Opening Remarks by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, and Second Minister of Law, Edwin Tong SC, at REDAS Spring Festival 2022
1. A very Happy New Year to everyone. 在这个新年里， 我要祝大家新年快乐, 心想事成，万事如意，虎虎生威!
2. First of all, thank you very much for inviting me here today. It is my privilege to be here as the REDAS Spring Festival is one of the longstanding traditions. It certainly gives me great pleasure to join you today.
3. REDAS was founded in 1958 by a small group of real estate developers. Over the years, it has grown from strength to strength. This signifies two things: first, the strong leadership of REDAS over the years; and second, the continued importance of the role that REDAS has been playing, both in the local private development sector, and as a representative for the real estate industry in liaising and being part of the dialogues with the Government, as well as playing a part in shaping policies with the Government.
Overcoming COVID-19 Challenges together
Current COVID-19 situation
4. The current COVID-19 environment cannot be more starkly demonstrated by the fact that we have a big room here today, but we only have 300 people, and also, of course, starkly illustrated by the e-lions that we saw a while ago. So now we have e-everything, including e-lion dance. As all of you know, we have been facing this for about two years now.
5. Even with 2022 upon us, the spectre of COVID-19, not just in Singapore, but around the world, has not gone away.
6. And all of you know that in Hong Kong, not far away, just yesterday, they imposed the latest round of very strict measures, perhaps the strictest measures since COVID started, because of the rise in cases. Their chief executive Carrie Lam described the pandemic situation as “dire”, and they are in danger of having their hospital resources overwhelmed by COVID-19.
7. On the other hand, in other parts of the world, in Europe in particular, and people always talk about Denmark, they have been lifting their restrictions, going back to life as normal, treating this as an endemic situation. In these cases, they take the view that there is a way in which we can have more herd immunity – even if there may be cases that lead to rising fatalities and hospital demands, as that is the price you pay for an endemic situation.
8. In Singapore, we have seen a spike in cases in the last couple of weeks. It is not unexpected because the Omicron variant is a lot more transmissible, but less virulent.
a) We have been expecting these cases to go up. And there has been indeed a hump, and we expect that hump to last, at least for a while more
b) But most Omicron cases so far have been mild. I think you have seen some of the statistics and the data. Despite the rise in cases the level of the demand at our ICU at our hospitals have not gone up, thankfully, in the same way. In fact, it has been relatively low given the number of cases that we have seen.
9. So we are taking this very cautious but somewhat middle ground approach. We are not going to swing to either extremes, but we will look very closely at the data and look very closely at the impact this is having on our hospital resources. And that is the key indicator to what we will be doing in terms of how we manage COVID-19 and our safe measurement measures moving forward. We know that we want to keep an eye very firmly on being able to open up again, because that is important for us not only in the Built Environment sector, but generally across Singapore economy.
Challenges brought by COVID-19
10. Focusing on the Built Environment sector, I know and I think President of REDAS has illustrated that very vividly in his speech, that it has been two years of tremendous challenges.
11. Whilst most construction work has resumed in Singapore, strict border controls have meant that inflow of migrant workers has been constrained. This has resulted in significantly elevated manpower costs and with that, also delays in construction timelines and projects. This in turn has led to a disruption of supply chain, and also itself led to further project delays.
12. The Government recognises these unprecedented difficulties. We have all been facing this in one form or another, one industry or another, some more than others, and I think the construction sector has also been very badly hit.
13. We have also responded in a similarly unprecedented manner by extending a significant amount of support, both financial and non-financial, to tide the sector through difficult times, and of course do our best to work together to aid the sector’s recovery. This includes significant financial assistance through a $1.36 billion construction support package, and other support schemes to help to defray manpower costs, such as through the Jobs Support Scheme, as well as foreign worker levy waivers and also rebates.
14. We have also implemented other temporary relief measures, such as
a) Extension of the Project Completion Period for residential, commercial and also industrial development projects
b) Waiver of extension charges under the Qualifying Certificate regime; and
c) We have also worked very hard, including with many members of REDAS, to work through the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act. This included:
i. Relief for contracts affected by construction delays; and
ii. Temporary relief from stipulated types of legal and other types of enforcement actions in relation to the inability to perform contractual obligations arising from COVID-19-related disruptions. These reliefs were intended as fall-backs to help contractors avoid expensive, lengthy, long drawn litigation and disputes in court, where fundamentally there would be no winner. We encouraged affected contractors to try to negotiate first among themselves and be understanding about the current situation that we have all found ourselves in; to take cognisance of the fact that many of the contracts and the deals and bargains we have negotiated today were done in a very different context, where the risk parameters and the knowledge as to your likely risk factors were very different.
