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.”
- In sum, the hawkers had apparently complained that the AHPETC had wanted the hawkers to pay for the scaffolding.
- AHPETC said that they had never asked the hawkers to do so.
- 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?
- 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.