SPEECH BY ER DR LEE BEE WAH, MP FOR NEE SOON GRC, AT THE SECOND READING OF THE BUILDING MAINTENANCE AND STRATA
MANAGEMENT (AMENDMENT) BILL
1. One of the great things about public housing in Singapore is that not only do residents have Town Councils to manage their property professionally, but these Town Councils must be held accountable for their actions and expenses. They are also subject to annual Town Council Management Reports
to ensure that they are kept on their toes in servicing the residents.
In contrast, Strata-titled properties get a lot more flexibility in terms of regulations and management. The downside is, this can result in slack and allows inefficiency to set in. Clearly, the amendments to the Bill are in direct response to a series of feedback concerning management woes in strata-titled properties. While strata-titled properties are private property, the government has a duty to ensure that the welfare of the people living in these
properties are not being compromised.
2. This Bill is of great relevance to me as there are several condominiums in my GRC. I’ve discussed it with residents, MC members and others, and I am pleased to use this opportunity to share their feedback. The majority of these amendments are welcome as it is believed that they will do right by the residents and safeguard their rights to the quality of life that they paid for.
Safety over aesthetics
3. Perhaps the most crucial amendment is that it gives strata-title property residents the right to a safe living environment. Concerned that window grilles would affect the seamless aesthetics of a condominium, the installation of such grilles are sometimes disallowed by the MCSTs. This can be
a dilemma for those who have young children or elderly members at home. Aside from safety grilles, I hope that the amendment will also be extended to other items especially in the interest of safety for everyone, such as replacement of windows.
Reducing the potential for power abuse in the MCST
4. Limiting the use of proxies is a good move to prevent any one person in the management committee from collecting votes and influencing decision-making to their own benefit.
In some of the condominiums in my constituency, I received feedback about one or two persons holding many proxy lots. e.g. in Orchid Park condominium, many residents have been telling me about a lady who held many proxy lots.
This enabled her to sway outcomes at the Annual General Meetings (AGM) according to her desire even if the decision was in fact not a popular one or beneficial to the majority. The amendment will not only lead to a fairer decision-making process but will hopefully encourage residents and owners to be more actively involved in running their own estate.
5. In another condo, one person held three key posts. With this change, the posts of Chairman, Secretary & Treasurer have to be held by 3 different persons. This is certainly a welcome move.
As the role of a Treasurer is heavily involved with the management of the finances, it would also be prudent to set some criteria to eliminate unsuitable candidates. Perhaps, the appointee should not have a criminal record especially if it relates to financial crimes. Realistically speaking, it would be impractical to enforce mandatory background checks on all would-be treasurers. But it is important to have a treasurer with good integrity and with some knowledge of accounts. One possibility is to ask a prospective appointee to make a declaration whether the person has a criminal record.
Monetary matters concerning MCST and Maintenance
6. It is a fair move to allow rental and charges derived from common property to be placed into the MCST’s Management Fund. This should help to create another viable avenue for getting funds for maintenance, thus reducing problems of poor or inadequate maintenance due to lack of funds, and the need to raise service fees every year.
However, when the rental fees for substantial amounts of common properties to commercial enterprises, such as an F&B outlet, are involved, it should be a requirement to seek approval from the subsidiary proprietor through a special resolution to channel the money into the fund. And, all the
transactions on renting out the common property area should be arm’s length dealings.
7. On approval of maintenance charges before sale launch of the property, this is a welcome move, but it would be even better if the published charges could also include the expenses per share value for three years, taking into account a three percent per annum inflation. Additionally, the estimated time and expenses for the first replacement of lifts, pumps and water tanks should also be made known. This will not only help MCSTs to better manage finances, but also gives buyers a heads up. Some young buyers, especially, put their deposits on a dream condominium they can barely afford, without taking the monthly maintenance fees into consideration.
Dealings with Managing Agent and developer
8. If a Managing Agent (MA) has been appointed for a three-year term, it might seem to be a waste of time and resources to do an annual review on his or her performance during the AGM.
However, I believe the reason this was stipulated in the first place is because three years is a long period of time, and could breed complacency if there are no reviews in place. A long-time trusted MA would not require such frequent reviews, but there should be an option in every strata-titled
to appoint MAs for shorter terms, such as a one-year term.
9. Once the MCST has been formally constituted, it is important that the balance of monies transferred by the developer from the maintenance fund to the MCST’s bank account be a positive amount. This will ensure a smooth handover without deficit in the account and it would discourage misuse of funds. However, a minimum amount should be considered. After all, a $1 balance is still a positive balance. I am also pleased to note that it will officially be an offence to fail to return relevant documents to the MCST.
Often times, developers and managing agents hold on to the documents, and regardless whether it is done intentionally or not.
Without relevant past records and references, it would impact on the management abilities of the incumbent MCST. I wish to ask if there should be a penalty for failure to return the documents within a stipulated period of time? And is there a list of the documents to be handed from the developer to the managing committee?
Using electronic platforms
10. Transparency pertaining to management matters is important, but so is privacy. The switch to managing data by electronic means will no doubt make matters much more convenient for those involved. Given the rise in cybercrimes, security measures must be in place to prevent data theft. And as it has now become a requirement to display not just the names but also addresses of eligible voters for a General Meeting, it would be prudent to ensure that the data is not given unnecessary exposure. The duration of display should be stipulated, after which it should be removed. About four hours after the General Meeting would be a reasonable amount of time.
Online payment modes should also be allowed and encouraged, as they are more convenient for property owners, and it is also easier to keep records of transactions. Last but not least, when transactions have to happen within a certain number of days, the authorities can standardise if this means working days or calendar days.
11. Mr Speaker, Chinese please.
12. Mr Speaker, I support the Bill and I believe it will help to facilitate more fairness and professionalism in the management of strata-titled properties. Thank you.