Since 1959, the Singapore government has recognised that every citizen must be given a stake in the country and its future. Home ownership was seen as a means to achieve that. Today, home ownership in Singapore stands at 88.6%. About 74.3% of Singaporeans live in 4-room public housing or larger flats or private homes.
The registration of documents essential in ensuring the legal ownership of the property and entitles a property owner to deal with his property and that all other interests in the property are captured on the land-register. SLA being the custodian of all land registration documents in Singapore has put in place a robust property registration process, which provides a high level of assurance and ease for both buyer and seller. SLA introduced the STARS Electronic Lodgment System (ELS) in 2006 for instruments which allowed the registration process to be completed in one working day.
SLA’s key stakeholders include lawyers, conveyancing secretaries, financial institutions and individuals or business entities that buy and sell residential, commercial or industrial properties. SLA has put in place a Citizen-Business Engagement Framework which encompasses dialogues with the key stakeholders as a customer feedback mechanism and Case Tracking System to manage this process. From the dialogue sessions, SLA officers learnt of the difficulties faced by the law firms as a result of the objections raised against the documents lodged. These objections lengthened the registration process, which caused anxiety amongst the property owners.
The SLA team conducted a thorough review which revealed that of all the factors that led to delays in the registration process, the objection to stamp duty certificates (SDC) occurred 57.6% of the time. This percentage was twice that of the other factors combined.
In Singapore, stamp duties are payable on all property transfer documents, and are collected by IRAS. Payment of stamp duty was previously denoted on the document by way of adhesive or impressed stamp on the document. This practice was discontinued in 1999 when IRAS implemented e-stamping which allows documents to be stamped online, a first in the world. Since then, payment of stamp duty is now denoted on a SDC which is easily printed online after payment is made electronically. The SDC which shows the property identification, a unique reference number, and the amount of duty paid has to be attached to the document as proof of stamping.
SLA officers are required under the Stamp Duty law to ensure that the documents are duly stamped before allowing registration. They did so by sighting the SDC. However, this is not a fool-proof way of ensuring that the documents have been duly stamped.
As SDCs do not bear security features so as to allow easy printing online, they can be duplicated and forged. It is difficult to detect a forged SDC by looking at it without further validation with IRAS.
IRAS was concerned with a rising number of erroneous and forged SDC in recent years. As property transfers involve high value, the risk of transfer documents which are not duly stamped needs to be mitigated. On the other hand, a full-scale audit by IRAS to ensure that all registered documents are duly stamped would be very resource-intensive and costly.