Published 4 April 2011
The New Paper
By Eugene Wee and Tay Shi’an
AT THE best of times, housing is a hot issue in Singapore.
As the man in charge of public housing, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan knows he’s in the hot seat. But he is ready for the fight.
He told The New Paper: “What are they (the Opposition) going to say? ‘If you vote against the PAP, vote against Mah Bow Tan and his team, prices will come down and everybody will be happy?’ What are their solutions? Are their solutions sensible, credible, will they work?”
In a recent two-hour interview, Mr Mah said that out of 100 people who apply for a flat, there may be 10 to 20 who try several times, but can’t get the flat they want.
“Out of that, maybe one or two will write to the papers, so people think, oh there are not enough flats.
Majority are happy
“But the 80 who got their flats, merrily renovating their flats, moving in, they don’t write to the papers. We don’t expect them to do that, but you know how impressions, perceptions are formed.”
While Mr Mah acknowledges prices are going up, he offered another way of looking at it: They are high because the economy is booming.
“If prices come down, it can mean only one of two things: Either we do silly things, we make silly decisions; or the economy goes bad, unemployment is high, confidence is down. Then, property prices will surely come down.
“So we have to be careful what we wish for.”
That’s why the Government is doing its best to help preserve and add value to the flats by building new infrastructure in housing estates.
“Because their house is their biggest, most valuable asset. Something that they’re going to live in for a long time, and hopefully one day monetise to support their retirement. So we must make sure their flats are preserved in value,” he said.
“That’s why we upgrade, that’s why we put in infrastructure.
“If you look at Tampines, 30 years ago and today, with all the infrastructure, with the regional centre, with the MRTs, with the schools, with the malls, facilities – of course, prices have gone up. But is that a bad thing?”
Mr Mah believes that housing issues will not be the biggest challenge he faces in getting re-elected for his sixth term.
“My biggest challenge is to convince voters we will be able to do a good job for them overall.
“Housing will be one of the issues that will be raised. The Opposition will raise other issues, cost of living, immigration and so on.
“They won’t talk about the jobs that have been created, they won’t talk about the economy that has rebounded strongly from the recession, they won’t talk about the houses we’ve built, the upgrading we’ve done.
“And yes, there are problems, but we are doing something about them. House prices have gone up, but we’re doing something to moderate it.”
And that’s why Mr Mah said he has to fight for every single vote.
He said: “I don’t take for granted any vote. Every vote is important, every vote is precious, every person who votes in the elections, you have to convince them that you’ve done well for them, that you are going to do just as well, if not better, in the future. If you fail to do that, then of course, you lose them.”
This will be Mr Mah’s seventh General Election (GE). He has served five terms. (He lost his first election in 1984, in Potong Pasir, to Mr Chiam See Tong.)
Said Mr Mah: “Every GE is different. The specific issues are different, what catches fire will be different. But like all GEs, at the end of the day, it will boil down to one issue; to me, the most important issue: Choosing your leaders.
“At the local level, who your MP will be, to look after you in the constituency.
“And then at the national level, who will form your Government, who will secure your future, make your future better, keep Singapore going, keep Singapore growing.
“I think that’s a big issue.”
His advice to first-time voters: Go out there, get as much information as possible from both sides and make a sound judgement based on the facts you have gathered.
“There will be a lot of rumours, a lot of hearsay, people will say all sorts of things during the GE.
“Just be discerning and make sure you hear from all sides… And always remember that an election is about doing what’s best for you and your family.”
Is he concerned about younger voters who may be more idealistic and want more opposition?
Said Mr Mah: “It’s not the sole prerogative of the young to be idealistic.
I think there are (older) people who feel that way too.
“It’s good to have opposing voices, listen to alternative views. In fact, there’s no shortage of opposing voices, there are avenues for that.
“The new media does open up avenues for alternative views, so much so that sometimes you wonder whether it sheds more light or creates more confusion.
“But finally, we should come back to basics. An MP’s job is not just to make noise and say things, but also to make things happen for the better for the constituents.
Who can do a better job?”