Koh Poh-Koon’s remarks about poor people and HDB flats

As a former colorectal surgeon, I’m sure Dr Koh Poh-Koon is no stranger to shit. If he thought that becoming a full time politician means he has to deal with less shit, he is sorely mistaken. As a PAP MP, he is prime target for shit-stirrers picking up whatever he has said, misquoting them and stirring shit.

A good example is what he said in parliament recently.

Responding to Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC), who had asked what kind of mortgage assistance HDB provides to the retrenched, particularly those in their late 40s and 50s, Dr Koh said:

“Mdm Speaker, HDB has various assistance measures to help families who have fallen on hard times. As a first step, Housing Counsellors in HDB Branches provide financial counselling and explore sustainable housing options with the flat owners, for example by subletting their spare bedrooms. The Housing Counsellors in the Branches may also refer them to social support agencies for job placements, financial aid, for example at the Employment & Employability Institute (e2i), Social Service Offices (SSOs), and Family Service Centres (FSCs).

Flat owners who face short-term difficulties in servicing their mortgage instalments may be offered a temporary reduction or deferment of their mortgage instalments to help them with their cash flow situation.

For those who face longer term difficulties and hardship, HDB will advise them on measures such as including their working adult children as joint owners to help with the mortgage instalments. Another long-term measure is to right-size to a flat within their means. In this situation, HDB may offer them another loan and/or interim rental housing to help with their move. For low-income households who are unable to afford another flat, have no family support and no other housing options, HDB may offer them a public rental flat.”

Ms Joan Pereira then asked a supplementary question about whether HDB would consider providing financial help to HDB owners who have taken loans from the banks.

Dr Koh’s replied:

“Mdm Speaker, for flat owners who have financial difficulties, the banks would usually alert HDB when the flat owners start to default on their payments. In general, HDB will assist flat owners who are in difficulties to seek help from social support agencies by recommending that they get the job, if they are out of a job, or to provide them with temporary financial support through the SSOs.

HDB, however, is not a bank and is not able to offer personal loans to flat owners, although we can help them with restructuring their HDB mortgage loans.” (SSOs refer to Social Service Offices.)

But what the shit-stirrers want us to believe is that HDB is a cold, heartless institution. They just cherry-picked the parts of the speech and wove them into a shit-stirring headline for a shit-stirring article. And so many people online lapped up that shit!

Look. If someone bought a condo apartment out of his own free will, without being lied to or being pressured by the seller, then if this person couldn’t afford to pay for that house later, do you think the State should swoop in to help this person pay for the condo apartment? Would you be ok if the State actually provided loans with interest rates lower than market rate to help this person pay for his condo apartment, which essentially is subsidising this person using taxpayers’ money? Or even more extreme. Would you expect the State to help that person pay for his condo apartment entirely?

I doubt many Singaporeans would.

Why should it be any different just because it’s not a condo apartment but a HDB flat?

And it’s not as if HDB doesn’t have any measures to help these people have a roof over their heads. As Dr Koh mentioned in his speech, there are a whole slew of measures to help.

Yes. There are people who fall between the cracks. People who can’t pay their mortgages and have to sell their flats, but don’t have enough money to buy another flat, yet for various reasons, still can’t rent directly from HDB. They then have to hire from the open market, which puts great strain on their already tight finances. There is a lot more HDB can do in that area.

It’s sad to see people reacting purely based on articles which cherry-picked parts of speeches. Shouldn’t one strive to read the actual speech in its context before reacting? Guys. We can do better than this. Let’s try to get information from a few sources before reacting. That would go a long way to building a healthy democracy.

[Featured image: Dr Koh speaking in Parliament. Image from CNA]

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5 thoughts on “Koh Poh-Koon’s remarks about poor people and HDB flats

  1. @renchoo: Kudos to you..! Thank you for so incisively expressing your opinion and your position on what I have always felt is a by-product of mindless and/or deliberately misleading commentary. In this age of instant, wide-ranging dissemination of any and all points of view, there is an increasingly dire need for level headed, responsible commentary such as the like of yours.

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  2. Thank you for taking the time to break things down, so that Singaporeans that are swayed, have the chance to decipher once more. Nonetheless, I doubt many who are complaining on CNA and ST posts will bother to read your write up. I’m just another typical and tired Singaporean, who can’t be bothered to speak up anymore. Rather than to keep things factual, they scramble to form up their words – to retaliate for the sake of the desire to be heard than to understand. Finally, my humble knowledge tells me that HDB is the greatest success of Singapore (compare it to public housing of UK, Copenhagen and US. The dynamics of HDB such as racial inclusiveness, pricing and social reputation is undoubtedly one of the successes of Singapore. Defalting of per-unit-pricing before the economy recession of China is definitely another prudent decision that’s worth praising.

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  3. Hey I largely agree with your article except for the analogy of the condo and the HDB. The crucial difference is that HDB is a public service made by the government to provide affordable housing for the masses due to Singapore’s land constraint, whereas condos are private property generally owned by at least the upper middle class. If you believe that the HDB is meant to help the public, then it should take measures to do so. While we can disagree on how to best go about doing it (using taxpayers money to subsidize costs etc), I merely wish to point out that your condo-HDB analogy has a fundamental flaw. Best wishes.

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