SRC members protest fund-raising for $16.6m upgrading plan, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

SRC members protest fund-raising for $16.6m upgrading plan

A group of 12 Singapore Recreation Club (SRC) members are planning to run against the incumbent management committee in an upcoming election, in a bid to halt the club’s second fund-raising call in two years.

In a statement to The Straits Times on April 18, the group named One-SRC said that if elected, they will suspend the implementation of the club’s $16.6 million transformation plan and the requirement that each member pay a $3,000 fee.

The club’s management committee had proposed the facelift at a town hall in February, which included a revamp of the 28-year-old building’s facade, new lounges and a co-working space, among other upgrading initiatives.

To fund the upgrading, it suggested that each ordinary, lady and corporate member with transferable memberships pay a $3,000 fee. It will dip into its reserves to top up the remaining. As at December 2023, there were about 4,700 such members.

This was passed after members voted in favour of the plans over a three-day period from March 24 to March 26, with 56.9 per cent of the 1,451 members that voted electing to pay the fee.

Some 43 per cent, or 618 members, voted against it.

The latest appeal for funds comes two years after each member paid $2,500 - for a total of $11.48 million - to defray a sum of $17.7 million to the Singapore Land Authority to renew its lease at the Padang till 2052. The remaining $6.23 million came from the club’s reserves.

Business owner Steven Ong, 68, who initiated the formation of the group, said he intends to run for president to “protest the wrongdoings” of the current committee.

The fund-raising drive, for one thing, came too soon after the club asked for funds for the lease renewal in 2022, said Mr Ong, who has been a member for 44 years. He said the club should spend within its current reserves, which stood at about $10.5 million according to its 2023 annual report.

He also claimed that there is a lack of transparency on the transformation plan and how the management committee derived the $16.6 million sum.

Mr Ong added: “Many members were unaware about the transformation plans until the town hall in February, yet we heard the management committee started planning this more than 18 months ago. We gave them the power to carry out such plans, and they did not engage everyone in the club. How can they be trusted?”

The election for 12 positions - including vice-president and finance member - will be held alongside the club’s 136th annual general meeting on April 27.

Mr Ong said his team plans to submit their nomination forms by April 19. If elected, they will update members on a regular basis about highlight management decisions and organise quarterly meetings for members to share their views and opinions, he added.

He also claimed that the club’s decision to hold the vote on the $3,000 fee over three days - which began after its extraordinary general meeting on March 24 - goes against the club’s constitution. Voting should be conducted on the day of the meeting, he said.

Mr Ong sent a letter highlighting the alleged breaches to the club’s management committee on March 26. He also sent the club a lawyer’s letter on April 1.

SRC’s general manager Desmond Tay said the club intends to respond by April 19.

The club’s president Chang Yeh Hong, 63, told ST it is the right time to start the club’s transformation now at the beginning of its fresh lease, so members have a longer time to enjoy the upgraded facilities.

“If we wait to build up our funds, we run the risk of safety issues that come with an ageing club, such as leaks and corroding pipes. How are we going to attract the younger generation to join when they see the building in disarray?”

He said a task force for the transformation project had in October 2022 sent out a survey to 393 members aged 25 to 40 to gather feedback and their “wish list” of facilities they hope to have.

In a compilation of survey responses seen by ST, more than 100 respondents listed 20 facilities, including a co-working space, arcade games room, rock climbing wall and a whiskey, cigar and wine lounge.

The respondents also suggested that the club make an effort to attract younger members, such as through events catered for families and children as well as networking sessions.

Mr Chang said the task force had also informally engaged the club’s more than 10 interest groups. However, several members that ST spoke to said they were not aware of this.

The club will begin upgrading work in phases once it gets approval from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), said Mr Tay. He estimates that construction will take about 2½ years to complete.

On the $16.6 million sum, Mr Tay said the committee was given an estimate of $15 million from a quantity surveyor after a preliminary consultation on the scope of works.

The remaining $1.6 million is to account for the development charge to be paid to URA.

Addressing concerns about the $3,000 fee, Mr Chang said members who opt to pay the full sum upfront would get back $1,650 in food and beverage credits, which they can encash by selling to other members.

If members choose not to pay upfront, they would be placed under a 12-month installment scheme and pay $250 a month. After the fee is fully paid, they would get $1,350 in food and beverage credits.

Asked what would happen if members do not pay, Mr Chang said he would “sit down with them and negotiate”.

“We want to make it less painful as possible for our senior members... We will work out with those really deserving cases and share with them what is the best way forward,” he said.

Mr Chang said a solution for older members would be to “transfer the burden to the younger generation”. He intends to propose a new membership category for “veterans” - those aged 65 and above who have been members of the club for at least 25 years.

Those who qualify can transfer their memberships to their children or younger family members at no cost, and they can continue to use the club without having to pay the monthly subscription fee.

This, along with another resolution to remove the fees that come with giving up memberships, will be put to a vote at the club’s annual general meeting on April 27.

However, those holding lady memberships have pointed out that they would not be able to qualify for the veteran membership.

Financial services manager Tang Whai Yih, 75, who has been a club member for 47 years, said she felt that lady members were being backed into a corner.

“We were told that if we want to qualify, we would have to pay $1,000 to convert our lady memberships into ordinary memberships. This is very unfair,” she added.

The option to convert lady memberships to the same ordinary membership as male members, which grants them equal voting rights and other privileges, was introduced in 2022.

SRC has 582 women holding lady memberships as at December 2023, down from 777 at the end of 2021.

Mr Chang said the lady memberships’ rights are as per the constitution and have “nothing to do with the management committee”.

Mr Ong said that if he is elected, he would review the “long overdue” issue of unfairness faced by women holding lady memberships.