AHPETC-NEA Stand-Off: What’s Really Going On? (Part 1)

I finally took a proper look at the ongoing AHPETC-NEA standoff, after taking time off the ongoing MDA Licensing Framework saga.

I am losing track with all the sagas ongoing! You would remember the following:

  • The Aim Saga: The latest news was that Ms Sylvia Lim, Chairman of the Worker’s Party and the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council had, on 16 May, invited “them to make a report to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau or other relevant agencies to investigate the matter, rather than to make these suggestions and insinuations” against the Worker’s Party on the management of the town councils. This has been left hanging after Ms Lim had fired the salvo. The PAP has yet to follow up on this.
  • During the Punggol East by-election, which the Worker’s Party had also contested in and won, The Straits Times had conducted an election poll, even though one is not allowed under the Parliamentary Elections Act. Apparently, since 13 January 2013, “the case is currently being looked into by the Police” but there has been no outcome after 5 months now.

I had put together all the press releases from the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), the National Environment Agency (NEA) and some news articles from The Straits Times and the Channel NewsAsia, and put them in a chronological order in my research so that I would be able to obtain a more coherent picture of the story.

In my analysis, I had tried to look at the arguments for consistency and to identify what other information Singaporeans would need to decide with certainty the key issues in this matter.

Key Issue: Hawkers Had To Pay For Scaffolding?

On 26 May 2013, The Straits Times had broken the news that stallholders in two food centres in blocks 511 and 538 located within the AHPETC were in dispute with the AHPETC because “they had to pay for the scaffolding that is erected for the washing (of ceilings and ceiling fixtures), but said they never had to in the past (under the PAP).”

This is the key issue. So, let’s take a look at how the various parties had responded.

AHPETC’s Stand: We Never Asked Hawkers to Pay And We Do Clean Annually

On 29 May, AHPETC responded to say that, “it was the NEA … that informed us in February that the hawker association would be making the necessary arrangements for the scaffolding to clean the high areas” and that the AHPETC had not “advise(d) hawkers or anyone that there would be additional charges imposed by the town council (TC) on the hawkers for the cleaning”.

NEA had also sent out an “Advisory on Maintenance of Hawker Centres” on 31 May 2013 and which was reported “in the Straits Times and Zaobao on 1 June 2013”.

Accordingly, AHPETC then clarified on 1 June that, “It is clear from the Advisory that Town Councils do NOT need to clean the ceilings, beams and exhaust ducts at each spring cleaning exercise, but annually. It is also clear from the Straits Times’ article dated 1 June 2013 that (in spite of this) the Town Council had carried out cleaning of the ceilings, beams and exhaust ducts last year. We reiterate that no authorized TC staff told any hawker or anyone of any additional charges to be imposed for the cleaning.”

  1. In sum, the hawkers had apparently complained that the AHPETC had wanted the hawkers to pay for the scaffolding.
  2. AHPETC said that they had never asked the hawkers to do so.
  3. AHPETC said that the NEA had informed them in February that NEA would make the necessary arrangements for the scaffolding, so the NEA should have taken responsibility but did it?
  4. AHPETC also said that they had fulfilled their obligations by cleaning the ceilings, beams and exhaust ducts last year, which has to be performed on an annual basis.

So, the AHPETC had fulfilled its responsibilities.

NEA Changed Tack No. 1: AHPETC Does Not Want To Clean

When the AHPETC clarified that it had never asked hawkers to pay “additional charges”, on 3 June, the NEA then changed tack and said that it had “received feedback that the AHPETC does not intend to clean areas above 2.5 metres at another hawker centre.” From suggesting that the AHPETC wanted hawkers to pay additional, it was now reported that AHPETC didn’t want to clean the ceilings.

But the AHPETC responded that they do keep with their “obligation to clean the high areas annually”. And so, “To allay unnecessary anxiety caused to hawkers and the public due to the media reports, … the tentative schedules for annual cleaning of the five hawker centres within our jurisdiction” was released by the AHPETC.

AHPETC also reiterated that in an “email dated 7 Feb 2013, NEA informed the Town Council that “the Hawkers’ Association will make the necessary arrangements with their contractors on the scaffolding erection / dismantling during the spring cleaning period from 4-8 March 2013.”

So, the question is – why didn’t the NEA follow-up?

NEA Changed Tack No. 2: There Is More Than One Type of Scaffolding

On 5 June, NEA then changed tack again and said that pertaining to the email, “There are two types of scaffoldings. One is for the cleaning of high areas and it is paid for by the town council. The other is for the putting up of canvas to cover the stalls and the cost is borne by the hawkers.” Is this a new development?

