a community of singaporeans

HDB to provide Mdm Lee with new stall

Posted by theonlinecitizen on January 12, 2008

Update: Reprieve for ex-hawker by TODAY, Jan 15.

By Andrew Loh

“If you had a mother who’s been working all her life, would you still want her to work at such an advanced age?”, Ms Gina Lau asked when explaining why she had advised her mother to give up the stall at the Hougang Ave 1 hawker centre in 2003.

In return for giving up her business, Mdm Lee was given $18,000 by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) under its Hawker Centres Upgrading Programme.

(The Hawker Centres Upgrading Programme (HUP) was launched in Feb 2001 at an estimated cost of $420m to upgrade markets/hawker centres over a period of 10 years. – NEA)

4 years later, her good intentions have resulted in a controversial decision by the HDB demanding that her mother, Mdm Lee Ah Muay, return the $18,000 compensation given to her in 2003.

Ms Lau told theonlinecitizen (TOC) that business was poor in 2003 and that was another reason why she advised her mother to give up the stall. Mdm Lee made an average of $500 per month from her business of selling clothes then.

Letter of demand

The HDB, according to a TODAY report, said that “its earlier attempts to contact her since 2004 had failed”. However Ms Lau questioned how this could be so. “Why didn’t they leave any notes at my door at least?”, she asked. We also understand that no phone calls were made to Mdm Lee.

In September last year, an officer from the NEA visited Mdm Lee and informed her that “HDB had made a mistake with the payout and the money had to be returned”. Ms Lau questions why it took the authorities so long to find out about the mistake.

In Jan 2008, a letter of demand from the NEA was sent to Mdm Lee, giving her 21 days to return the $18,000.

Ms Lau had earlier said, according to the TODAY report, that she “regrets the advice she gave her mother” and she hopes the NEA “can help secure a new stall for her mother at the refurbished hawker centre” as her mother prefers to keep working and also that her mother’s friends were all there.

Compromise by the HDB?

After the media broke the news, Mdm Lee and Ms Lau visited HDB officials on Friday afternoon and was told that the HDB would “put them on a priority list” for a new stall. The HDB, according to Ms Lau, has also offered them an installment plan to return the $18,000 within a period of 3 to 6 months.

TOC understands that NEA officers will visit her again on Monday (14 Jan) to discuss the issue of providing her with a new stall.

Questions raised

The obvious question one would have to ask is: Why was the HDB and then the NEA so ineffective in getting in touch with Mdm Lau since 2004? It is quite unfathomable that Mdm Lau would not be contactable for 4 years.

Was someone dragging his feet at the HDB or NEA?

If the mistake by the HDB was discovered, as can be inferred from the TODAY report, and dealt with earlier, the whole saga would have been avoided. Mdm Lau was still operating a stall at the temporary hawker centre from 2004 to 2005 when the original one was being refurbished.

As such, how did the HDB and then the NEA fail in their attempts to contact her?

Ms Lau told TOC that the NEA even asked her mother, in 2006, to pay her hawker licence fee.

Who is in charge?

As far as TOC understands, there is no such “priority list’ for application of hawker stalls under the HUP. Is the HDB going to install one now? Also, why is it that it is the HDB – and not the NEA – which gave Mdm Lee the assurance that it will put them on a “priority list”?

It was the NEA which informed Mdm Lee that HDB had made a mistake in giving her the $18,000 payout. But it was the HDB which issued the letter of demand to Mdm Lee and has given her the assurance of a new stall today.

Who, therefore, is in charge of the case now – HDB or NEA?

Legal view

Leong Sze Hian, who first heard of Mdm Lee’s predicament and brought her case to the attention of the local media, says:

After sending my letter to the newspapers’ forum pages, I spoke to 4 lawyers, who were of the opinion that the HDB may be estopped from claiming the return of the $18,000, because she gave up her hawker stall and livelihood as a hawker by accepting HDB’s offer of $18,000.


Estoppel is a legal doctrine recognised both at common law and in equity in various forms. It is meant to complement the requirement of consideration in contract law. In general it protects a party who would suffer detriment if:

* The defendant has done or said something to induce an expectation
* The plaintiff relied (reasonably) on the expectation…
* …and would suffer detriment if that expectation were false.

In English law, the concept of legitimate expectation in the realm of administrative law and judicial review is estoppel’s counterpart in public law, although subtle but important differences exist.

Perhaps the obstacle for Mdm Lee in bringing her case to the courts would be her signing of a Letter of Undertaking when she first took ownership of her stall in 1993. In the undertaking, she agreed that she will not seek any compensation in the event of any upgrading of her stall.

This, however, throws up the question of whether it was fair for the HDB to have hawkers sign such a document in the first place.

Perhaps those who are well-versed in the law can provide clarification.

Pressured to give up stall?

TOC understands that Mdm Lee was given 3 weeks to decide if she wanted to give up her stall in 2003. Officers from the HDB were also sent to advise her to do so. As the documents were in English, the question of proper translation and detailed explanation by the officers is important.

