavoidable, but the Government must make sure most people have a good standard of living.

With the job market thriving, he told the 900 students at the forum that a job awaited them when they graduate.

'I'm told that it used to be that a student would wait six months to get employed. Now the employers are waiting six months to hire the students. Six months before you graduate, sign you up,' he said.

He was speaking at an hour-long dialogue that saw students quizzing him on a range of issues, from human rights to the Government's attitude towards public consultation.

The dialogue came after a speech in which Mr Lee sketched the challenges that Singapore faces in the years ahead.

The country was poised to remake itself in the next five to 10 years by transforming the economy and creating a more vibrant and open society. It was doing so against a backdrop of an Asia on the move, fuelled by the rise of China and India.

Encouraging the students to take advantage of the promising future, he added: 'You're in the middle of a period when Asia is going to do very well. Singapore, I think, is going to do very well.

'And you should be looking at the opportunities and saying, I want to be up there succeeding with them. And I think you can do that.'

Buying Into Booming Malaysia

Source : The Sunday Times, Sep 23, 2007

SWANKY PROJECTS IN THE KLCC such as The Troika (above) are fetching as much as RM2,000 (S$874) psf. The boom has spread to surrounding districts, including U-Thant, near where the 9 Madge freehold condominium is located. -- PHOTOS: RAHIM & CO, INTERNET


Foreigners grab residential properties in KL and other hot sites, forcing prices to double in prime districts

JUST a few months ago, the notion that sale prices for residential properties in Malaysia would reach the RM2,000 (S$874) per sq ft (psf) mark would have seemed preposterous.
Today, however, swanky and luxurious high-end projects such as The Troika - designed by world-famous architect Norman Foster - in the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) have done just that. Only six months ago, homes at The Troika were available at half that price (RM1,000 psf).

Singapore's property market is not the only one that has surged forward in recent months. Across the Causeway, KLCC is enjoying its own property boom - spurred by various factors, including the relaxation of foreign ownership rules and the elimination of a property gains tax in April.

As a result, Malaysian properties are increasingly catching the investor's eye - and are now 'back on the international radar', said Mr Tim Murphy, the managing director of Hong-Kong based property investment firm Intellectual Property.

Mr Murphy was speaking to 200 investors here in Singapore as part of a series of educational seminars on emerging markets for property investments that the firm is holding this week.

Malaysia and Vietnam were singled out as good 'buy to let' investment markets, as property prices in these two countries, although rising, are still lower than those in mature markets such as Singapore and Hong Kong. Prices of high-end homes in prime locations in Singapore, for example, have now exceeded $5,000 psf.

Mr Rohan Cavaliero, one of the seminar speakers, said 'foreign investors are flocking in droves' to Malaysia now. Until recently, he was the group general manager of Malaysian developer Bandar Raya Developments, which is behind prime freehold projects such as The Troika and The Capsquare Residences.

'There has been a general capital appreciation across the board for KLCC properties, even for suburban markets in the vicinity,' said Mr Cavaliero, who has lived in Kuala Lumpur for 14 years.

Prices in areas around KLCC - Bangsar and Mont Kiara, for example - recently reached RM1,000 psf, up from RM400 to RM600 psf in the first half of this year, he said. 'Those who bought a year ago are really laughing all the way to the bank now,' he said.

Investors who buy to rent out can achieve high rental yields of 5 per cent to 7 per cent, although at current prices, yields are starting to fall for high-end homes, he added.

Mr K.K. Yap, who manages the prestige homes division of Rahim & Co, a sales associate of property consultancy Savills in Malaysia, said foreign investors are the main driver behind the boom in high-profile properties; local residents buy mainly suburban projects. 'In the first half, locals were driving the boom. Now, more foreigners are driving it because the market is still very cheap,' he said.

He said local residents will continue to invest in good-quality projects in KLCC's suburbs priced at RM600 to RM900 psf as 'most are undervalued and have big potential upside'.






















Knight Frank Malaysia said in a recent report that it expects an exciting second half for KLCC, with more than 10 launches likely, including Hampshire Place, Icon Kuala Lumpur and Seni Mont'Kiara.