NEA Changed Tack No. 3: AHPETC Cleaned At The Wrong Time

On 6 June, it was reported that the “dispute then shifted” and that hawkers at the hawker centre at Block 511 Bedok North Street 3 said that “cleaning of the hawker centre … should take place as scheduled in June and not in November”. So, now it’s not that the AHPETC wanted the hawkers to pay or that the AHPETC was not willing to clean the ceilings but the scheduling was wrong?

Is the NEA now confirming that all along, the AHPETC was going to clean the food centres anyway?

Fortunately, it looked like everything would be resolved when the Channel NewsAsia reported that, “Parties agreed that spring cleaning at the hawker centres at Block 511 in Bedok North Street 3 and Block 630 at Bedok Reservoir Road will be done within a month.”

AHPETC’s Reiterate Its Stand

On 7 June, the AHPETC released a media statement to clarify its position – a position that it has taken consistently. It said:

  • “Has any stallholder been approached by AHPETC staff or its contractors for the extra charges? If so, please make it public. AHPETC has investigated the claim and found the claim published in the press report to be baseless.”
  • All cleaning contractors employed by AHPETC are well aware of its obligation under the contract to clean the high areas of all the markets under AHPETC management at least once a year. Anyone who is interested is welcome to inspect the contracts.
  • It also said that because the NEA had informed the AHPETC that because, “the Hawker Association will make the necessary arrangements with its contractors on the scaffold erection / dismantling during the spring cleaning”, “The scaffolding was not provided as indicated” by the AHPETC. It was thus because the NEA had not carried out its duty that, “AHPETC cleaners were unable to carry out the work of the high areas”.
  • AHPETC reiterated that, it “did not ask or impose any additional charges for cleaning.
  • And the AHPETC went further by saying that, it would be “prepared to consider any stallholders’ request on cleaning arrangements to ensure smooth operations and to minimize disruption to their business and inconvenience to customers.”

In the second part of this article, I will discuss the other loopholes in the NEA and AHPETC’s arguments and the information that we would require to make a more informed understanding of this matter.

Part 2 of the article can be found here.

You can also see the infographics in Part 3 here.

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27 comments

  1. Sam

    If I am not wrong, I came across hawker citing $60 being paid to lay the canvas to cover their stall in old days. I reckon this expense was high for laying canvas alone only.

    • My Right to Love

      Hi Sam,

      If this is so, then the AHPETC would need to clarify as well. So far, I am putting this together based on the information that I can find online.

      In Part 2 of the article, I would discuss what other information we would need in order to make a more informed understanding of this matter.

      At this point, it seems to me that the Worker’s Party is more consistent in their arguments, but as I do not have the full set of information, since both the AHPETC and NEA has chosen not to release the full set of information.

      Thanks!

      Roy

    • hyean

      What’s with Ms Chin PeiYun? Can’t she simply read and spell Pradeep’s name properly? Why continue to spell as Predeep? Is she plain rude or she has some cognitive limitation? So irritating!

      • My Right to Love

        Hi hyean,

        Though she most probably was doing her job – but what’s happening now would be way above her pay grade 🙂

        I would cut her some slack though.

        Roy

    • My Right to Love

      Hi roy,

      Sorry, I missed your email.

      I think the letters help to put some things into perspective, but there are also some things which weren’t explained – who would look into e cleaning further, why did the town council relay the matter on the contract to the NEA? Is the NEA managing the contract or were they being referred to because the guidelines were being managed by them?

      If you ask me, both sides had not performed their job fully. But this is to be expected – in our own jobs, now often do we follow-up on everything when we become busy?

      I think the matter can resolved amicably and if you ask me, the WP had tried to do that and perhaps, even the NEA when engaged in internal discussions with the WP.

      But the matter kept being escalated into a political circus. So, the question is who has chosen to do that? Some people think it’s The Straits Times, maybe the NEA but as a civil service, this is beyond the NEA’s pay grade and the WP does not want to involve themselves in politics such as this because it doesn’t give them fair airing.

