Are we making them cut the last ties?

Person who gives up citizenship, PR may not want to sever all links with Singapore

By and large, the recent additional measures being proposed by the Government to prevent a property market bubble appear well thought through and should therefore be well received.

For instance, I am in favour of the seven-day cooling-off period for the sellers of Housing and Development Board flats to grant an Option-to-Purchase to a buyer. As the HDB says, it is part of a series of enhancements to the resale checklist, first introduced in 2008, and sales procedures to help both buyers and sellers make a more informed decision.

I agree with the Housing Board that people who intend to sell their flats should consider their finances carefully and plan for their next home, while buyers should, on their part, also exercise financial prudence. Now, sellers have to work out the estimated sales proceeds of the home they plan to sell and submit a financial plan for their next purchase.

Another good proposal under the Residential Property (Amendment) Bill is the one that forces foreign property developers to complete and sell their developments within the six-year stipulated period or pay penalties for any extension of the time frame.

But the Government’s decision to force those who give up their citizenship or their permanent residency status to sell any landed property they have here appears to be rather harsh. Under the new rules, such people will have to dispose of their landed properties within two years or face a penalty of $20,000 or a three-year jail term. It does not seem to matter if the landed property in question is a small terrace house or a huge mansion.

It also appears at odds with the times, when more and more Singaporeans are regarding themselves as global citizens.

Under the proposed new rules, foreigners who inherit landed property here must sell them within five years now, compared with 10 years previously.

As one property consultant observed, it would also be harsh on those who inherited such properties and have to move overseas because of work or social reasons. A more reasonable move is the one forbidding foreign buyers of landed properties from renting them out.

For sure, land is scarce in Singapore and landed property makes up less than 5 per cent of the country’s total property market. It is a precious commodity that has to be carefully allocated. At present, PRs and foreigners are said to account for about 6 per cent of all landed residential sales.

But giving up citizenship or PR status does not necessarily mean that a person wants to cut off all ties with Singapore. And property ownership is a good way to reinforce those ties. What if the person wants to come back regularly to stay in the house he was born in or with some other emotional or sentimental attachment?

Do the nationality rules also apply to those having landed property on Sentosa? At present, non-citizens are allowed to buy and own landed property on Sentosa. It now seems unfair that the super-rich on Sentosa are allowed to own landed property even if they are not citizens or PRs.

Why this inequity which borders on iniquity? Perhaps the Government should remove this privilege to ensure fair treatment.

I also cannot agree with the rationale for disallowing those who own foreign property overseas from applying for public housing here. It has been explained that this “ensures that those who can afford private property anywhere do not compete for limited public housing subsidies … It also dampens demand from those who are not in urgent need of housing”.

Some foreign property is relatively cheap and can serve as a holiday home or to house parents or others left behind by those who want to or have moved here.

The Government disclosed that some hundred people have appealed against the rule and that the HDB was assessing the appeals and would decide on a case-by-case basis.

Why not make public the exceptions that would allow one to keep his or her foreign property?

Source : Today – 25 Oct 2010

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