Straits Times: Low: When will it be Hougang’s turn for HDB upgrading?

BUDGET DEBATE – DAY 4

BY GOH CHIN LIAN

OPPOSITION MP Low Thia Khiang crossed swords with Minister of State (National Development) Grace Fu over the upgrading of HDB flats, especially those in his Hougang constituency.

Mr Low yesterday repeatedly pressed her for answers as to when his residents could benefit from upgrading and asked if they were being fairly treated.

He accused the Government of using upgrading as a political tool to change voting behaviour, and wanted to know how much it spent on upgrading flats in different precincts.

He also claimed that the Government “owes every eligible flat owner in Hougang constituency $22,500 to $27,000 for the long overdue upgrading”.

This is based on the average cost of $30,000 for a basic upgrading package, of which the Government pays the major portion and residents the rest.

It has been 12 years since he was told that Hougang’s turn for the Main Upgrading Programme (MUP) would not happen for “many, many years”, he said during the debate on the National Development Ministry’s budget.

Noting that the MUP has since been replaced by schemes such as the Home Improvement Programme (HIP), he asked: “Will opposition wards need to start all over again and wait many, many years for HIP to happen?”

Ms Fu said the HIP was the result of residents asking for more flexibility and consultation in upgrading.

The programme would benefit 300,000 flats across the island.

Explaining that the MUP was restructured so that flats could be spruced up more quickly, she said the change applied to PAP and non-PAP constituencies.

Mr Low had asked about the amount spent upgrading each flat and how these government funds would be applied fairly to everyone.

Responding, Ms Fu said the amount was about $30,000 a unit. But she told Mr Low that the question of fairness did not arise in this matter.

“It is not a case of an entitlement. It does not mean that every Singapore household can come and claim for this sum of money,” she said.

“It is something that we will prioritise. It’s something that we will do depending on the age, the quality of the flats.”

And who gets HIP first also depends on the funds available.

The Government’s focus now is to have lifts stop at every floor of HDB blocks by 2014, she said.

“And Hougang residents can look forward to that by 2014,” she said, adding that Mr Low could speed the process up by having his town council undertake the upgrading of the lifts in his constituency.

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