Singapore investor Chan Ye-Pan, a 40-year-old sales manager who was at the seminar, said his interest in Malaysian properties had been revived. But he said he would tread cautiously as he was wary of the nation's 'changing laws'.

However, Mr Murphy pointed to Malaysia's commitment to deregulating the property market. Also, it is pushing its Malaysia, My Second Home programme to entice foreigners.

Mr Murphy said Penang, Langkawi and the Iskandar Development Region in Johor Baru are also potential sites for good investment properties.

Mr Cavaliero is already investing in Langkawi. He is a founding director of 99 East Langkawi, a property developer currently constructing a low-density, high-end residential oceanfront project on Bukit Malut, where the Langkawi Golf Club is located.

Property investments in such areas, however, can take three to five years or more to mature, said Mr Murphy. 'These are not suitable for short-term gains. But ultimately, if you do your due diligence and are patient, the potential is enormous.'


Some tips for property investors

* It may sound simple, but be sure to do your research. Take time to understand the dynamics of the market and don't be a 'sheep investor', buying impetuously without first checking out the financial viability of the investment.

* Six words to remember when researching a market: Legals, borrowing, liquidity, yields, tax and currency.

* Look for properties built by established developers with good track records, especially if you're investing in a developing market.

* Choose properties that can be supported by the local market - homes that will attract locals to rent.

* Always engage a lawyer to read all the legal documents, for example, the sales purchase agreement and deed of mutual covenant, which contains terms that are binding on all flat owners of a multi-unit building.

Sentosa Cove



The New Downtown @ Marina Bay

Source : http://www.ura.gov.sg/gallery/
Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)
















Future Urban Density and Location Of The 3 Future Gardens around Marina Bay.

light brown = existing areas
purple = future extension (development will encircle the bay)
white = long-term extension

Master Plan 2003

Source : Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)















It is not only Marina Bay that is undergoing development though, elsewhere over Singapore, there are plans in place to enhance and rejuvenate older parts of the city including Bras Basah, Orchard as well as redevelopment of suburban areas. These ideas can be found in the Masterplan (http://www.ura.gov.sg/ppd/gazettedmp2003/index-frontmp2003.htm)

Some Selected Projects :-
Changi Airport Terminal 3- Expected completion in early 2008

















Sentosa Genting Resort World (Integrated Resort)















Proposed Spaceport Singapore
















The Rejuvenation of Singapore River along the Clarke Quay Area

State-Of-The-Art Infrastructure To Support Smooth Functioning of Marina Bay

Source : Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)

Alongside the various building development works in Marina Bay, state-of-the-art infrastructure and facilities are being constructed to support the smooth functioning of Marina Bay.

Common Services Tunnel (CST)

The first phase of the CST is on track for completion by early 2006. Comprising some 1.4km of tunnels, the first phase will serve developments such as One Raffles Quay, the Sail @ Marina Bay, and the Business and Financial Centre.

The CST network is a comprehensive system of underground tunnels that will house and distribute essential utilities and telecommunications lines, as well as potable water and chilled water for air conditioning, to every development in Marina Bay.

With the CST, regular servicing of essential services can be carried out underground, minimising disruptions to traffic and services, and reducing noise and air pollution.

URA has awarded a tender for the construction of the second phase of the CST, a 230 KV electrical substation and main sewer network to Koh Brothers Civil Engineering Contractor Pte Ltd.

Comprising 1.6km of tunnels, the second phase will serve the BFC, Integrated Resort developments and other developments at the Bayfront area. It is due for completion in 2009.

Temporary diversion of the East Coast Parkway (ECP)

As a significant part of the second phase of the CST will run beneath the ECP, a 1.2km stretch of the expressway will be temporarily diverted through part of the Marina City Park.

The diversion will not only facilitate construction of the CST, but will also enable the developer of the planned Integrated Resort (IR) to construct underpasses and landscaped decks to connect the IR to the future Gardens at Marina South.

Traffic flow along the ECP is not expected to be disrupted as the number of lanes will be maintained. The Marina City Park will also remain open to the public, with affected park amenities such as the fitness centre and park benches relocated elsewhere within the park so that park-goers can continue to use these facilities in the interim.

The ECP will be realigned to its final, straightened position when construction works for the various infrastructure and development projects in the area are completed.

