Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Wall St Skids About 3% On Recession Sign

Source : The Straits Times, Feb 06, 2008

NEW YORK - US stocks suffered their biggest drop in nearly a year on Tuesday after data showed the worst monthly contraction in the services sector since the last US recession and Standard & Poor's warned it could cut bank credit ratings.

The Dow and S&P 500 had their biggest drops since Feb 27, 2007. All 30 Dow stocks fell and only 17 of the 500 components on the S&P closed higher.

Recession fears slammed sectors across the board, ranging from telecommunications to energy. Banks and other financial services stocks fell particularly hard after S&P said any loss of a top credit rating by a major bond insurer could force banks to put hobbled bonds back on their balance sheets, curtailing funds available for basic lending.

'This could lead to a further prolonged period of generalised market disruption and a loss of confidence that would not be favourable for any financial institution,' the rating agency said.

The tone for the day was set by the January reading of the Institute for Supply Management's non-manufacturing index. The gauge had its biggest drop since the indicator was created in 1997 and fell to the lowest level since October 2001, aggravating fears that a recession is at hand.

'The US is no longer a manufacturing economy, it's a service economy, so this number will carry a lot more weight' than last week's surprise rise in ISM's manufacturing index, said Mr Paul Nolte, director of investments at Hinsdale Associates, in Hinsdale, Illinois. He added that the ISM report will make investors more nervous about other upcoming indicators.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 370.03 points, or 2.93 per cent, at 12,265.13. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 44.18 points, or 3.20 per cent, at 1,336.64. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 73.28 points, or 3.08 per cent, at 2,309.57.

Year-to-date, the Dow is down 7.5 per cent while the S&P is 9 percent lower. The Nasdaq has fared worse, dropping 12.9 per cent so far in 2008.

Stocks took a last-minute leg lower after rating agency Fitch said it may cut the AAA-rating on MBIA Inc, the world's biggest bond insurer.

Insurer American International Group Inc was one of the worst Dow performers, falling 4.5 per cent to US$52.93 (S$75.25) on fears about credit exposure.

Investment bank Goldman Sachs & Co slid 5.5 per cent to US$189.86 after a broker downgrade. Citigroup Inc shares dropped 7.4 per cent to US$27.05.

Oil companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp were under pressure on expectations that an economic downturn will slow transportation and manufacturing, crimping demand for energy.

Exxon was down 3.9 per cent at US$82.11, making it the top-weighted drag on the S&P.

Technology shares, seen as particularly vulnerable to a downturn in both business and consumer spending, were under pressure.

Shares of business software maker Oracle Corp fell 4.7 per cent to US$19.25, while BlackBerry device maker Research In Motion Ltd's stock fell 5.2 per cent to US$88.30.

Verizon shares fell 4.6 per cent to US$36.83 while stock of rival AT&T Inc dropped 3.8 per cent to US$36.73 on the NYSE. -- REUTERS


Japan Stocks Fall On US Recession Fears

TOKYO - Japanese share prices opened lower on Wednesday, with the benchmark Nikkei index falling more than 1 per cent, following a plunge on the Wall Street overnight.

The Nikkei-225 index fell 196.97 points or 1.43 per cent to 13,548.53 in the first minute of trade. -- AFP

PM Lee Calls On S'poreans To Brace Themselves For Further Uncertainties

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 06 February 2008

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged Singaporeans to brace themselves for further uncertainties.

In his Lunar New Year message, Mr Lee said the "Year of the Rat" begins under challenging circumstances.

But he added that there's reason to remain confident because Singapore is in a strong position to weather any storm.

Turbulence in the financial markets worldwide has shaken consumer and investor confidence.

The US economy is slowing down and may slide into recession, and energy as well as as food prices have soared.

Given such challenging situations, PM Lee called on Singaporeans to prepare for more uncertainties.

He also gave the assurance that the government can and will directly help those in need.

"The Workfare Income Supplement Scheme made its first payment last month, paying $150 million to 290,000 low-income workers. With good growth, we have the resources to help ease the burden on Singaporeans, especially for the poor and elderly," said PM Lee.

And like the rat in the Chinese zodiac, which symbolises wit, imagination and resourcefulness, Mr Lee called on Singaporeans to harness their creativity and ingenuity to tackle the challenges ahead.

