Many Singaporeans may be unhappy with him and his arrogant housing policies and how it affected their lives and their income. Because of that, many have forgotten to look at the good side and achievements of this man. He was handed a $2b problem, more than 10,000 units of unsold HDB flats. There was initial panic when so much money was tied up in unsold properties.
Then he did a miraculous feat. Within a few years he not only sold all this flats, and the sale was so good that he turned a surplus into a shortage. As a result, HDB was able to sell its flats at higher and higher prices, bringing in great profits, though it surprisingly registered an unfortunate big loss in one year. The gist was that he was the best seller of properties. The best property salesman in the number of properties sold.
He also taught the complacent young people in family planning. Many have taken for granted that marriage is a thing that just happened and buying a flat is so easy. He is not going to make it easy for them in their careless approach to setting up a family. He made them plan ahead. He made them plan at least 3 to 5 years ahead, and the penalty was to get married without a flat in waiting. He would only build public flats when his order book was full. Period. And this demanded the buyers to plan carefully. It also cut down on spurious applications and long queues for flats. Only genuine buyers needed register.
He also encouraged the higher income young couple to buy private properties instead of HDB. He maintained the eligibility ceiling at a level that many had no choice but to go private or ended up no housing at all. There were many advantages which many young people did not see, like low interest rates and high demand for flats with influx of foreigners. Those who took his cue are now smiling as their properties would have appreciated many times despite the high mortgages they took. It indirectly also helped to boost the economy and GDP with higher consumption and borrowing. Those who did not listen to his advice only got themselves to blame. And many are still flatless and not eligible for public housing any more while private housing went beyond their reach.
Mah Bow Tan’s other achievement is conservation. By not building too many flats, the land was kept in reserve instead of wanton building for the sake of building. He knew how precious and limited is our land bank. And because of this, he went one step further by building flats of smaller sizes, saving on land, material and cost. The cost savings went into the furnishing as well, smaller space needed smaller furniture and lesser furniture. Great savings for the owners. Micky mouse flats become a fad and a new way of life and with assurance by HDB that the quality of life would not be affected.
While the people took for granted the ownership of public housing, the tight policies made the people more aware of how important owning a flat was, and how valuable a flat as well. Many are so happy that the same flat, after using and staying in it for so many years, can still fetch higher and higher prices. They are feeling so much richer.
This man deserves a medal for his foresight and nature conservation policies. If he did not hold down on the building programme, all the land would have been built up and no space left for anything. Don’t just look at the negative side. There are goodness in badness and badness in goodness.
With 2011 in the past, let’s give this man a medal for his achievements in public housing and conservation.