Black & white bungalows in spotlight again as PAP & PSP MPs engage in parliamentary exchange

Leong Mun Wai asked for "greater transparency and accountability" over how SLA is managing state properties.

Kerr Puay Hian | March 01, 2024, 02:59 PM



After a lengthy parliamentary session last year on the renting of Ridout Road properties by ministers K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan, the topic of renting out heritage bungalows was once again raised in parliament during the Committee of Supply debate for the Ministry of Law on Mar. 1, 2024.

The ministry oversees the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), which manages state properties in Singapore.

Progress Singapore Party Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai asked for, among other things, "greater transparency and accountability" over how SLA is managing state properties.

He also questioned why SLA did not "rejuvenate" and repurpose the black and white bungalows and allowed some of them to be in "disrepair", resulting in them being "underutilised" and being "vacant for years".

He believed that it would make "better economic sense" to make use of these properties to "generate good value for the taxpayer".

Wasteful & inefficient to renovate B&W bungalows before renting them out

In response, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Law Rahayu Mahzam said many of the points raised by Leung were already addressed in parliament last year.

She said that information on the occupancy rate of state properties is publicly available, reiterated that occupancy rate depends on market conditions and repeated SLA's previous explanation that the pool of potential tenants for heritage bungalows is limited.

She explained that tenants often have to put in "considerable additional work" to install modern amenities to make the property more "livable".

However, SLA makes "basic additions" to ensure that the properties are in "good condition" so that tenants are able to reside in them "safely".

She added that SLA will install modern amenities and facilities for selected where the "overall circumstances make it advantageous to do so".

"It would, however, not be in the best use of public resources to always renovate properties to a high standard before a tenant is found. This is because the condition of the property will deteriorate if there is no takeup such as in a poor market."

Rahayu also explained that tenant might choose to retrofit properties to their own liking, and it would then be "wasteful and inefficient".

Balance needs to be struck between conserving and redeveloping heritage bungalows

On the question of whether bungalows could have other uses other than renting them out as residences, Rahayu said that some have already been demolished as part of newer developments, and some have been repurposed for different uses such as commercial and retail.

She explained that removing the properties or redeveloping the land around them will not change the area much as the cleared land can only be similarly used for low-intensity development.

"It should be kept in mind that SLA's portfolio of state properties cannot be directly compared to that of a typical private commercial landlord, as SLA manages a number of heritage bungalows which are conserved or marked for study for conservation.

A judicious balance continues to be needed between protecting heritage properties in Singapore and redeveloping them altogether. "

After Rahayu's response, Leong claimed that the government did not "provide further information that Singaporeans would like to know".

He claimed the ministry did not reveal the "total income derived" and the "total maintenance costs" from managing the black and white bungalows.

SLA will give updates whenever they can

In response, Rahayu said, "I note that the member is quite occupied with the details and the specifics, and he has repeatedly asked these questions."

"But I think the point we're making is this because, at the end of the day, what is the larger point that is being made?" she said.

"Our concern is really the larger assertion that's being made — that there is mismanagement, that SLA is not doing their part in ensuring that there is proper utilisation, optimisation of the state properties."

She said it was something that was "more important" for them "to debunk" as they have given "a lot of other facts" to show that the market "really dictates occupancy rates and vacancy rates".

"I'm really concerned because I think at the end of the day, it has been repeated many times."

Leong then clarified that he was not saying that SLA has mismanaged the properties and said that he was just "raising questions", which he claimed was to help "erase the doubts in the minds of many Singaporeans".

Rahayu then ended the debate by saying she would take note of Leong's suggestions and said that things constantly evolve, and whenever they can give more updates, they would be prepared to provide information to address concerns that Singaporeans may have.

Top image via MCI