Perhaps the HDB (or NEA) should explain whether officers are sent to induce hawkers to give up their stalls and how such “persuasion” is done.

HDB should be penalised as well

Lastly, since it was HDB’s mistake – by its own admission – shouldn’t the HDB be penalised for sloppy work? Why is the burden of the mistake being squarely and totally shouldered by a 75 year old woman?

HDB’s manner of recovering the $18,000 through a Letter Of Demand smacks of intimidation and highhandedness. This is especially unbecoming of a government agency which obviously (for reasons stated above) failed miserably in trying to contact Mdm Lee.

Perhaps the HDB should offer Mdm Lee a discount on the $18,000 to be repaid, and thus accepts its part of the mistake.

It would be in line with MM Lee’s recent comments about being a gracious society.

Mdm Lee

Mdm Lee, who has 2 sons and 3 daughters, suffers from diabetes, and has had to purchase a “medical chair” for $10,000, according to her daughter. She has also used the money from the payout on her medical fees the last 4 years or so. In addition, she also paid $7,000 to the HDB in 2004 for her stall at the temporary market.

But what she misses most is being active in running her business. She also misses being with her friends. When asked if she visits the refurbished hawker centre to chit chat with her friends, she said that she no longer does, except when she needs to buy some things.

Read also: “HDB wants $18k payout back from ex-hawker” by Asia One.



28 Responses to “HDB to provide Mdm Lee with new stall”

  1. JDread said

    Well-written! Better than the 154th neutral reports.

  2. LifesLikeThat said

    Yes, a well written report. Especially the part about HDB taking part of the responsibility for the mistake.

    Why are Singaporeans always made to pay for mistakes of the government? Isn’t it time govt is accountable and take responsibility for their mistakes?

    Gracious society? Making an elderly woman take all the blame, even though it was totally not her fault?????

  3. Daniel said

    Maybe the government will like to tell us too that progress package is a big major mistake and now it is payback time through unleashing the full force of price hike, means testing, ERP gantries etc.

    Why is it that when government make a mistake, it is an honest mistake and they can get away everytime ? No wonder there are lack of accountability and transparency since they know they able to get away anyway.

  4. sevenleleven said

    Seriously, when IDA paid Singtel an amount mistakenly, was the amount refunded then? Let’s make the BIG vomit out the money if the SMALL FRY had to pay up.

  5. carbang4 said

    It seems to me that the HDB has had more bungles with Mah Bow Tan as the Minister for National Development than any other previous Minister in that position. But will he be held accountable? The probability of it snowing in Singapore is greater than that. This is what happens when you parachute “talent” into parliment under the GRC system.

  6. sarek_home said

    I would rather the lady don’t pay HDB a cent. Just let HDB bankrupt her and upset the public more.

    What about the opportunity cost to the lady because of HDB’s mistake?

  7. Clarence said

    Govt very efficient at claiming money owed to it, but very inefficient when disbursing money owing to its people.

    Well done! Keep it up and soon the place will be filled with Banglas and foreign talent. Then you ask them to do NS and protect yr country, and pay yr crazy ERP fees.

  8. Robert HO said

    1. It seems that HDB/NEA made 2 mistakes. First, in wrongly paying her; now in demanding it back.

    2. Anyone can make a mistake but only fools would compound it further. More sheer stupidity and inability to see the issues in humane, human, commonsense, THINKING ways. Just simply follow rules blindly without thinking deeper on the Rights and Wrongs of the case. Typically PAP methodology.

    3. It is totally unbelievable that HDB/NEW cannot contact her for 4 years! Singapore is so tiny and everything and everybody so controlled that if even 1 genuine attempt is made, they cannot fail to contact her. More lies from the LKY LHL PAP Leegime. That they resort to this stupid lie insults our intelligence.

  9. blackshirt said

    Our government seems to be hunting high and low to obtain money. Just like NLB, the government agencies are now seeking out people who owe them money and dishing out fines. Is our government running out of money and running around to pick up the pennies.

    It makes you wonder what kind of directives did the heads of these agencies receive from the upper echelon of the party.

  10. ZL said

    I’m glad that Mdm Lee can get to work again, instead choose to retire, otherwise she is going to die very soon – based on LKY’s analogy.

  11. Singapore Resident said

    EXACTLY…ever noticed that IRAS has suddenly become very active?

    blackshirt Says:
    January 12, 2008 at 11:55 am

    Our government seems to be hunting high and low to obtain money. Just like NLB, the government agencies are now seeking out people who owe them money and dishing out fines. Is our government running out of money and running around to pick up the pennies.

  12. Gary Teoh said

    I support you Robert Ho, all the GIC and Temasek money have gone west, so government, IRAS etc try all means to get back money owed by the ppl.

  13. justln said

    Lies lies and more lies. In America, even if this kind of situation takes place, Mdm Lee won’t even have to pay a cent.

