In my Adjournment Motion delivered on Monday, I made the following points:
(1) The Government should have withheld in-principle regulatory approval of SPH’s restructuring deal unless $900 million had been left behind to SPH Media Trust.
In the past, SPH used the monopoly profit of the print media business to accumulate numerous property assets, such as the Paragon and Clementi Mall. These assets were sold for $3.9 billion after the restructuring deal. But only $110 million of cash and shares were left behind to SPH Media Trust to fund the loss-making media business.Media outlets around the world face challenges. But the Government could have achieved the same objective of sustaining and developing the local English and vernacular press over the next five years using assets accumulated from past media profits, instead of using taxpayers’ money.
(2) SHPL should be paid zero for the open market value because they did not pay the Government for the name value of the National Stadium and arguably did not contribute to any increase in the value of Sports Hub.
The name value of the Sports Hub has primarily come from it being a national icon, carrying the branding of the “National Stadium” and occupying the site of many of our national memories like the Kallang Roar.
The Government has not explained how the commercially negotiated market value of $300 million was determined.
(3) Based on publicly available information, the outstanding financial liabilities of SHPL seem to be too high, and SHPL may have accumulated reserves from the Government’s annual fee payments that should be taken over by the new Sports Hub holding company. The Government should only be paying about $600 million for the remaining financial liabilities.
The Government pays SHPL an annual fee of $193.7M.
In response to my query in Parliament on Aug 1 and in a Written Answer to Hazel’s Parliamentary Question on Sep 13, Minister Edwin Tong shared that approximately 65% of the annual payments (~$125M) goes towards SHPL’s debt service repayments for the loan they took out to finance the Sports Hub construction, while the remaining amount (~$68M) goes towards the day-to-day operations, maintenance, and lifecycle costs of the assets.
Details of the repayment schedules and financing arrangement are not public, but if we assume that the construction cost was fully financed by debt and the debt repayment is constant over 22 years from 2014 to 2035, SHPL will pay off $2.75B1 in total, with about $1.4B in total interest. This works out to an annual interest rate of more than 8%, which is implausibly high based on market conditions in 2010. For instance, at that time, Singapore Airlines was able to issue a 10-year bond at a 3.22% interest rate.
If the annual interest rate had been 4% instead, the annual financing payments would only be about $90M from 2014 to 2035. SHPL will pay $2B in total with about $672M in interest. The outstanding principal today, after 9 years of repayments from 2014 to 2022 inclusive, would be about $920M.
If my calculations that the debt servicing cost is only $90M a year are correct, then SHPL may have accumulated reserves from the annual fee payments by the Government. As Minister Tong has also shared that operating cost is $68M per year, then SHPL should have accumulated reserves of about $36M per year, being $193.7M – $90M – $68M, or $324M after 9 years.
Hence, the Government should only be paying around $600M for the financial liabilities of the Sports Hub, being $920M in outstanding financial liabilities less about $324M in reserves.
1$125M x 22 = $2.75B
The two deals will cost taxpayers $2.4 billion. $2.4 billion is enough to exempt average Singaporeans from two years of additional 2% GST, or pay for 10 years of ComCare payouts to the poorest Singaporeans. Instead, it has gone towards commercial deals which I believe are questionable, based on my 30 years of experience in business and financial management.
As an opposition NCMP, it is my duty to protect Singaporeans’ interests by making sure that the Government is spending the funds that it is raising from us, the people, wisely. Rest assured that I will continue to do this for other future major transactions.
For Country, For People.
BACKGROUND OF THE SPH MEDIA TRUST DEAL
Since 2010, readership of SPH titles has been on the decline. This has in turn driven a decline in print advertising and print subscription revenue. This eventually culminated in SPH’s media business recording a loss for the first time during the financial year that ended Aug 31, 2020, which amounted to $11.4 million. The loss would have been a larger $39.5 million if not for the Jobs Support Scheme during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In May 2021, SPH announced that it would hive off its media business to a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee, SPH Media Trust (SMT). Such a financial arrangement would allow SMT to seek funding from public and private sources. As part of the restructuring deal, SPH capitalised SMT with $80 million cash and $30 million of SPH and SPH REIT shares. This deal received support and in-principle regulatory approval from the Ministry of Communications and Information under the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act 1974.
BACKGROUND OF THE SPORTS HUB DEAL
Four companies: Infrared Capital Partners, Dragages Singapore, Cushman & Wakefield Facilities & Engineering and Global Spectrum Asia partnered with the Government as SHPL in 2010 to design, build, finance and operate the Sports Hub, which was completed in 2014 at a cost of S$1.33 billion.
The Sports Hub faced many problems since its opening, and it failed to take off as a space for public and community events. Sport Singapore (SportSG), a statutory board, eventually announced on June 10, 2022 that it would terminate the partnership with SHPL and take over full ownership and management of the Sports Hub from SHPL via a holding company on Dec 9, 2022, with contract termination costs payable to SHPL amounting to approximately $1.5 billion.
- Infrared Capital Partners is a UK-based investment manager focused on infrastructure assets.
- Dragages Singapore is a construction and engineering company.
- Cushman & Wakefield Facilities & Engineering is a global real estate services firm that manages commercial facilities.
- Global Spectrum Asia is a company that manages public assembly venues.