SINGAPORE – The Lease Agreements for Retail Premises Bill debate on Thursday (3 Aug) sparked a heated exchange between Members of Parliament (MPs) from the People’s Action Party (PAP) and the Progress Singapore Party (PSP).
During the discussion, PSP’s Non-Constituency MP, Leong Mun Wai, sought clarification from PAP’s MP, Murali Pillai, regarding Pillai’s assertion that Leong had proposed “some form of low rent control” in his speech. The Bill, which was subsequently passed, is designed to facilitate fairer lease negotiations between landlords and tenants of retail premises.
However, Mr Murali denied making such an accusation, clarifying that Leong had “sought low rents on behalf of SMEs.”
In his speech, Mr Leong expressed concern about the emergence of a “rentier economy” in Singapore’s commercial property market.
While he acknowledged the new law’s attempt to balance power between landlords and tenants, Leong argued it still allows landlords to capitalize on a rent structure advantageous for them, irrespective of economic circumstances.
Mr Murali, in his speech, alluded to Leong’s comments, asserting that Leong’s suggestion reminded him of the Rent Control Act, an obsolete legislation that deterred landlords from enhancing their premises, leading to the degradation of buildings.
“The honourable NCMP Mr Leong advocated some form of low rent control, and I’ve been in legal practice long enough to remember the spectre of the Rent Control Act in those days. Because of the Act, landlords were disincentivized to invest in their premises, leading to dilapidated buildings. Ultimately, Singapore suffers as our small nation requires high utility of our land.”
Following Mr Murali’s speech, Mr Leong stood to challenge this assertion, stating he did not advocate for rent control.
Despite Mr Murali having said that as documented by the live stream, he continued to deny his statement, while Mr Leong continued to insist that the inference was unfair and sought further assurances.
Mr Leong said, “And it’s something that is quite rare, actually, that I agree with the direction of the government…but I didn’t say that I’m asking for lower rent. I’m just saying that in general, we should not encourage too much property speculation, you know, and we should not encourage a rent-seeking economy society.”
Mr Leong added, “So you should not interpret what I said in my speech to that conclusion. It is very unfair for the inference that you make. Can you clarify that?”
While Mr Murali continued to deny that he had made the claim, Mr Leong pursued the matter, saying, “I don’t like the inference that he has made. That I’m trying to recommend pushing down the rent and towards the direction of rent control and as a result, it will affect the desire, the motivation of the landlords in Singapore to make further investments in property and all that.”
“I think this is too much of an inference and I’m trying to quote. What I say for example, in jobs, the government is trying to label me as xenophobic. When I talk about lower housing prices, the government says I’m trying to raid the reserves. This is the same pattern of what the member Murali is trying to do here.”
As Mr Leong made his comment, he hit the rostrum.
Mr Murali continued to deny, saying that he did not make any specific insinuation about rent control to him.
“I was just picking up a point that he made in the course of his speech that where he advocated that in light of rent-seeking behaviours of landlords, there should be efforts to make sure that tenants get to rent.”
Stating that Mr Murali said, “I fail to see how I’m accused of taking his case or rather his speech out of context. But in any event, the record would prove what I said.”
Seah Kian Peng, the newly-appointed Speaker, intervened in the exchange, informing both MPs that their statements would be clearly recorded in the Hansard.
However, Leong posed a challenge to the MP for Bukit Batok SMC, asking him if he would apologize if the records showed that he had not advocated for a lower rent. In doing so, he once again struck the rostrum.
Mr Murali dismissed the challenge, stating, “You know, whatever we say is recorded in Hansard, and we stand by what we said. Our conduct in all these matters flows from there. So I’m not going to make any commitment.”
“Mr Leong is entitled to his views, and I hope that he respects that I’m entitled to my views as well,” he said.
Following the exchange, Speaker Seah reminded MPs of the need for decorum in the House, emphasizing the importance of passionate speeches, but also advising MPs against physical displays of frustration, such as hitting the rostrum.