      Roy

      • sk tan

        Spring Cleaning at 538 Bedok North
        Please refer to the email correspondence between NEA and AHPETC below.
        Original Message
        From: Peiyun CHIN (NEA)
        Sent: Thursday, February 07, 2013 6:45 PM
        To: Pradeep
        Cc: Tai VS; Peng Siang LIM (NEA); Sze Wei TAN (NEA); Jian Sheng YAP (NEA); Andy
        Phua Son Kok
        Subject: RE: Next Spring Cleaning date at 538 Bedok North Street 3 FC
        Hi Mr Predeep
        Sorry for the delay as I was on course for the past few days, pl note that the Hawkers Association will make the necessary arrangements with their contractors on the scaffold erection/ dismantling during the spring cleaning period from 4-8 March 2013 for the above food centre.
        Thank You.
        Regards
        According to the subject of the email, the issue was about spring cleaning. The NEA officer also wrote in the email message, “the Hawkers Association will make the necessary arrangement…during the spring cleaning period from 4-8 March 2013 for the above food centre.”
        Please also refer to Today online article “Workers’ Party lying about hawker centre cleaning: Govt” dated 10 July 2013. It was reported that the minister, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, said “spring cleaning was done by hawkers once every three months while town councils are responsible for conducting and paying for an annual cleaning, including for high areas such as ceilings, beams and exhaust ducts.”
        As the issue raised by NEA is about spring cleaning, I believe that the Town Council should not be expected to do or answer to anything with regard to spring cleaning because – as Dr Balakrishnan had mentioned – town councils are only responsible for annual cleaning, not spring cleaning.
        It appears that NEA has confused spring cleaning with annual cleaning duties. Did NEA make a mistake?
        Did the civil service cooperate with the political leadership by making a mistake to create an issue to attack the WP?
        The email correspondence between NEA and AHPETC was taken fromhttp://www.ahpetc.sg/wp-co…

  2. Desmond Ong

    Just wanted to say that your speech at #FreeMyInternet was great, Roy.

    Enjoyed hearing you speak.

    • My Right to Love

      Hi Desmond,

      Thanks for this!

      It was my first time rallying the crowd and I’m glad I could find a platform to say what I’ve been getting across on my blog onto a larger audience!

      I’m glad you liked it! 🙂

      Thanks!

      Roy

  3. Pingback: AHPETC-NEA Stand-Off: What’s Really Going On? (Part 2) | The Heart Truths
  4. Gary

    Going by the exchange in the “email dated 7 Feb 2013”, and taking the probable “just a job” mentality of civil servants. Because the question was purely for dates and thus the reply given was dates. There is no mention of who will be paying. If both sides have the same assumption (based on contracts that the high cleaning is included), then there should not be any issue. But it seems somehow, someone from the AHPETC interpreted it to mean now the hawkers will be footing the bill (new practice). This should have raised questions on why is there a change in policy and confirmed it with NEA again. This oversight unfortunately gave PAP the ammunition to make a mountain out of a molehill, to deflect attention away from the more important issues, AIM, dengue, etc.

    • My Right to Love

      Hi Gary,

      I agree with you.

      As mentioned in the next part of the article, the in-charge of the contracts need to be clarified because the overall accountability should rest there as well.

      On top of that, the current fracas has occurred also because there are no clear lines and delineation as to the roles and responsibilities of the town councils – why are the town councils managing some aspects, and the NEA managing some aspects of food centers?

      The problem had arose because of the lack of clarity in the roles as well as the use of the town councils as a political tool.

      If we remove the politics behind it, there are clearly some people who might have misunderstood their roles and have missed out on following up. The simple thing to do is to say – oh, I forgot. I’m sorry, let me get to it now.

      But because it is claimed that some actors might want to blow this up into a political circus and thus all the actors involved now have to weighed into the matter politically.

      Now that it has become political, the PAP and WP simply have to keep up with the game. It’s no time for apology at this point, because anyone who gives in “loses”.

      Of course, to the common person like us, this is silly – because honestly, there are better things to think about or discuss, like our wages and livelihoods.

      The only way this will die off is when someone backs off. The matter was initially “settled” but Vivian had to throw himself into he fray, which thus caused this issue to be even more political, where WP simply had to come on even stronger.

      I’m with the belief that it will die there now because if Vivian doesn’t accept the invitation to discuss, he would be seen as cowardly. But if he does, I don’t think he would be able to hold his ground and it would have to go silent anyway.

      The best way out for Vivian is to let it go so that he doesn’t have to embroil himself in something he wouldn’t be able to handle. And the WP have said enough to protect their credibility, so this is fine as well.

      If both let go at this point, things will go back to usual because most Singaporeans are honestly quite perplexed by the whole episode and would rather it close than be bothered with it.

      Roy

  5. Yeo

    Hi Roy,
    Thanks for the write up of the AHPETC-NEA Stand-Off. Nobody has done it in chronological order! Your stories are mostly long to the details in your tirelessly pursuits of TRUTHS. I appreciate that 🙂
    Would it be a good idea if you could add in a timeline or a milestone chart for event summary, re-kept, recall and discussions usefulness? Thanks a ton!

  6. Desmond Toh

    I agree with Gary. It’s the TCs that has to foot the bill. Notice that similar hawkers’ claims that they have to foot the bill is perpetuated in the other hawker centres ?

