Dispelling false & misleading narratives in the SERS debate

“99 per cent of the flat owners involved in the SERS exercise do not need to top up (cash) to purchase a similar type flat with a full 99-year lease or a similar sized flat on a 50-year lease.”

It is telling, that Senior Minister of State (SMS) Sim Ann had to repeat that statement twice in parliament during a debate on Jan 9, 2023.

Now, the issues concerning the SERS exercise at Ang Mo Kio are not new, and previous attempts have been made to explain the situation at length. 

But Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai is convinced that residents in Ang Mo Kio have somehow been done shortchanged by the government. 

He claimed that residents had to top up cash to buy an equivalent flat of the same size with a fresh 99-year lease and called the Ang Mo Kio Ave 3 SERS exercise an “epochal moment in Singapore’s history of public housing.”

Maintaining a consistent approach 

Source: HDB

While the SERS outcome at Ang Mo Kio may look arbitrary to some, that is not the case. 

For a start, the compensation framework for SERS was based on independent assessment, which in turn was based on market value, said SMS Sim.

“SERS compensation has never been intentionally pegged to the price of a new flat of similar size in a similar location on a fresh 99-year lease.”

She continued that the government has always been transparent and consistent in their valuation principles for every SERS exercise. As for Ang Mo Kio, it was no exception.

In previous SERS exercises the outcome was quite advantageous for most flat owners because the flats were not so old, said the SMS.

“A different outcome would occur if the age of the flats involved in SERS were older. Because a flat with say 57 years left would fetch a lower value on the resale market than one with 70 years left. And this was what happened in the case of Ang Mo Kio SERS exercise and would in fact be the case in future SERS exercises if the flats involved are of similar vintage,” she explained. 

And just like how BTO flats should not be unoccupied and flipped for a fortune, SERS exercises should not be seen as an opportunity for a windfall. 

Therefore, the examples provided by Mr Leong of previous SERS exercises where homeowners walked away with cash and an equivalent flat on a 99-year lease are misleading.

That is because by ignoring the basis on which the SERS policy is grounded, Mr Leong is, in SMS Sim’s words, “blurring the distinction between a market expectation and a policy commitment.”

Source: HDB

Being fair but flexible

The government, in determining the compensation for SERS flats, has been consistent and applying valuation principles that are well established, she added.

And that is, all residents affected by SERS are compensated fairly for their flats based on market value. In addition, they are provided with relocation grants, resale levy concessions (if applicable) and allowed to purchase a new HDB flat at a subsidised price. 

Lastly, as for Mr Leong’s assertion over the lack of compassion towards Ang Mo Kio residents forced to fork out money to move to a new location, SMS Sim had this to say. 

“We have been walking the ground and listening to residents. Once we heard their key concerns, we introduced flexibility to meet their needs by offering more options such as 50-year leases, as well as the Lease Buyback Scheme for seniors and allowing flexibility for the residents to apply for a site that is different than the original designated replacement site at Central Weave at Ang Mo Kio.”

No policy is perfect from the get-go, and it is often the willingness of policymakers to listen that good policies are made.

“Conflating and Confusing”

Source: MCI

Latching onto the subject of lease decay, Mr Leong then touched on the Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme (VERS).

“Singaporeans are expecting VERS to be like ‘SERS for all’ but it is a different story if VERS is actually ‘Ang Mo Kio SERS for all’,” Mr Leong said.

But given how little we know of VERS, it would be highly inaccurate, if not disingenuous, to make such a flimsy extrapolation of policies through muddled context.

As noted by SMS Sim the details of VERS have yet to be announced and its terms will not be as generous as SERS and that there’s no replacement flat.

“So I think if you examine what Mr Leong has been doing, I think he has been reshaping people’s expectations of the scheme and I cannot help but wonder why he is doing so.”

SMS Sim rounded off her speech by urging Mr Leong to engage in future debates responsibly.

“I hope that instead of conflating issues, confusing issues, or quite deliberately misleading the public by shaping ungrounded expectations of schemes, creating goalposts as it were, I hope that Mr Leong will engage in upcoming debate responsibly. To do otherwise makes it harder, not easier, for us to collectively balance the needs of Singaporeans.”

Cover Photo Credit: MCI and Google Maps