So despite the difficulties, Singaporeans can look forward to another good year.

Mr Lee's Lunar New Year message also touched on the importance of the family. He said this is the time for reunion and bonding.

"However busy we are, however faraway we may be from home, we should try to keep these traditions alive. If you are working abroad and cannot make it back for the New Year, at least call your parents and families back home, or better still, chat over the Internet using a webcam. These customs maintain and renew our bonds of family and kinship," said Mr Lee.

He pointed out that government policies are formulated to preserve the family structure and foster close ties.

Mr Lee added that there are also concerted efforts to turn Singapore into a great place for families to bring up children.

The prime minister said it has been three years since the government introduced major policies to encourage families to have more children.

The downward trend in the number of births has been reversed, but only slightly.

There were 37,000 resident births in 2007, just 2,000 more than in 2004.

Mr Lee said it will take time for mindsets to change. And on its part, the government's studying an even friendlier environment for families to have and raise children.

The Prime Minister wishes all Singaporeans a happy and prosperous Chinese New Year. - CNA /ls

PM Confident Of Another Good Year For Singapore

Source : The Straits Times, Feb 6, 2008

Country in strong position to face uncertainties, he says in his CNY message

THE new Chinese Year of the Rat begins tomorrow under more uncertain and challenging circumstances than the Year of the Pig, the Prime Minister said yesterday.

But Mr Lee Hsien Loong assured Singaporeans, in his traditional message to mark the occasion, that the country is 'in a strong position to weather any storm'.

'In the Chinese zodiac,' he said, 'the Rat symbolises wit, imagination and resourcefulness. Let us harness our creativity and ingenuity to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.

'Then despite the difficulties that come our way, we can all look forward to another good year for Singapore and for ourselves.'

Mr Lee recapped the economy's sterling progress last year, when it powered ahead to its fourth consecutive year of robust growth and created a record 237,000 jobs.

However, the external environment has changed, with turbulence in the global financial markets and a slowdown in the United States economy.

There is therefore a need to 'gird ourselves for further uncertainties ahead', but he also urged continued confidence as Singapore is in a strong position to tackle challenges.

FESTIVITIES BEGIN: Giant illuminated rats greet visitors to the River Hongbao festival at the Esplanade Park. The event kicked off yesterday and ends next Saturday, It will feature displays of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac and cultural performances. There will also be firework displays at midnight today, and at 9.30pm tomorrow and on Friday. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

In the face of public concern over rising food prices, Mr Lee reiterated that the Government has the resources to help ease the burden on the poor and elderly.

The Budget statement on Feb 15 is expected to include measures to do so.

But he also stressed that the Government cannot provide subsidies for basics such as rice and cooking oil as these will lead to 'artificial shortages, queues and a black market'.

This is the second time in three days Mr Lee has spoken on the cost-of-living issue.

He again noted that rising costs are due to soaring food and fuel prices worldwide, trends Singapore as a small, open economy cannot escape.

He pointed out the ways in which the Government has directly helped those in need, through programmes like the Workfare Income Supplement Scheme, which made its payout last month. About $150 million was given to 290,000 low-income workers.

Mr Lee also dwelt on the importance of family ties, the Chinese New Year traditionally being a time for reunion dinners and visits to relatives.

Building on the 2004 pro-family measures, he said the Government is studying practical matters to see how it can create an even friendlier environment for having and raising children. They include childcare facilities, flexible work options and parental leave.

The Prime Minister ended his message by wishing all Singaporeans a happy and prosperous Chinese New Year.

Germans Remain Bullish About S'pore

Source : The Business Times, February 6, 2008

Business community upbeat on growth prospects: survey

THE German business community remains bullish about Singapore as a regional business hub, a survey published yesterday shows.

The survey of businesses varying from small operations to multinationals was conducted by Droege & Comp in December, for the Singaporean-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce.

The companies were asked about growth prospects and about what they saw as the challenges ahead.

Findings show that all participating companies here strongly confirm Singapore's position as the undisputed hub for Asean markets, affirming that Singapore would be the cornerstone of their future Asia strategy. The republic will continue to attract foreign direct investments from German companies.