Downtown Extension

The Land Transport Authority announced that it will extend the MRT system into Marina Bay.

At 3.4km long, the fully underground Downtown Extension (DTE)'s five stations will provide an essential transport link to the existing Central Business District and other parts of Singapore through the interchange stations at the Circle Line's Promenade Station and the North-East Line's Chinatown Station.

Construction of the DTE will be carried out in tandem with the developments at Marina Bay and is scheduled for completion in 2012.

Other ongoing projects include a proposed future Cruise Centre and a future floating platform. Recently completed in 2006 include the new Clifford Pier and the Golf Course.

Banking On Overseas Land

Source : The Sunday Times, September 23, 2007

Thousands of Singaporeans have sunk money into undeveloped plots overseas in the hope of getting high returns. Finance Correspondent Lorna Tan talks to three investors who have ventured into this foreign territory.

FOR some, it is not enough to have a roof over their heads. Singaporeans’ love affair with property has extended to owning raw land beyond the Republic’s shores, with more than 10,000 opting for this type of investment.

In the 1990s, there was just one firm marketing such undeveloped land, or raw land.

But now at least five firms are selling land in Britain, Canada, Thailand and the United States. The latest two entrants are Profitable Plots, which offers British land, and Royal Siam Trust, which sells beachfront plots in Thailand.

Investor Helen Tay

FOR Ms Helen Tay, 37, it has been a long wait for her raw land investment to bear fruit, and she is still waiting.

In 1998, the former lawyer turned network marketeer bought two plots of Canadian land for C$50,000 (S$74,485) after visiting a roadshow at a hotel. It was organised by land asset management firm Walton International Group.

Set up here in 1996, Walton markets plots of raw land in the Canadian cities of Calgary and Edmonton, as well as in Texas, in the US. It buys the land, keeps a portion for itself and sells the rest to individual investors, who in turn get a title deed in their name. Each unit of land costs about C$25,000.

Investors are typically advised that there could be a wait of five to seven years before the parcel of land obtains development approvals. When that happens, Walton will sell the land to developers at a higher price, subject to 60 per cent of investors consenting to the sale.

For Ms Tay, the wait to see profits from her plots in Northridge, Calgary, has been longer than expected.

‘I still haven’t seen my money. It’s been a long wait…Back in 1998, I was given a forecast of five years. It’s not a great investment but if the money comes in, it should still be better than putting money in a fixed deposit,’ said Ms Tay.

But her long wait could be coming to an end.

In May, she was informed by Walton that there was an offer to buy the land at a price that worked out to C$130,000 per plot. This would mean a profit of about C$96,000 for Ms Tay, after she coughs up a capital gains tax of 40 per cent to the Canadian government, plus transfer fees.

If she had bought one plot of land, the tax would be a lower 25 per cent.

Investor John Khoo

UNLIKE Ms Tay, another raw land investor, Mr John Khoo, 50, made sure he saw his plot of land before purchasing it. Mr Khoo works in a foreign bank here but has been visiting relatives in Edmonton, Canada every year since 1990.

In 2004, he plonked about C$100,000 into two plots of land measuring 700 sq ft each (excluding the garden areas), after visiting the raw land sites to assess their appeal.

Mr Khoo took a loan for 60 per cent of the purchase price at an annual rate of under 2 per cent from a Canadian bank. He was also informed that he need not pay a property gains tax as it was his first property in Canada.

‘Location is the most important factor and that means buying land near a mall, a train station, an oil field, a windmill, biodiesel farmland…If you don’t go there, you don’t really know what kind of site you’ve bought. So unless you are familiar with the area, better go see for yourself,’ said Mr Khoo.

Before investing, he also consulted banker friends who were familiar with the location of his sites.

Mr Khoo added that by the time land banking firms sell their plots to Asian investors, the good ones would have been taken up by local investors, who would have picked the cream of the crop of the raw land sites.

The land that he bought had just received planning permission then, and two two-bedroom houses now sit on his two plots of land. The land is near a university in downtown Edmonton.

The value of his land has since doubled and Mr Khoo expects to pay a legal fee of about C$1,000 when he sells his land. Currently, he enjoys an annual rental yield of 10 per cent.