15. As we shift towards living with COVID-19 in our midst, and the sector continues to recover, I am confident that firms will be better placed to adapt, partnering each other even more closely, focusing on long-term sustainability and resilience.
REDAS’ partnership with the Government
16. On your part, I must really commend the sector for showing a tremendous amount of resilience – not just amongst yourselves, but also playing a part in the Built Environment sector, relative to the rest of the Singapore economy, partnering the Government as well, to overcome the challenges posed by COVID-19.
17. In particular, I would like to thank REDAS very much for working closely alongside the Government, and other representatives from the real estate industry on these measures. Some of you have given us a lot of feedback as we dealt with the COVID-19 temporary measures. We had to move very quickly. It was in April 2020, I believe, that we first introduced such measures in Parliament, several weeks after we first discovered the virus in our midst. We had to do it quickly, and we were able to tap into the experience, know-how, and the industry strength that you had, to understand the sector, what were the chokepoints and the difficulties, and to work together side by side to craft these measures in the legislation.
18. I would also like to thank you for your support for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and Non-Profit Organisations (NPOs), both affected deeply by the Circuit Breaker and tightened safe management measures during this period.
19. I am glad to know also that while it was challenging and still remains challenging, many commercial landlords have taken a helpful, very collaborative, long-term view partnership with their tenants. They have shared the burden with tenants and rendered substantial assistance on their own accord, oftentimes beyond what the Government has mandated.
20. I hope this spirit of cohesion and this spirit of collaboration and working together, both trying to focus on the longer-term good of the sector, will continue. This is what will see us through the difficulties that are unprecedented, in many ways unexpected, and surely unanticipated, in this pandemic.
Collaboration with real estate sector in geospatial technology
21. Even as we continue this current fight against COVID-19, it is important for all of us, both in the Government as well as the private sector, to look ahead for new areas of innovation. What has COVID-19 meant in terms of changing the business model, changing the way in which we do things, transact, speak to one another, and do meetings? Also, explore new ways of innovation and collaboration to unlock greater value in this sector for the longer-term benefit of the community. One of these areas is in geospatial technology.
22. On this, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) has been supporting private companies and research institutes to develop autonomous robotic systems for construction, to increase productivity and reduce reliance on manpower – one of the difficulties that we have seen in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
a) These initiatives include a piling location system and a smart crane system, which use SLA’s Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) Positioning services, also known as SiReNT. These two systems will increase efficiency and accuracy of construction operations, through the reduction of dependency on human error
b) SLA will continue to tap onto and work with industry users, to leverage on SiReNT’s capabilities.
23. In addition, as announced last year, SLA has signed Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with the five of the largest property agencies in Singapore – PropNex, ERA, OrangeTee & Tie, Huttons Asia and SRI.
a) Under the initiatives of the MOUs, the property agencies will collect hyper-local data such as the location of building entrances and lift lobbies – very specific, very fine details – to enhance the richness of information that will exist on SLA’s OneMap and OneMap3D.
b) Location information from OneMap will also be seamlessly integrated with the agencies’ platforms, including looking at a view from a particular floor, how the sun casts a shadow at a particular time of the day, and also the distances and walking routes from one location to another, bearing in mind the local amenities.
c) This will greatly benefit consumers looking to either purchase, sell or rent their properties.
d) As new information such as barrier-free accessibility becomes progressively available, SLA will also explore the inclusion and integration of such information with the agencies, so that this will also be available on those portals.
e) These features will pave the way towards building a more inclusive society, by allowing less mobile users to plan in advance, a seamless and barrier-free journey as they commute daily to and from their homes, to popular destinations such as workplaces, and getting to local amenities as well.
24. These are some of the initial areas we have embarked on. The real estate sector is an area that has very significant potential to leverage such technology to reduce human error so that time and effort can be reduced.
25. In time, we also hope to partner developers to collaborate and further look at how these things will work better in your own industries to unlock value for consumers in the property market.
Streamlining of processes
26. At the same time, the Government is also looking to streamline our processes constantly. Process is important, but we can also often look at how we can streamline it better to make sure that the process does not dominate the outcome, and that the process serves the outcome.
Land Betterment Charge Act
27. In this respect, in May 2021, the Ministry of Law passed the Land Betterment Charge Act, which consolidates the collection of Differential Premium and Development Charge under a single agency – SLA.
