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T ODAY • Monday • April 28, 2008
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we set you thinking •
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Walter Fernandez Yvonne Lim Clement Mesenas Conrad Raj Richard J Valladares Edric Sng Pauline D Loh Agatha Koh Brazil Barry Porter Phin Wong Leonard Thomas Lim Kwee Lan Ariel Tam Angela Chia Joni Ng

Dignity, please
Replace ‘majority wins’ rule with consensus-seeking in the en bloc process

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AS A citizen of a progressive and global nation, I thought no one would be allowed to sell property that was not legally theirs, until my estate came under threat of an en bloc sale. En bloc laws, extant since 1999, empower and facilitate my neighbours to sell my home against my will and even without my signature. Although the Singapore Constitution contains no specific clause assuring protection of one’s property rights, it is natural for a citizen of any country to expect their government to safeguard his or her property, along with his or her life and liberty. Lately, the public has witnessed minority owners going to great lengths to defend their homes from en bloc sales. Perhaps their determination is an expression of an individual’s inborn unwillingness to be forced to give up what is rightfully his. Pre-1999, compulsory land acquisition was done only by the Government for public purposes. In an en bloc sale, the need to optimise land use in land-scarce Singapore is the justification for denying one’s property rights. But commercial interests may be served more than any. Increasingly, redeveloped estates are

offering luxury condos that few Singaporeans can afford. Developers seem to be the real winners. If indeed en bloc laws are meeting their policy objectives, then they do so at an incalculable social price. When 100 per cent consent was done away with, the stage was set for the current controversies — the spate of court cases, misbehaviour at general meetings, breakdowns of relationships between neighbours — all of which surely outweigh the benefits of an en bloc. Pitting neighbours against each other to win a majority percentage to their side is a perverse application of the democratic process. With news that en bloc laws will be reviewed, I appeal to the Ministry of Law to take this opportunity to consider replacing the antagonistic “majority wins” rule with a consensus-seeking process. Currently, owners’ concerns are largely sidelined if they comprise the minority. The Strata Titles Board steps in as mediator-arbitrator only after a buyer is found. Instead, the en bloc process could begin with platforms for owners to voice their concerns, define common goals, identify problems, with extended use of mediation, negotiation and arbitration to resolve disagreements, all before finding a buyer. The community-focussed, consensusseeking approach may take longer, but the end result will be more satisfactory and dignified for all parties concerned, and certainly less traumatic. This letter was also signed by 13 others.

Agencies decide whether maids get days off or not

I REFER to your report “Two years on, employers still skirt day-off clause” (April 25). I have been in Singapore as a foreign domestic worker for seven years. I am Indonesian. My relationship with my employer has always been very good. Personally, I don’t think employers are to blame for maids not having a day off. The maid agencies are the ones who draw up contracts with no days off when a new employer hires a maid. The new maid always fears being sent home, so she signs the contract without protest. This applies especially to maids from Indonesia. I say this because my employer’s relatives hired an Indonesian maid and she doesn’t get any day off nor any compensation for not having any. However, they had some problem with her and sent her back to the agency. The replacement maid is a Filipina and she gets a day off and compensation if she does not take it. Furthermore, some agencies draw up the contract in English, which many maids do not understand. If the agencies insist that employers give a day off to their maids, that will help us foreign domestic workers because the employers will have to stick to the terms of the contract. This is because employers listen to the maid agencies, as they are supposed to know everything about the rules and regulations of hiring a maid.


Regarding Mas Selamat Kastari’s escape, one hopes that this serious breach of public trust can be repaired as soon as possible. For example, relocating the Whitley Road Detention Centre to Changi Prison may be seen as a knee-jerk reaction. Why not move the detention centre to an offshore base, an island perhaps, if we are going to spend the money? That way, if there is another high profile escape, it will not require a “mainland” lock-down. — READER GEORGE LEE