Investor Dr Chiu Jen Wun

DR CHIU Jen Wun, 45, said that ‘the main bugbear of raw land investing is time’, because you can never be sure when you can cash out.

In recent years, the anaesthesiologist has invested in Canadian and British land, which he purchased from Walton and Profitable Plots. He declined to reveal the amount.

Early this year, he made a net profit of about $20,000 from two plots of Canadian land, which were about half an acre, or 0.202ha, each. He had bought them at $37,000 per plot, 41/2 years ago.

Two years ago, he invested in British land. At that time, Profitable Plots was selling units of land with each ranging between £3,000 (S$9,044) and £28,000. Customers were told to expect returns of 2.5 to 14 times, said Dr Chiu. Profitable Plots has advised him that it may take five years to see results.

A personal friend of financial guru Robert Allen, Dr Chiu was motivated to invest in raw land as part of his overall investments so as to generate multiple streams of income.

‘This is one allocation in my diversified balanced portfolio of investments,’ said Dr Chiu, who aims for a minimum 7 per cent annual return on his investments. He adds that the advantage of buying British land for Singaporeans who do not work or live there, is that they need not pay either capital gains tax or stamp duty to the British government.

To boost the confidence of investors and to make it easier for them to part with their cash, both Walton and Profitable Plots offer some sort of buyback guarantee.

Instead of opting for such a guarantee, Dr Chiu decided to wait it out in the hope of bigger returns.

At Walton, investors can sell the land back to Walton at the original purchase price in five years, based on an agreement. But this is believed to be limited to Canadian land and not US land. In fact, the firm used to offer a financing scheme at a rate of 11.75 per cent a year but it has since been withdrawn.

And Profitable Plots, which has paid up capital of $2.1 million, offers two ways of getting a return. Group operations director Andy Nordmann said: ‘One is where the return is earned when planning permission is given and the land is sold to a developer. The other is a fixed return of 12.5 per cent paid annually. This allows our clients the choice of both a short-term and a medium-term investment strategy.’

The firm provides a warranty to all clients which allows a five-year opt-out with no loss of capital. And it also allows clients the flexibility of switching their plots to ones that have already received development approval, so that they can enjoy faster gains.

Mr Nordmann emphasised that Profitable Plots ensures that all funds are placed in the hands of an independent trust which helps to safeguard the investments no matter what happens to the seller of the land.

Potential Risks Of Buying Undeveloped Land

Source : The Sunday Times, September 23, 2007

THE gains from investing in undeveloped or raw land might sound attractive, but experts say retail investors need to take care.

Mr Ku Swee Yong, the director of marketing and business development at property consultant Savills Singapore, said such investments can be ‘a good tool’ because of the potential for capital gains and because they require smaller sums than direct property purchases.

He pointed out, however, that investors keen on land banking have other options, for instance, buying uncompleted properties or investing in real estate investment trusts.

The chief executive of wealth management firm dollarDEX, Mr Chris Firth, warned that ‘a big problem’ with land banking is that most of these activities are not regulated anywhere. Thus, the offerings vary greatly, ranging from ‘genuine ones to scams’.

Pricing is another issue. ‘In some cases, the markup from wholesale plots into retail plots is so huge, investors have virtually no hope of turning a profit.’

In July, in Britain, four firms that had sold plots of agricultural land to the public were wound up by the High Court after a probe into misrepresentations. It was revealed that the sites had little or no chance of getting planning permission.

The chief investment officer of private wealth manager Providend, Mr Daryl Liew, said investors should perform due diligence on the firm and assess the land’s potential.

Here are some issues you should consider.

Absence of regulation

The buying of raw land as an investment is not regulated in Singapore. If investors choose to deal with investments not regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, they forgo legal protection.

Consumers are thus urged to find out as much as possible about the company, understand the product and ensure the investment fits in with their financial goals.

Long wait for developers to come in

There is no guarantee as to how soon developers will buy over the land. Estimates by strategic land investment companies range from three years to eight or even 14.

Fruitless wait; the land is never developed

It is possible the land might never undergo development. It was reported last November, that British land banking firm Land Heritage (UK) closed after a probe and its 700 investors were not refunded.

High ‘hidden’ costs

Depending on the country, you might have to pay capital gains tax, withholding tax or miscellaneous legal fees before you can realise the profits. These costs could well eat up half your profits.