    HDB paid her to give up the store, now they want the money back but never offered her a store in the 1st place?
    WTH is that???
    It’s like me paying 123 for a phone, 4 years later I want my money back from them but not giving them the phone.

    What is our society degrading to? HDB now bullying an old ah ma?

    I hope Mdm Lee won’t have to pay a cent. We’re all on you side!

  14. Pauline Mo said

    “Due to an oversight, Madam Lee was offered the ex-gratia payment of $18,000. Madam Lee opted for the payment and terminated her tenancy,” said the HDB spokesman. (The Straits Times 12th Jan 2008, section H2)

    Question 1 : Whose ‘oversight’?
    Answer 1 : HDB.

    Question 2 : Oversight = mistake?
    Answer 2 : Yes.

    Question 3 : What’s the difference between ‘a mistake’ and ‘an honest mistake’?
    Answer 3 : The former can be made by all, with exception of the civil service. The civil service does not make ‘a mistake’. The applicable term is ‘an honest mistake’.

    There are existing laws and regulations to whack those who run foul of them, whether intentionally or otherwise.

    So, who whacks the civil service for ‘oversights’ and ‘honest mistakes’?

  15. william said

    what a gracious society, gracious government, gracious hdb….suck honest ppls blood until dry dry….its all money talk and no heart in this society

  16. blackshirt said

    Why don’t HDB get their officer(s) who are in-charge of the “oversight” to pay the money back? The “oversight”, after all, belongs to HDB and HDB only. Why don’t HDB say anything about who are the people involved in this oversight? Maybe, these people have been moved up in corporate ladder during these four years and it would be embarrassing to name them now.

  17. Singapore Resident said

    Ha ha…juz happended to read of another “honest” mistake…some civil “servants” got higher take-home pay last Friday.

  18. Unfair said

    This is the same stat board that retrenched staff, gave them very gererous severance angpows, and then gave the same people jobs in the corporatised arm.

  19. Apparently this Mdm Lee has the support of a well-to-do family (albeit new money). If a lesser economically stable family were faced with a similar situation, they would surely kick up a bigger fuss.

  20. MadHatter said

    De-crying of typical high-handedness aside, is it me or is this another case of when a mistake is made, there’s no need for any form of responsibility? We’re not talking about stirring up a mob to lynch someone, getting a whole department fired or anything crazy but so long as the big boys can get away with it, there’s really no need for any improvement, is there?

    Anyone recall the joke of HDB dwellers being made responsibly for windows that were not up to standard…?

  21. Ray said

    The obvious question one would have to ask is: Why was the HDB and then the NEA so ineffective in getting in touch with Mdm Lau since 2004? It is quite unfathomable that Mdm Lau would not be contactable for 4 years.

    Was someone dragging his feet at the HDB or NEA?

    In Jan 2008, a letter of demand from the NEA was sent to Mdm Lee, giving her 21 days to return the $18,000.

    Sounds like one person **** up, made the payout, and now that the mistake is discovered, they’re trying to collect back the sum of money urgently to ‘balance the books’ or whatever.

    *Comments edited by moderator

  22. Ray said

    ^Basically covering their own asses.

  23. Dead Poet said

    Wonder when was the last time HDB was audited? Perhaps they will do it after 50 years

  24. The Pariah said

    If claimback is wrongful, then HDB’s and NEA’s latest offers are shams!

    IF there is grace within the legal fraternity, this is an opportunity to do some pro bono work and advise Mdm Lee BEFORE she has to decide on (a) taking up HDB’s installment plan offer or (b) considering NEA’s replacement stall offer.

  25. sophie said

    believe it or not, hawker case has implications on singapore-malaysia bilateral ties. 🙂

    Sophie’s World

  26. Baytahan said

    It time for the next election, we have not experience how’s the opposition runs the government if we dun give them a try, anyway it time for us to give the ruling party a 5 years vacation which they are entitle to ,from there the whole singaporean will find out the truth nothing but the truth of the past, present and future, as we have all witness the senario of the election rally, “WHO ADOPTED THE KIA SU CHARACTERISTIC” that makes singaporean follow path, so after the 5 years vacation, singaporean citizen will only decide truly from their wholly heart who should and shall not be entitle the vacation. let us make a choice once in a life time. ” IF YOU KEEP DRIVING ONE MAKED BRAND CAR YOU WILL NEVER KNOW THE DIFFERENCE OF OTHER MAKES CARS.

  27. lanjiao peng said

    This is just crazy. An old woman, with all good intentions, gave up her hawker stall and livelihood for the consideration of $18k. The HDB or NEA or whoever cannot now renege on the deal and claim it was a mistake and now demands the $$ back. It is pure high handedness and makes no sense.

    Imagine i purchase a property at $1 million and then 2 years later go back to the buyer and tell him “it was a mistake”. Will this stand?

  28. puit said

    From my offhand knowledge of the law, she shouldn’t need to pay 18000 at all because of promissory estoppel. She can always go to a legal clinic for professional advice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: