Ubin island has always been a favourite place to visit for countless city and concrete-jungle weary Singaporeans. So, many are naturally interested in news on what is happening or would be happening to that ‘little’ precious rustic island gem of ours in the north-east.
Instead of criticizing the blogger, Mr Leong, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) could do better if it were to start explaining clearly and methodically the entire ‘story’ for Ubin and its residents, in order to avoid further misapprehension or misunderstanding by the public. This much I think any govt agency owes the Singapore public to account for its actions.
Surely, the SLA and HDB has not forgotten that the recent hoo-ha over Ubin is entirely that of their own making, so much so that they have found it necessary (uncharacteristically) to ‘apologize’ and ‘clarify’. So there is a prima facie reason for people such as the blogger, Mr Leong, to scrutinize and put under a microscope the details of the issues as publicly reported.
If you want to avoid being misunderstood and having to explain ex post facto, then the onus is on you, the source, to ensure that such potential misunderstanding is avoided by releasing complete and unequivocal statements in the first place. But, as things have transpired, the agencies had been sloppy in the first instance which necessitated the unusual damage-control steps by both agencies to subsequently ‘apologise’ and ‘clarify’. This is something to be expected esp. of govt agencies by the public. But, it has not help confidence that the recent track records of both entities have not been exactly inspiring or re-assuring to many Singaporeans. Take, for instance, the case of the ill-gotten gains of the two SLA senior officials who were charged in court and jailed, and the still wobbly prices of properties. I would not go into these issues here. The purpose of this post is a modest one – just to highlight two rather exemplary (in the uncomplimentary sense) and vague statements reportedly made by the SLA on the Ubin ‘affair’.
Here is my take on the two points raised by the SLA as reported in an article entitled “ GOVERNMENT SLAMS BLOGGER OVER ‘MISLEADING’ PULAU UBIN ARTICLE” in an issue of ‘The Real Singapore’. http://therealsingapore.com/content/government-slams-blogger-over-%E2%80%98misleading%E2%80%99-pulau-ubin-article :
” SLA said this was “highly misleading” as Leong had “ignored” the fact that the government” did not charge any rental in 1993 and for 20 years the tenants have been enjoying that”. “
Let’s face it, would it have been appropriate for the SLA/HDB to demand now from the Ubin residents concerned for back payment of 20 years? Are the agencies very certain that the present residents were the same ones over such a long period in the past? For that matter, can the agencies even justify saddling the present generation of residents with a debt incurred possibly by a previous generation that may have since passed on? One can imagine the political fallout and adverse publicity that it would generate against the govt and its agencies if such a demand had been made by the SLA/HDB. Had the agencies done so, IMO it would serve only to highlight a dereliction or negligence of duty (to collect revenue due) over such a long period of time and the unreasonableness of a demand for such a huge back payment from the residents.
One would like to know whether it was in fact a deliberate policy or decision NOT to charge any rental for 20 years? If so, the SLA should be obliged to also disclose the reason behind this original decision and also why this has now been changed? In other words, what had been the rationale THEN and what is the rationale NOW for the policy ‘about-turn’? This is an important factor for consideration. Why do the residents have to pay now? If it had been lawful not to collect rental for 20 years, it cannot overnight be lawful or justified to expect the residents to pay now without some good reasons. That the govt had not been collecting rental is no justification at all to begin collecting now without a proper explanation. Otherwise, it would seem rather arbitrary and even whimsical if no acceptable or proper reason is forthcoming. Does the ministry have such discretionary powers under the law or regulation? I am sure many would want to know as a matter of fact; not out of casual curiosity, but an obvious and important vested interest in how the country is being run. Or, as I have stated above was it due to an oversight or negligence on the part of the govt official or department in charge?
” The SLA statement added that “even now the Government has chosen to phase in the rentals over five years to mitigate the impact on the residents”.”
On the surface, this statement attempts to convey the impression that the govt is being generous towards the residents by such a ‘preferential’ treatment. But is it so? In a sense, it is. But, this statement DOES NOT absolve the govt from explaining why it has now reversed and gone back on its original decision not to charge rental.
I would say that Singaporeans are ENTITLED to a proper and transparent account by the govt on the entire matter since there is no national security issues involved nor financial secrecy essential for the protection of investments of the national reserve.
IMO, it is an essential duty of the govt to explain and inform Singaporeans in general and the Ubin residents concerned in particular, the reason or rationale for the change, if any. In general this should apply too to all other areas of govt policy implementation and/or changes, for the govt must be seen to be accountable to the people who have put them in office. In others words, the govt has to be much more transparent and forthcoming than it has been to date, in order to strengthen the confidence of Singaporeans in the manner and way it is running the whole ‘shebang’.