Lack of liquidity

Land assets are illiquid. In most cases, there is a minimum holding period before you can sell your individual plots of land even if developers have yet to buy the area in question.

Exchange rates

If you bought the land in a foreign currency, there is a risk of currency moving against you.

En Blocked: How Horizon Towers Made History

Source : The Sunday Times, Sep 23, 2007

The Leonie Hill condo was just one of scores of estates snapped up by developers in a collective sales frenzy over the past two years. Now its owners are being sued by a developer in a landmark case that will go before the High Court on Thursday. How did it all come to this? Joyce Teo reports

THE first hint that the $500 million sale faced trouble can be traced to an anonymous letter dated April 25 that was sent to owners of the condo's 210 units.
It started: 'Dear fellow owners, Some of us begin to wonder if our en bloc exercise now makes sense.'

The letter writers urged decisive action, suggesting that the owners of the 25-year-old property were being short-changed and that a far higher price was possible.

'If enough like-minded owners decide to rescind the (agreement) and the majority falls below 80 per cent, the application to the Strata Titles Board (STB) can be repealed.'

The buyers were local developer Hotel Properties Ltd (HPL) and its two partners Morgan Stanley Real Estate-managed funds and Qatar Investment Authority.

They agreed in a private treaty deal in February to buy the 99-year leasehold condo for $500 million, which was the reserve price set last year. Until early February, it was a record price in absolute terms for an en bloc sale.

At that price, each owner of the condo's 199 units would get about $2.3 million, with the 11 penthouse units reaping $4 million to $6.28 million.

But the letter writers were unhappy. Prices of neighbouring properties had skyrocketed since the deal was struck.

'We are now believing that our en bloc price no longer reflects the true value of Horizon Towers and we strongly feel that if we sell our unit individually, we would achieve prices far better than what this en bloc has fetched us.'

One case the letter cited was neighbouring condo development The Grangeford.

Grangeford owners were asking for $660 million, or $2,016 per sq ft (psf) of potential gross floor area.

That was more than double the $850 psf of total floor area achieved by Horizon Towers. 'Deep down...many owners may now be regretting this en bloc. They may be willing to join this...movement,' the letter said.

It engendered enough discontent over the sale price to lead some owners to attempt a deal reversal. Also, 10 groups filed objections to the sale.

Mediation sessions before the STB to settle the dispute started in late May. But those attempts at mediation between the warring camps of owners failed.

A group of 42 disgruntled owners, who had hired a law firm for advice, called for an extraordinary general meeting at Horizon Towers.

They wanted to remove the sale committee, which was blamed for not consulting the owners when it granted the option to purchase nine months after the reserve price was set. This failed.

But most members of the first sale committee later resigned and were replaced by new ones - and a second committee took their place.

At this point, it is worth noting that when the original Horizon Towers sale tender closed in August last year, there were no offers at its reserve price.

But the property market picked up significantly after that. In late June this year, a developer said it wanted to buy The Grangeford for $592 million, or about $1,810 psf per plot ratio - the highest price achieved for a 99-year leasehold site.

According to an affidavit filed by HPL for the High Court case on Thursday, an anonymous letter was circulated around this time to Horizon Towers residents, asking them to 'act quickly and decisively' to salvage something for themselves as Horizon Towers was, the letter said, being given away at a relatively paltry sum.


The STB hearing

THE bitter dispute that had focused on the condo's sale price took an unexpected turn on Aug 3.

That was when the STB threw out the application for sale approval because of procedural errors - the sale paperwork was not in order.

There was another problem: The contract between the HPL-led consortium and the sellers included an atypical condition, according to market players.

The sellers were given the option to extend the sale deadline by another four months if the sale was not completed within six months of the original deal in February - that is, by Aug 11.

A senior property consultant said: 'The discretion to extend the time frame usually lies with the buyer in the first instance, and thereafter upon mutual agreement.'

With the deal now apparently dead, the HPL-led consortium, represented by lawyers K. Shanmugam and William Ong from Allen & Gledhill, immediately swung into action. They wrote to the sellers alleging they were in breach of the February contract and wanted them to extend the Aug 11 deadline so that the procedural errors could be corrected and the application to the STB refiled.