Respondents attributed their positive attitude to the competitive advantages of the 'Singapore package' of excellent infrastructure, socio-political stability, efficient logistics hub and protection for intellectual property rights, which outweighed the rising costs of doing business here.

There were also several less promising findings. One hot topic was that despite Singapore's push for R&D, most German companies were reluctant to shift R&D capabilities here.

In addition, some medical and healthcare companies were seriously considering neighbouring countries as alternative locations for further investments, particularly Malaysia.

A grouse of all the companies is that despite viewing themselves as attractive employers, they are finding it difficult to recruit and retain skilled personnel.

But even so, a majority of the companies still planned to hire more local people and cut back on their expatriate staff. Calling Singapore the gateway to Asean, Alexander Melchers, vice-president of the chamber, said that Germany is an important trading partner, with bilateral trade valued at more than $20 billion last year. There are 5,600 German people working in Singapore.

Mr Melchers added that Singapore could look forward to better business relations with German companies, especially in the area of environmental engineering and technology such as the clean energy sector where the interests of both countries are 'perfectly matched'.

SingPost May Sell Landmark Paya Lebar HQ

Source : The Business Times, February 6, 2008

It's said to have appointed property consultant to explore its options

Singapore Post's landmark headquarters next to Paya Lebar MRT station may be on the verge of unlocking some riches.

SingPost said it is 'exploring opportunities' for Singapore Post Centre, which has about one million sq ft of net lettable area. Valued at $1,000 to $1,300 per square foot of existing net lettable area, this could translate to a total of $1 billion to $1.3 billion, assuming a full-commercial use, analysts estimate. The 14-storey building is on a 352,389 sq ft site with a remaining lease of about 73 years.

In its third quarter results statement last month SingPost said that it is 'continuing to review its non- core businesses, and is also exploring opportunities in respect of SingPost Centre, including unlocking the value of SingPost Centre'.

When contacted for details, SingPost's spokeswoman would only say that the group was at the 'preliminary stage of exploring opportunities in respect of SingPost Centre' and declined to elaborate.

But industry observers say SingPost held a 'beauty parade' late last year to select a property consultant to advise it on exploring its options for the property. The exercise is believed to have culminated in an appointment being made.

Market watchers say that among the factors that will determine the price that any potential buyer will be prepared to pay for SingPost Centre is whether SingPost will lease back the space it currently occupies in the building and the rental it is prepared to pay.

SingPost currently occupies about half of the property's one million sq ft total net lettable area for both its corporate office and operations including the mail processing centre.

The rest of the property is leased to a mix of office and retail tenants including HSBC Insurance, NorthWest Airlines, Symantec Corporation, Prudential (whose lease expires this year), This Fashion, Barang Barang, NTUC FairPrice and Kopitiam.

Although the site is zoned for commercial use with a 4.2 plot ratio (ratio of maximum potential gross floor area to land area) under Master Plan 2003, the current approved use for the site is understood to be 60 per cent industrial and 40 per cent commercial.

SingPost will probably be advised to make an application to convert the approved use to full commercial, to optimise the site's use under the current Master Plan. This would also be in keeping with the government's intention, announced last year, to transform the area around Paya Lebar MRT Station into a new business hub.

Some property consultants have since commented that the location will be ideal for cost-conscious office tenants, and could serve as backroom offices for banks, given its proximity to the city.

In exchange for allowing a conversion of the site's approved use a differential premium will have to be paid to the state.

SingPost Centre's existing gross floor area of 1.48 million sq ft has already tapped the 4.2 maximum plot ratio allowed under Master Plan 2003.

Property analysts reckon that office and retail space on the SingPost Centre site could be worth around $1,000 to $1,300 psf of net lettable area, with the higher end of this range ascribed to retail space.

SingPost Centre was completed in two phases - the industrial component in July 1998 and the commercial space in May 1999.

The 14-storey building, which also has three basement levels (mostly for retail), has a total of 587 car park lots.

SingPost has been selling some of its smaller properties. For the financial year ended March 31, 2007, it divested two HDB shop units - one at Marine Parade sold for $5.7 million, and the other at Hougang South divested for $2.2 million. The Marine Parade property was the group's former post office branch; SingPost has since relocated to a nearby leased property. The Hougang property was not used as a post office but was instead leased to a supermarket operator.