  7. Pingback: Daily SG: 11 Jun 2013 | The Singapore Daily
  8. Pingback: WP reply to Vivian Gay....no horse run - Page 2 - www.hardwarezone.com.sg
  9. Yeo

    Hi Roy,
    Please take note of their email corrspondence http://www.ahpetc.sg/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Annex-A-Email-Correspondence-between-NEA-and-AHPETC.pdf
    It was NEA that cause the delay from Dec 26 to Feb 07 2013 (43 days). Reason given by NEA Executive Chin Pei Yun was she was on course for the past few days (Damn it).
    The AHPETC annual cleaning is scheduled in Oct-Nov. Looks like this 12 monthly cleaning is brought forward to Jun-Jul after NEA-AHPETC meeting in Jun 6.
    Please do not get confuse on the spring cleaning and annual cleaning. Spring cleaning can be less than 12 monthly.
    Please include the 2 letters sent to the media by Hawkers Ass. It was these assholes that start it without consulting relevant parties.
    Providing an all-round neutral analysis would be fantastic as we discuss and argue with all angles covered. When the TRUTHS are out, we shall POINT!
    Cheers 😉

    • My Right to Love

      Hi Yeo,

      I just realised why there was a confusion. Sorry, I had included the letter in Part 2 of the article and had forgotten to update this article to reflect the link to Part 2.

      Please see at this link Part 2 of the article and also, a link to the email thread:
      https://thehearttruths.com/2013/06/11/ahpetc-nea-stand-off-whats-really-going-on-part-2/

      In Part 2 of the article, I have also included the letters or “petitions”, as the NEA and the media had called them. I’ve also indicated how these letters were not signed off and cannot be considered as representative of all the hawkers.

      More details pertaining to the email conversation, the contracts and all the hawkers’ consensus need to be taken into account for us to justifiable understand the situation.

      As of now, I am more aligned towards the WP because of a read-consistency in their responses.

      Roy

  10. henry

    Thank you for collating the various media releases and postings from facebook accounts. You have helped me understand the issue with better clarity, and I would like to add some comments.

    Perhaps some explanation on what constitutes ‘spring’ vs ‘annual’ cleaning and what was the previous practices.
    No one knows about this and it is one piece of information that seems to beg for answers.. since its is related to “high places”
    and the present information suggests that annual vs spring cleaning is dependent on “high places” above 2.5 meters.

    Thank you again for sharing your views, I appreciate you putting in so much time & effort to inform, and in the process, educate and to enlighten. Thank you very much.

    • My Right to Love

      Hi henry,

      Thanks for bringing this up. Currently, I don’t have all the information about this as well.

      The news hasn’t been consistent as some of the information and facts hadn’t been reported – I am uncertain as to why this is so, so I haven’t been able to formulate fuller conclusions on this.

      Roy

  11. Pingback: [Infographics] AHPETC-NEA Stand-Off: What’s Really Going On? (Part 3) | The Heart Truths
  12. sk tan

    Please refer to the statement by our minister and the email below. The issue is Spring cleaning which according to the minister was to be done by hawkers. Peiyun in her email also said “the Hawkers Association will make the necessary arrangements with their contractors on the scaffold erection/ dismantling during the spring cleaning period from 4-8 March 2013 for the above food centre.”
    The Town Council was not expected to do anything. Why put the blame on the Town Council for something they were not expected to do? NEA must have mixed up spring cleaning with annual cleaning.
    “The minister said that spring cleaning was done by hawkers once every three months while town councils are responsible for conducting and paying for an annual cleaning, including for high areas such as ceilings, beams and exhaust ducts.” http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/wp-lying-about-hawker-centre-cleaning-govt By Woo Sian Boon – 10 July

    Annex A: Email correspondence between NEA and AHPETC
    Original Message
    From: Peiyun CHIN (NEA)
    Sent: Thursday, February 07, 2013 6:45 PM
    To: Pradeep
    Cc: Tai VS; Peng Siang LIM (NEA); Sze Wei TAN (NEA); Jian Sheng YAP (NEA); Andy Phua Son Kok
    Subject: RE: Next Spring Cleaning date at 538 Bedok North Street 3 FC
    Hi Mr Predeep
    Sorry for the delay as I was on course for the past few days, pl note that the Hawkers Association will
    make the necessary arrangements with their contractors on the scaffold erection/ dismantling during
    the spring cleaning period from 4-8 March 2013 for the above food centre.
    Thank You.
    Regards

  13. sk tan

    Definition of spring cleaning and annual cleaning must be made clear in order not to cause any confusion. “The minister, Dr Balakrishnan said that spring cleaning was done by hawkers once every three months while town councils are responsible for conducting and paying for an annual cleaning, including for high areas such as ceilings, beams and exhaust ducts.” http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/wp-lying-about-hawker-centre-cleaning-govt By Woo Sian Boon – 10 July
    The whole issue is about spring cleaning. Please look at the subject: of the email. It is RE: Next Spring Cleaning date at 538 Bedok North Street 3 FC. Why should the town council be forced to get involved in the spring clean?

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