But the Aug 11 deadline came and went. By now, neighbour had turned against neighbour as the stakes grew higher.

The HPL-led consortium has now proceeded to sue the members of the first and second sale committees and is seeking an order to bind all the other sellers. If that order is granted by the court on Thursday, it will mean that all Horizon Towers sellers will be liable to pay damages to HPL.

HPL is seeking about $800 million to $1 billion in lost profits as a result of the alleged breach of contract. So the owners of each unit could be looking at a bill of more than $5 million.

Since then, some majority owners have reached out to HPL, and last Wednesday, a group of them met HPL chief Ong Beng Seng, where HPL made it clear that it will drop the suit only if a collective sale order is obtained.

A ray of hope emerged the following day, last Thursday, when a large group of owners met to appoint yet another - the third - sale committee. More significantly, they agreed to extend the sale deadline until Dec 11.

HPL and its partners are waiting for an official confirmation of the extension before they seek an adjournment of this Thursday's hearing.

Even if the High Court case is adjourned, the sale would have a long way to go, given the disputes so far.


Lessons learnt

THE case - which has involved more than 10 lawyers - has underscored the point that a collective sale agreement is a legal document and sellers may be liable to legal action.

This is a sobering thought for property investors or owners who believe that the only serious question they have to consider in a collective sale is the price they will receive for their units.

Lawyer Henry Heng from Tan Peng Chin LLC said: 'The case highlights and reinforces the potential consequences and liabilities of owners pushing for an en bloc sale when the en bloc process or application goes wrong.''

The Horizon Towers case has also changed the way collective sales are conducted. Owners, their property agents or lawyers involved would now pay more attention to procedural requirements, said Mr Heng.

The High Court hearing is fixed for this Thursday while a separate appeal by the sellers to the High Court to quash the STB order invalidating the original sale will be heard a day later.

If that appeal succeeds, the case could return to the STB. What would happen then is anyone's guess - though many owners are no doubt longing for signs of a resolution on the horizon.

When Retirement Savings Do Not Last A Lifetime

Source : The Sunday Times, Sep 23, 2007

What happens to those who squander or simply outlive their CPF savings?

MR MUNISAMY Jeyaraman did not expect to live to be 80.

When he turned 55 in 1982, he withdrew all $65,000 he had in his Central Provident Fund (CPF) account and sent the money to his wife, three children and siblings in India.

He had no other savings.

Since then, the former Public Utilities Board electrician, who lives alone in a rented one-room Toa Payoh flat, has been washing cars to support himself.

He makes $700 a month, but is so desperate to make more that he often heads down to Little India to look for odd jobs such as sweeping and gardening.

He said, frowning: 'I still need to help my family in India. I am tired. I want to retire but I have no choice.'

Mr Jeyaraman belongs to a group of older Singaporeans who are finding retirement difficult. They exhaust their CPF savings shortly after withdrawing them at 55 and have no other retirement funds to see them through. For many, the money goes into medical bills and bigger homes, social workers said.

Many also do not continue working after 55. Coupled with longer lifespans, these retirees find that their CPF is simply not enough to see them through. This is one main reason the Government is introducing the longevity insurance.

But there are also those who gamble their money away or splurge on travel and women, said Mr Wong Kwong Sing, executive director of Tanjong Pagar Family Service Centre.

Ms Helen Ko, director of training and counselling at the Centre for Seniors, said she is currently counselling a woman whose husband squandered his entire CPF savings on his mistress.

'It's more common for spouses and children to approach us for help. They complain about their husbands and fathers who demand pocket money after squandering their savings on women and overseas trips.'

But there are also those for whom their CPF savings were not enough to begin with, said MP Halimah Yacob.

For these people, 'it is not a case of them squandering their money because they don't have anything to squander in the first place', she said.

Madam Nee Mohd Said, 60, for instance, withdrew $4,000 from her CPF savings five years ago and used it up in two years meeting daily expenses such as food and transport.

Now, she earns $300 a month as a sweeper. Her 55-year-old husband has not held a steady job for the past few years. His CPF savings of $1,000, which he withdrew this year, have also been used up.

