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Tweak cooling measures, urges Leng Beng
IT is time for the government to tweak some of its property cooling measures such as the additional buyer's stamp duty (ABSD), given concerns over the global economy and signs that the property market here is slowing down, said Kwek Leng Beng, executive chairman of Hong Leong Group Singapore and property developer City Developments.
He suggested that the government consider lifting the hefty stamp duties imposed on foreigners when they buy property here, and replace it with a tax on sellers who offload their property three or four years after snapping it up.
"Everybody is attracting foreigners today to their countries. We should attract foreigners. But if . . . you penalise them by having to pay additional tax, then they (will) say you don't welcome me.
"So why don't you (the government) just say, if you sell within three years, four years, then I tax you. You come in (and buy property) I don't want to tax. I think this is one way," said Mr Kwek, who was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore (Redas) Spring Festival lunch yesterday.
The government can also consider lifting ABSD for locals - who are subject to the additional tax when they purchase more than one home - and permanent residents, he said.
"I don't think there is a lot of speculation. The prices are high because developers have got no land stock . . . in the land bank. (At the same time) they have to survive, they cannot let business come to a standstill.
"So I think for some of these, we will (need to) have a dialogue with the government . . . I think the government has the bigger picture. We leave it to them. They are trying their best. They want a stabilised market. We will cooperate with them."
Mr Kwek's comments come amid signs that the housing market is slowing down. Statistics from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) showed that for the last three months of 2013, private home prices fell 0.9 per cent - the first quarterly drop in about two years. For the full year, URA's overall private home price index ended 1.1 per cent higher - a smaller gain compared with the 2.8 per cent recorded in 2012.
Besides working closely with the government to build a healthy property market, developers will also work closely with the government on the next phase of nation-building and real estate development to achieve a "distinctive, high-quality living environment for all", said Chia Boon Kuah, president of Redas.
This means that construction activity will remain at high levels and continue unabated for several years, making it "ever more important to re-focus our collective attention on workplace safety and welfare of the some 30,000 migrant workers in our industry", he said.
"As developers, we should support our contractors in showing duty of care for the health, safety and welfare of these workers. This enhances productivity, which, in the long run, translates into benefits for all."
Last month, a worksite accident in Sentosa left one foreign worker dead and 10 others injured.
The death of the worker takes the number of fatalities at worksite accidents to nine in just over a month, prompting Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin to write on his blog that the recent spate of accidents was "not tenable".
Developers and contractors should, therefore, "up the ante on workplace safety training and communication" and "recognise the contributions these workers make to our country", said Mr Chia, who is also group president and chief executive of developer GuocoLand.
Redas would hold a forum to identify and discuss common causes behind construction workplace accidents, challenges to risk reduction and best practices, he said.
Yesterday, Redas presented Mr Kwek with its inaugural Redas Lifetime Achievement Award, which it established to honour a pioneering group of industry leaders.
The Redas citation said that Mr Kwek has helped to shape the property industry and guided Redas through several difficult periods, such as the property crash in the early 1980s.
Together with other developers, he also helped to reform the sector by introducing the Developers' Fund to protect buyers. This ensured that money collected for a specific project could not be used for other purposes.
Mr Kwek received his award from Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, who was guest-of-honour at the event.