Dedicated Land Leases for Religious Institutions

MP Jamus Lim

Assoc Prof Jamus Jerome Lim (Sengkang): Churches, mosques, temples, and other religious institutions are cornerstones of our communities. They provide succor for the bereaved, counsel for the needy and guidance for the lost. Many have operated in the communities that they serve for long periods of time – decades, and in some cases, centuries.

During the recent motion on affordability and accessibility of HDB, it became amply clear that property prices are high in Singapore in no small part due to the cost of land. And this cost is not only high, but exorbitant for institutions that are not fundamentally profit-making in nature.

The way some religious institutions have navigated this conundrum is to convert part of their operations into profitmaking activities: they hive off part of their property for columbaria, childcare, coffeeshops, and carparks – I suppose you need the 4Cs in order to make the other big C, cash. And the most successful of those operating with this model even build a super C – shopping centres.

But I believe that it is unfair to expect every religious institution to engage in commerce; after all, some may hold the view that their earthly purpose is explicitly to reject such secular activities.

One solution is to recognise that religious institutions meet societal needs that are poorly valued by the market and hence are deserving of special consideration for their class of land leases. This is the case for pricing for land for mosques, which Minister Shanmugam explained – in a response to Parliamentary Question filed by my hon friend Sylvia Lim – results in lower prices.

Another alternative is to adopt the now-standard PQM framework, which would place a greater weight on factors like the diversity of religious bodies in a given town, or the duration that a church or mosque or temple has served in a given community.

As I explained during the HDB debate, the Government already differentially prices land for different classes and uses of that land. These suggestions simply extends that logic to religious institutions.

Ministry of Law
27 February 2023

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