With a monthly $800 housing loan to service and a $11,000 debt owing to PUB, the mother of six - with only one child giving her $100 each month - is trying to get financial help from her MP.

'What I earn is barely enough to cover my expenses. I'm suffering and there is no one else I can turn to,' she said.

Mr Koh Kim Chiam, 69, and his 70-year-old wife are in a similar situation.

The odd-job labourer, who worked as a security guard in his 40s, did not have much CPF savings to withdraw at 55. His wife, who worked for seven years as a bus conductor, had about $8,000 in her CPF account.

Their money was used to pay off loans and to finance their daily expenses.

'We knew it wasn't going to be enough. But at least I stretched it for seven years. Other people would have spent it in two,' said Madam Chan, who now runs a drink stall with her husband, barely getting by on $600 a month.

Even those who appear to have a decent amount of money in their hands and are frugal with their spending can discover they do not have enough.

Mr Ang Eng Oon, 67, a former school attendant, collected about $50,000 upon retirement.

He invested the money in an insurance policy that has been paying him $300 a month for 12 years now.

Despite living within his means, he will run out of money in three years' time.

He has not found a solution to his impending financial woes.

'I'll just have to take every day as it comes,' he said philosophically in Mandarin.

Social workers advise those who run into money woes in their retirement years to rejoin the workforce if they can. Alternatively, they encourage children to support their aged parents.

But as MP Irene Ng noted - not all of them are able to do that. 'Their children have their own families and financial commitments. Some of them have strained relationships with their children and cannot turn to them,' she added.

Mr Koh and Madam Chan, for instance, have little hope of turning to their three children for support. One is unemployed, another has a family to take care of, and the third does not even acknowledge them.

'They can't even take care of themselves, how are they to support us?'

The last option, said social worker Ms Ko, is to seek public assistance.

The Community Development Councils, for instance, provide financial schemes to help those who run out of money in old age.

But the easy way out is not for Mr Jeyaraman.

He would rather wash cars till 2am every day and eat simple food such as biscuits than depend on the state.

In broken English, he said: 'If I can work, I must work. No use sitting at home. I don't feel right asking for help.'

How three senior citizens spent their CPF savings

Mr Munisamy Jeyaraman, 80

Withdrew: $65,000

Spent on: Remitted all the money to wife and three children in India.

Now: Survives on a monthly salary of about $700 as a car washer.

Madam Ho Luan Eng,

Withdrew: $70,000

Spent on: Three-room HDB flat and late mother's medical bills - a total of $50,000

Now: Gets $300 from tenant and $250 from adopted daughter every month. Has $20,000 in CPF savings left.

70 Madam Nee Mohd Said, 60

Withdrew: $4,000

Spent on: Food and daily necessities over two years

Now: Draws a $300 monthly salary as a sweeper. Her husband works odd jobs to supplement the household income. They have four children aged 27 to 39.

The Rant Over Rent: Landlords Strike Back

Source : The Sunday Times, 23 Sept 2007














HOUSEWIFE V. WONG IN HER APARTMENT AT CENTRAL GREEN IN TIONG BAHRU which used to fetch $4,300, leaving her to chip in about $800 to meet the mortgage payments and taxes. Now, she rents the 1,800 sq ft property at $6,800. -- ST PHOTO: WANG HUI FEN

We’re not greedy, we’ve been ’subsidising’ tenants with low rates since 2003, they say

RETIRED doctor S.M. Soon, 62, is one happy landlord.

She collects $16,000 a month from her tenant at Emerald Hill, which means she doesn’t have to use her own funds to top up her monthly mortgage payments.

But things weren’t always so rosy.

From 2002 to last year, the monthly rent from her 5,000 sq ft Peranakan house was $12,000, and she was coughing up $4,000 every month to service the loan and pay for maintenance.

‘Prices are just returning to what they were 10 years ago. For us landlords, it’s not always Sunday,’ said Dr Soon.

Tenants have been crying foul over soaring rents which have shot up by 31.2 per cent over the past year.

Last week, The Sunday Times featured a family whose rent rose from $2,400 to $7,200 when the lease ended this year.

In the end, the family had to move from Jervois Road near the city to the East Coast area, and still pay rent that is twice as much.

But landlords are also keen to debunk their greedy image.