In the current financial year, the group has divested its former post office branch at Clementi Central and relocated its operations to another location nearby and sold a property at Boon Lay, which it had leased to a third party.

Several years ago, there had been market speculation that SingPost could spin off its post office properties into a real estate investment trust (and lease back the premises from the Reit). But that does not seem to be the way SingPost is headed currently in optimising its property portfolio. The group is still left with over a dozen properties, including two in the prime districts - Tanglin Post Office and Killiney Road Post Office.

More Colonial Bungalows Up For Rent

Source : The Straits Times, Feb 6, 2008

Demand for these state-owned buildings is strong due to relatively low rentals

ANYONE with a hankering for a home with lots of nature and space, and does not mind living some distance from town might want to take note.

ATTRACTIVE HOMES: The Singapore Land Authority is leasing out four colonial homes and two semi-detached houses following strong demand for the first five released last month. It will put another eight properties up for rent next month. -- ST PHOTO: LIM WUI LIANG

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) will be leasing out four of these colonial bungalows this month, along with two semi-detached houses.

The properties are in Maida Vale and Brompton Road in Seletar, Gibraltar Crescent in Sembawang and Lornie Road near Bukit Timah.

This comes on the heels of a sizzling response to five similar properties the SLA put on the bidding block last month. They drew 75 bids in all and were rented out for about double the guide rents.

All these form part of the SLA's stock of 2,360 black-and-white homes - properties ranging from apartments to bungalows dating back to the 1930s and are inherited from British colonial days.

Demand for these state-owned buildings has traditionally been very strong, partly because of relatively low asking rentals.

Monthly guide rents for the latest batch of homes, for example, start at $1,800 for a 1,367 sq ft semi-detached house in Brompton Road. They go up to $6,600 for a Gibraltar Crescent bungalow with 7,212 sq ft of built-up area and 16,145 sq ft of land.

Mr Ku Swee Yong, director of business development and marketing at Savills Singapore, thinks the homes can fetch even more.

'These guide rents are extremely attractive. Normally, you would be able to get at least double the price, if the properties are in good condition,' he said.

Last month, the SLA rented out three apartments in Clemenceau Avenue North at between $1,856 and $2,500 - double their guide rents of $960 to $1,110. Two more bungalows in Alexandra Road and Dover were let for $20,258 and $15,100, also about twice the guidance.

The guide rents are decided by the SLA's valuers, who take into account the property's last rental, location, condition and whether it comes with a swimming pool, air conditioning and furnishings.

All the properties are in move-in condition and are regularly maintained by SLA-appointed managing agents.

The homes, which come either unfurnished or partially furnished, are located in areas such as Sembawang, Alexandra Park, Adams Park, Telok Blangah, Bukit Timah and Woodleigh Park.

The SLA will put another eight properties up for rent next month, including in Bukit Timah and Newton. Another 11 are in the pipeline between April and June.

Monthly rents range from $400 for a small apartment to more than $20,000 for a black-and-white bungalow.

About 91 per cent of the homes are currently occupied, a rise of about 6 per cent over a few months ago. Most are let for two years, although tenants are normally allowed to renew their leases when they lapse.

Deirdre Dempster, for instance, is planning to extend her lease at a black-and-white bungalow at Goodwood Hill when it runs out in August. The 40-year-old, who is in marketing, has been living there for four years with her banker husband and two kids.

'I love it. I wouldn't trade this house for anything,' she said. 'What attracted me was the area and the grounds, and there's a lot of character and history attached to these properties. I hope they don't tear them down.'

Interested tenants can bid for this month's properties via the SLA's new open bidding system. An open house will be held for the homes, and bids will be accepted for a week after the date of the viewing.


'I love it. I wouldn't trade this house for anything... There's a lot of character and history attached to these properties.'

MS DEMPSTER, who is in marketing, on her black-and-white bungalow at Goodwood Hill

'Normally, you would be able to get at least double the price, if the properties are in good condition.'

MR KU, of Savills Singapore, who believes monthly guide rents for black-and-white homes are now extremely attractive

CDL Luxury Development Garners Green Award

Source : The Business Times, February 6, 2008

CITY Developments Limited (CDL) was yesterday conferred the Green Mark Platinum award by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) for its luxury residential development, Cliveden at Grange.

Eco-friendly: Cliveden's green features are expected to achieve savings in energy costs of over $400,000 a year for the entire development

The award is for exemplary green projects that achieve 30 per cent energy and water savings. Such projects also need to have environmentally sustainable building practices, and innovative green features.

A joint press statement from CDL and BCA said some 3.5 per cent of Cliveden's construction cost was invested in the design of its green features.

These green features include the installation of '4 Green Ticks', the highest rating in energy efficiency for air-conditioners and refrigerators, and the use of renewal energy technology. Solar photovoltaic cells are installed to harness solar energy which then power up the lighting in the guardhouse and clubhouse areas.

Cliveden's green features are expected to achieve savings in energy costs of over $400,000 a year for the entire development, and cut carbon dioxide emission by 1,100 tonnes a year. As a gauge, it takes about 5,000 trees to absorb this amount of carbon emission.

Cliveden's award is the latest in a string of accolades CDL has received for its environmentally friendly projects.

Just last year, the property developer clinched two Green Mark Platinum awards - one each for The Oceanfront @ Sentosa Cove (residential), and City Square Mall (commercial).

Kwek Leng Joo, CDL's managing director, yesterday said CDL embarked on its green journey over a decade ago believing that it could make a positive contribution towards the environment. He called for the Green Mark to be made mandatory to help propel Singapore to become an eco-hub in the region.

SLA Offers 6 State Homes For Rent Through Open Bid

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 05 February 2008

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) is offering another six residential state properties for rent.

They comprise four bungalows and two semi-detached properties in Seletar, Sembawang and Lornie Road.

They are being offered through an open bidding system from 16 February.

The system is more transparent than the previous first-come-first-served procedure under the waiting list or balloting system.

Bidders can submit their bids at SLA's office on Monday, 18 February, following the Open House on Saturday.

Currently, SLA manages about 2,360 residential state properties.

It will progressively place those with available tenancies of at least two years on the open bidding system.

SLA has projected that it will place eight more properties for rent in March and about 36 units in total by the first half of the year. - CNA/so

GIC, ING Real Estate TO Acquire Shopping Centre In Italy

Source : Channel NewsAsia, 05 February 2008

GIC Real Estate has teamed up with ING Real Estate to acquire the new Roma Est Shopping Centre in Italy.

The partners will pay Italian food-retailing leader Gruppo 400 million euros (S$832 million) for the deal.

ING Real Estate and GIC Real Estate will have equal stakes in the property.

Roma Est Shopping Centre comprises about 93,000 square metres of gross lettable area.

It is made up of a mall of 208 units, a hypermarket and a 12-screen cinema. - CNA/so

More Black-And-White Homes For Rental, Spurred By Keen Response

Source : The Straits Times, Feb 5, 2008

About 36 units will be made available by first half of this year.

RESPONSE to the open bidding for black-and-white bungalows and apartments has been so keen that Singapore Land Authority is offering more such state properties for rent this month.

Four bungalows and two semi-detached in Seletar, Sembawang and Lornie Road will be put up for bidding from next weekend. The rents start at $1,800 a month for the semi-detached and between $3,400 and $6,600 for the bungalows.

Bidders can submit their bids at SLA's office on Feb 18, after the open house on Feb 16.

This follows a successful launch in January, which saw 75 bids for five residential properties comprising two black-and-white bungalows and three apartments.

There was keen interest with over 200 prospective tenants attending the open house at Clemenceau Ave North, Hyderabad Road, and Dover Road, said SLA in a statement on Tuesday.

The winning bids ranged between $1,856 per month for an apartment at Clemenceau Avenue North, with a built-in floor area of about 53 sqm, and $20,258 per month, for a bungalow at Hyderabad with a built-in floor area of 369 sqm.

'SLA has received positive response to the open bidding. The open bidding system enhances transparency compared to the previous 'first-come-first-serve' under a waiting list or balloting system,' said the land authority. 'The public has access to a wide choice of properties and the process is also more efficient.'

SLA currently manages about 2,360 residential state properties and will make progressively place those with available tenancies for at least two years on the opening bidding system.

It plans to put up eight more properties for rent in March and about 36 units in total by the first half of this year.

Said SLA's Deputy Director of Land Lease Private, Mr Teo Cher Hian: 'The keen response to the launch of the open bidding system for residential State properties shows that the rental market for residential properties is still buoyant. This is evident even for the smaller apartments, which are very popular with singles and those with small families.'

The appeal of living in a heritage black-and-white building is shared by many. Lush greenery, unique and heritage architectural designs and most of all, the ideal location near many public amenities, were often cited as reasons for their penchant for heritage State buildings.

For 47-year-old Mr Quah Jin Kok, it appeared to be an obvious choice. A second-time bidder, he liked the new system as it allowed him to bid for the next available apartment if he was not successful in the previous round.

'When I first saw a picture of the apartment, I was attracted to its simple structure and its peaceful environment. It is in a building built in the early 60s. I like its resemblance to an old colonial building with old style windows,' said Mr Quah, a business analyst, who is renting a third -storey apartment at Clemenceau Ave North, after an unsuccessful bid for another on the eighth floor. He put in the top bid of $2,500 per month for a two-year tenancy.

Previously, Mr Quah was renting a HDB flat at Waterloo Street. 'Most of the State properties that I am aware of are old but well-preserved.'

Besides Mr Quah, another first-time bidder Ms Norfalizah Bte Sowtali also managed to get the apartment she wanted. Ms Norfalizah, 29, a personal trainer, was looking for a place near her workplace at Novena, and which has public amenities nearby such as a MRT station and a food centre. The unit at Clemenceau North hence suited her needs.

The results of the bidding showing the top five bids will be published on SLA's State Property Information Online (SPIO) website at within hours of the close of bidding.

CDL's Cliveden Awarded BCA's Green Award

Source : The Straits Times, Feb 5, 2008

CITY Developments Limited (CDL) has been conferred the Green Mark Platinum award by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) for its luxury residential development, Cliveden at Grange.

CDL has planted three times more greenery in Cliveden compared to an average condominium. -- PHOTO: CITY DEVELOPMENTS

'The Green Mark Platinum is awarded to exemplary green projects that demonstrate 30 per cent energy and water savings, as well as environmentally sustainable building practices and innovative green features,' the BCA and CDL said in a joint press release on Tuesday.

About 3.5 per cent of Cliveden's construction cost went into the design of its green features.

CDL installed energy-efficient air-conditioners and refrigerators, and the water fittings are also of the highest standard possible under the Water Efficiency Labelling Scheme.

It also made used of solar energy for the lighting in the guardhouse and clubhouse areas while the basement has openings and solar tubes to allow natural light in.

The clubhouse, which was designed to be an educational centre to promote eco-consciousness amongst residents, boasts other innovations such as a water film envelope cooling system and a green roof.

Completing the 'green' theme is the landscaping where CDL has planted three times more greenery in Cliveden compared to an average condominium.

The green features are expected to achieve savings in energy costs of over $400,000 per year for the entire development.

The project is estimated to reduce 1,100 tonnes of carbon dioxide emission per year, which in turn, requires approximately 5,000 trees to absorb this amount of carbon emission, BCA and CDL said.

'It is heartening to note that the private sector has been very supportive of the BCA Green Mark scheme since it was introduced in 2005, with many stepping up their efforts to shape Singapore's built environment into a sustainable one,' BCA's CEO John Keung said.

Penalise Those Who Break En-Bloc Contracts

Source : The Straits Times, Feb 5, 2008

I REFER to the report, 'CapitaLand tells Gillman Heights owners to honour sale' (ST, Feb 2). The news, like that of Horizon Towers and Regent Garden, bears similar learning lessons. They concern sellers in a collective property sale who refuse to accede to the terms of the contract they signed with the buyers. The lessons we can draw from these three examples are:

Collective sellers can disregard the terms of a signed contract by simply challenging the rules and rescinding it;

If enough sellers withdraw from a signed contract, the law may not be swift enough to give the buyers due protection as a result of the broken promise made by the sellers; and

Lawyers are the only clear winners in the arena of failed agreements between willing sellers and buyers.

A contract, in the simplest definition, is a promise enforceable by law. In the recent cases, it is crystal clear the sellers went back on their word because the agreed sale price was 'too low'. I feel the courts should have just enforced penalties here, rather than let the subsequent chain of events run.

