Continuing the theme of the HDB and public housing, let’s remember Lim Kim San.
I had tot of him when I read this a few weeks ago: My grandfather sold his plot of land to the government in the 1960s and moved into a HDB or Housing Development Board home, thousands of which were sprouting up all over the island. It was an affordable way for Singaporeans to buy property and raise their standard of living.
“We had a huge task when we first started in 1960. At that time our population size was 1.6 million, out of that, 1.3 million lived in squatters – not to count thousands of others living in slum areas and old buildings,” says Liu Thai Ker, who was known as Singapore’s “master planner” in the 70s and 80s. The new HDB towns that Liu oversaw came with their own schools, shops and clinics. The high-rise buildings introduced many Singaporeans to the miracles of flushing toilets and clean water at the turn of a tap.
By 1985, in just one generation, Liu says, the HDB was so successful in its rehousing policy that Singapore could claim to have “no homeless, no squatters, no poverty ghettos and no ethnic enclaves”.
Sad that Lim had not been mentioned. Maybe the BBC writer, an FT of S’pore origin, didn’t know about him because I get the impression that he has been moved into the margins of the right narrative of our history despite being highly praised by one LKY.as one of the Government’s past “political entrepreneurs”, who had seized opportunities using powers of analysis, imagination, a sense of reality, drive and character, “He has a lively, practical mind …” http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/data/pdfdoc/088-1996-11-28_lky.pdf
Let’s start at the beginning. He volunteered in 1960 to be the HDB’s first chairman and was not paid for three years (but (Jos, Grace and Hen should take note) it seems. But then he was rich, very rich and as an Oz tycoon said A$5m is enough money to live on, though I’m sure Jos and Grace will disagree: money always not enough say the aunties.
He was in charge of the massive construction of high-rise, low-cost (Note: not affordable) housing that made the PAP popular with the masses.
LKY said he could organise and plan. But his planning was “rough and ready”: using simple estimates, not derived from detailed stats (there were none then) and detailed analysis (not that number of number and data crunchers around, and there were no computers).
Critics said he could not build 1,000 units a year because the HDB did not have the capability and the materials to reach the target. By the time a committee published its report on whether HDB could reach the target, the HDB had already completed 1,000 units of housing.
I’ll let his Wikipedia entry tell the rest of the story.
In the first Five Year Housing Program, HDB achieved its goal of completing 5000 units of housing by 1965. The largest project at that time was Queenstown, a satellite town of more than 17,500 apartments capable of housing close to 22,000 people. The new neighborhood was built as a self-contained entity, with all amenities and shops built along with the houses, so people will not need to travel to other areas for basic necessities, thereby lowering traffic congestion. This philosophy (which was ultimately extended with the concept of regional centre), is generally accredited by many to have significantly contributed to the lower rate of congestion and burden on the central business district than before. [If so good why CBD charges introduced? And then island-wide tolls? Raise monney isit?]
In May 1961, the Bukit Ho Swee Fire broke out and some 16,000 people became homeless. Under Lim’s guidance, the relocation and reconstruction of the lost housing was completed in just over four years, and 1200 housing flats were made available to those who lost their homes in the fire.
The success of the housing project was considered by some to stem mainly from the standardized architectural designs that were used. Another important factor was Lim’s decision to use private contractors rather than employing construction workers directly. This allowed the HDB to supervise the contractors to ensure standards, rather than dealing with minute problems. Also, overall cost was kept low by using a large pool of contractors and different sources of building materials.
There are some who said that by solving Singapore’s housing problem, Lim saved the PAP in the process. However, Lim himself was more modest, saying the success of the housing programme was also due to government funding, as housing was, and still is, a top priority.
Part of Lim’s success at the HDB was that he had the trust of the Prime Minister at the time, Lee Kuan Yew. He also worked closely with the Minister of Finance at the time, Goh Keng Swee. These connections allowed Lim keep the housing program well-funded. Another political factor that allowed the success of the Housing Project was that Lim managed to cut through bureaucratic red tape and rigid regulations that would have otherwise hindered the housing program.
As to why he’s almost invisible? Maybe because he didn’t take a salary for three yrs? I mean with Grace, and Grace, you can figure out why he can’t be that popluar among younger PAP ministers. .