In a letter to The Straits Times’ Forum page last week, Madam Yeo Boon Eng pointed out that expatriates had been enjoying extremely low rents since 2003 and owners were ’subsidising’ tenants before the increase in rents.

She is now charging her tenant $2,100 for a corner terrace house in Yio Chu Kang, up from $1,600 last year.

She said her tenants did not complain or bargain. But if they did, she would have stood her ground and they would have had to look elsewhere.Nine of the 12 landlords who spoke to The Sunday Times said they, too, collected very low rents in the past few years.

The higher prices are not arbitrary, they argued. They simply reflect property prices now and are a function of demand.

It is only recently that landlords are seeing returns on their investments, with rental yields exceeding monthly instalments.

Said Dr Soon: ‘It’s not a matter of raising prices because we’re greedy. We get whatever the property will fetch in the market.

‘I wouldn’t dare ask for $16,000 if the market rent is $10,000.’

Retired lecturer H. Chu, 65, who is renting out three properties in Holland Grove View, Binjai Crescent and Eastwood, said: ‘Landlords are not unreasonable. It’s just that there are too many people at this time who want a place.’

He didn’t even have to raise the rent on his Binjai Crescent bungalow; the tenant offered him $8,500 this year, instead of the $5,600 he was paying.

‘He knows the market,’ he said.

Property agent Andrew Tan, 51, agrees. The only landlords he would call greedy are those with ‘moving targets’.

This year alone, he has dealt with five landlords who kept upping their prices even after letters of intent had been signed by prospective tenants. Among the landlords contacted by The Sunday Times, none admitted to doing this. Most said they try to keep their existing tenants.

Said Dr Soon: ‘It makes sense to keep a good tenant, instead of waiting another month for another tenant to come along and paying commission fees to the agent.’
She said she charged her existing tenant $16,000 when she could have put her property on the market for $20,000.

But no matter how much of a ‘discount’ existing tenants get, they are bound to be unhappy about the sudden rent hikes. And landlords are peeved by the attention the more vociferous tenants get.

‘When tenants were enjoying low rents, nobody thought about the landlord. It’s not that prices have gone up drastically. It’s that, in the first place, they went down so much,'’ said housewife V. Wong, who is in her 50s.

Her 1,800 sq ft apartment at Central Green in Tiong Bahru used to fetch $4,300, which meant she had to chip in about $800 to meet the mortgage payments and taxes. Now she rents it out at $6,800.

Ultimately, the sums have to add up.

Said landlord Ms Y. Tan, an accountant who is in her 60s: ‘Who wants to charge low rents? We’re not running a charity.’










Ups and downs

‘When tenants were enjoying low rents, nobody thought about the landlord. It’s not that prices have drastically gone up. It’s that, in the first place, they went down so much.’

HOUSEWIFE V. WONG, on why tenants are unhappy about the sudden rent hikes

AMK Hub Houses Seven NTUC Cooperatives Under One Roof

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 22 September 2007

The 19.3-ha AMK Hub is developed by the Singapore Labour Foundation, NTUC income and the NTUC supermarket chain.

The AMK Hub was officially opened to much fanfare on Saturday after its soft launch in March.

The complex houses a record number of NTUC cooperatives under one roof - seven in all.

It also houses hundreds of other tenants.

According to former labour chief Lim Boon Heng who officially opened the Hub, the cooperatives are all for the people and by the people.

Mr Lim is also Minister in the Prime Minister's Office.

NTUC declines to say how much it costs to have the cooperatives at the mall but the decision for the central location is for the convenience of union members, and the public at large.

Mr Lim, who is also Minister, Prime Minister's Office, says: "The primary purpose of the cooperatives is not to make money for the sake of making money. It is to make money but at the same time to deliver the best value for the customers, which means at the lowest price possible. Generating profits so it can be a strong organisation to do this job."

The Hub houses cooperatives like NTUC Childcare, NTUC FairPrice and NTUC Income but the AMK Hub is not just about a new outlet for the cooperatives.

The Minister says the cooperatives are also changing with the times.

He cites the NTUC Childcare as an example, because it had tapped research and development to create the right curriculum for children.

The cooperatives are part of the almost 50,000 square metre shopping centre. - CNA/ch