ST forum letters: Dorm operators should foot costs during CB, govt shouldn't 'mollycoddle' them

Dorm operators are large corporations making vast profits, and should be made to pay for the increased operating costs, a writer said.

Ashley Tan | May 23, 2020, 04:34 PM

Two scathing forum letters have been published on The Straits Times, this time on the topic of dormitory operators and why they should foot part of the operating costs to house the foreign workers affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Why should taxpayers foot the bill?"

Considering the number of migrant workers that have been confined to their dorms since the start of the outbreak, and as a result of government regulations to curtail the spread of the virus, operating costs have undoubtedly spiked for operators.

As such, the Singapore government recently announced they would be absorbing these costs, which cover services like cleaning, maintenance, manpower, utilities and infrastructure, adding that the support is only temporary.

This announcement of support appears to have rankled some, such as one Cheng Shoong Tat, who penned a ST forum letter on May 16 titled "Why foot the bill for dorm operators that have profited for years?"

Cheng cited the 2019 net profits of publicly listed companies like Centurion Corp, Wee Hur Holdings and Lian Beng Group, which range from S$32 million to S$103.8 million.

He lamented that Singaporeans taxpayers' monies were being channeled to "clean up" the mistakes of these dorm operators, whose dorm's poor living conditions and initially lax safe management standards have come under the spotlight during this pandemic.

Singapore's free market system does not mollycoddle citizens

One Tang Li echoed similar sentiments to Cheng, and voiced their opinion that dormitory operators should be made to foot operating costs during the circuit breaker, which is in line with Singapore's "free market system".

Tang cited examples of how Singapore's social assistance programmes are based on the principle of "helping people help themselves", as well as the SkillsFuture programme which aims to make employees more marketable for future careers.

Tang also argued that the country's remarkably open and free market economy, which has brought about numerous benefits and secured international trade and relations, should not exempt dormitory operators from "facing the music".

Instead, these operators, which Tang claimed are large corporations like Centurion Corp which make "vast profits", should be made to cough up the money themselves.

Centurion Corp manages the Westlite dormitories, which have had several clusters emerge from there.

The government should not be "mollycoddling" them, Tang said, and instead let them bear the cost of adapting to the new normal.

"Why should a society that takes pride in not sheltering people from the realities of the free market system find it acceptable to shelter large corporations from the same?

The dormitory operators are not innovative start-ups coming up with market-disrupting products that will shape the future. They are not enterprises that hire many Singaporeans in high-paying jobs.

If our system allows them to earn profits in this manner, should we not also allow them to bear the cost when the system requires them to adapt their businesses to new realities?"

Dorm operators will have to recoup costs in June: MOM

The MOM made clear in mid-May that this support is only temporary, and will last till the end of circuit breaker on June 1.

Subsequently, dorm operators will have to recoup the necessary additional costs from their tenants.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo previously acknowledged this issue of rising costs as well, saying that raising the standards of living in dorms would incur increased costs for both employers and the public.

She hoped that the Covid-19 episode demonstrates to the employers and the wider public that "raising standards at worker dormitories is not only the right thing to do, but also in our own interests".

She also hoped that Singaporeans would be willing to accept the higher costs that come with higher standards.

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Top photo from MOM