So the buyers had to threaten these sellers with lawsuits. The latter responded with a host of 'reasons' why the sale agreement should be cancelled. Yet the courts are obliged to hear out both plaintiffs and defendants. Lawyers are hired to represent their respective clients.

All these legal disputes are counter productive, especially for the aggrieved buyers who have the commercial right to proceed with their legal suits against the sellers. Time, money and tears are shed over something that could have been easily resolved by the courts.

An agreement, commercial or social, remains an agreement. If the irresponsible party defaults on the terms of the contract so the aggrieved party takes the issue to court, the court should immediately arrive at a verdict. Penalties should be meted out swiftly against the wrongdoer.

Our society needs to be confident in carrying out the terms of commercial and social contracts. Our children and the next generation are watching us closely in the way we make just decisions. Foreign businesses and enterprises are watching us to see how we deal with simple issues such as breaking a basic contractual agreement.

In this regard, I suggest the Ministry of Education introduce a basic civics education module for students on 'Keeping one's word'. Schools should emphasise time-honoured values such as 'Integrity at all costs' to children.

George Lim Heng Chye

590 HDB Blocks Picked For Upgrading

Source : The Straits Times, Feb 5, 2008

58 locations selected for improvement under revised schemes

ABOUT 590 Housing Board blocks in 58 locations islandwide have been picked for the next batch of improvement works under the HDB's recently revised upgrading schemes. Areas set to benefit include Yishun, Tampines and Hougang.

These schemes include the new Home Improvement Programme (HIP) and Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP) - unveiled last year - as well as the ongoing lift upgrading programme.

The HIP focuses on essential improvements within a flat, such as repairing spalling concrete. It also gives residents the choice of opting out of certain items to cut costs.

This scheme replaces the more extensive Main Upgrading Programme, which had been more expensive because work was done both inside and outside the flat.

Under the other new programme, the NRP, a few adjoining estates will be spruced up together, with the cost fully borne by the Government. The bigger budget involved makes it possible for larger items such as tennis courts and skating parks to be considered as part of the works.

Residents will also be consulted on how they want their estate improved.

The HDB, which said earlier that the HIP would be first done in two precincts in Yishun and Tampines, announced yesterday that it will double that number to four and include other towns in view of strong public support shown in recent surveys.

Meanwhile, eight estates have been selected for the NRP and another 52 for lift upgrading - where housing blocks are renovated to give residents lift access at every level.

The lift upgrading programme is still the mainstay of improvement works as the Government has pledged to give direct lift access to almost every block by 2014. In 2006, for example, the Government said it was selecting 70 precincts comprising 600 to 700 blocks for the programme. In 2005, it was 480 blocks in 64 precincts.

The Minister of State for National Development, Ms Grace Fu, said yesterday the Government was on track to meet the 2014 deadline.

Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng said that 16 blocks in Tampines Street 11 under her charge have been picked for lift upgrading in the latest list.

She added: 'Many of the elderly fear becoming isolated in their flats as they find it increasingly hard to climb stairs. Over the years, some in wheelchairs had to move out of the estate, even though they loved the place, because they could not negotiate the stairs without help...'

Residents in about 70 per cent, or 3,600, of the eligible blocks have been offered lift upgrading so far.

Some estates in the latest list will have more than one type of upgrading work done at the same time to reduce inconvenience.

Six precincts comprising about 30 blocks previously picked for the Main Upgrading Programme under the old regime will also be switching to the new programmes, at the request of their MPs.

About 300,000 flats out of almost 900,000 islandwide will be eligible for the HIP, while 200,000 units can undergo work for the NRP.

Details of the specific locations of these selected precincts will be announced by their respective MPs later.

Work on this batch is expected to be completed within five years.


This scheme focuses on essential improvements in a flat, such as repairing spalling concrete. Residents can opt out of certain items to cut costs. It replaces the Main Upgrading Programme, which had been more expensive as work was done inside and outside the flat.


Under this scheme, a few adjoining estates will be spruced up together, with the Government paying the full cost. The bigger budget involved makes it possible for larger items such as tennis courts and skating parks to be considered as part of the works.


This programme is the mainstay of improvement works. The Government has pledged to give direct lift access to almost every block by 2014.