28. The new framework was developed taking into account feedback from the industry – how that could be streamlined, the convenience, how you could pay attention to dealing with this as part of the work that you do, as fuss-free a manner as possible. The new framework will help landowners and developers work more efficiently, as they no longer need to apply to various public sector agencies for the payment of such charges. It will also simplify the computation and collection process of the charges and also provide greater transparency.
Digital Conveyancing Portal
29. SLA is also working on a Digital Conveyancing Portal (DCP). They are working on a platform that enables a fully integrated, efficient and transparent digital end-to-end conveyancing process.
a) As many of you know, the current conveyancing process is very process- and paper-based, including the payment process, which involves cheques and Cashier’s Orders.
b) Beyond digitalisation, the DCP will also help to streamline the existing processes to reduce duplicative steps. They will also improve the efficiency and more importantly, the security of property transactions, ultimately benefiting all stakeholders, whether you are a buyer or a seller, in the property market.
c) The coverage of the DCP will be phased, starting with the Option to Purchase segment, and the full coverage of the entire process is targeted to be implemented in the coming years.
Maintaining a Stable and Sustainable Property Market
30. Finally, I know many of you are concerned with the prospects of the property market, in light of the property market cooling measures which were announced in December last year.
31. We understand the concerns and also know that significant uncertainties still persist. And I think that adds to the anxiety, and we understand that.
32. Let me briefly explain why these measures were necessary:
a) I am sure all of you know that the demand and supply measures that we have introduced were intended to stabilise the property market and also ensure housing affordability.
b) The timing and scope, and the extent of these measures were carefully considered, after monitoring the market for several quarters.
c) Despite the near-term uncertainties which COVID-19 present, the property market has remained buoyant.
i. As of December last year, private housing prices have risen about 9% since the first quarter of 2020. In other words, over the period of COVID-19 pandemic.
ii. HDB resale flat prices have also increased sharply after a six-year decline. Then from the first quarter of 2020 until end of last year, rose by about 15%.
iii. Whilst house price to income ratio remains below the historical averages, there is clearly an upward momentum. Amidst the low interest rate environment, transaction volumes in the private housing market and also, the HDB resale market have been high. And this has been the case despite the COVID-19 situation.
d) So we decided to act given the clear upward market momentum, and the increasing risk of property prices running ahead of market fundamentals and also, the fundamental impact on people’s housing affordability.
e) We will continue to monitor the market and look at measures. We will also take on board what President of REDAS has said and work with REDAS. We do not work in a silo, we take on board views and constantly look at refining, if possible, these measures and take steps to ensure the market remains sustainable, and certainly with a longer-term vision beyond just the immediate future.
33. Finally, let me just make three congratulations. The first, of course, is Mr Liam Wee Sin for being accorded the REDAS Luminary Award today. That is a significant achievement, so I join President of REDAS in offering my congratulations.
34. Second, I would also like to congratulate REDAS on the launch of the REDAS-URA publication on art in public spaces today.
a) I think it is great that we are bringing art into spaces that people go to everyday, day to day they are part of the lived experiences. It is not just art in some galleries, but art for everyone everyday.
b) So, infusing that into public spaces will transform the Built Environment and living environment that we have, into one that is warmer, more relatable, and more endearing for all.
c) This publication showcases developers’ partnership with artists, as well as the art and community groups’ efforts in this endeavour. And I thank you very much for this initiative.
35. Finally, I also want to congratulate and thank REDAS for the donation of $100,000 to ComLink. This donation will support families, especially those vulnerable families with children living in public rental housing.
a) Under ComLink, we will proactively reach out to these families, provide close case support, bearing in mind that no two families suffer the same vulnerabilities, and therefore no two families will need exactly the same kind of cookie-cutter assistance. So ComLink aims to be very targeted. They will coordinate interventions, and also work with the existing community – not to reinvent the wheel, but to work with the existing framework and the existing social support agencies to galvanise the community, to help to offer customised services and customised assistance.
b) This, in turn, will put these families in a better position, to ensure stability in their day-to-day life, promote self-reliance so that they can get back on their own feet themselves, and also, improve their longer-term life circumstances and particularly, the impact it will have on the children.
c) Thank you very much, REDAS, for having this consideration as part of what you do for the society and bearing in mind your role in the community.
I hope that REDAS will continue to partner the Government in realising our shared vision and aspiration of building a better Singapore, both literally and figuratively. REDAS has been a partner with the Government on national building, and long may this continue. Thank you very much.
Wishing all of you very happy, prosperous Year of the Water Tiger. 祝大家大吉大利，生意兴隆，身体健康！