This is Part 2 of the article. In Part 1, I had discussed how the NEA had seemed to constantly changed tack in its argument, as the AHPETC had managed to successfully counter each accusation. In this article, I would explore loopholes by both parties and the information that we would require to make a more informed understanding of the matter.
Part 1 can be found here.
Who Manages The Contracts?
On 9 June, “NEA (then) released a letter dated 8 May from Aljunied MP and town council member, Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap, appealing to the town council on the hawkers of Blk 511 Bedok North St 3 Market Association’s behalf”, which it suggested “is proof Mr Faisal had considered the hawkers’ appeal against the town council’s requirement that hawkers paid the extra charges, to be serious and valid”.
AHPETC rebutted to say that what the letter, “showed was that Mr Faisal was aware that it was not town council policy to not clean the high areas of the market nor collect additional charges from the hawkers” instead.
So, who’s right?
More importantly, if you look at the wording of Mr Faisal’s letter, it had said that, “Mr. Chan said that he was informed by your good office that the contract with the vendors does not include the cost for cleaning above 2.5 metres above the ground”.
This is where it gets blurry. If Mr Faisal had to write to the NEA regarding the “contract”, then who exactly is in charge of the contract, if not the AHPETC? If the AHPETC had to write to the NEA, is the NEA in charge of the contract? Yet, the AHPETC had invited “Anyone who is interested is welcome to inspect the contracts”, so who is managing the contracts?
NEA And Hawkers Knew That They Had To Pay Additional Already?
The NEA had also released “A second document (which) was a quotation by the cleaning contractor ATL Maintenance for high-rise cleaning at the hawker centre at Blk 538 Bedok North St 3, for the sum of S$7,200” and said that, “this shows the contractor wanted hawkers to pay them separately for both the scaffolding and cleaning of high areas”.
But the AHPETC rebutted in their media release to say that, “It was the Market Association of Blk 538 Market that requested the quotation, as confirmed by ATL’s media release on 6 June 2013. Attributing the quotation to AHPETC is misleading and politically motivated to tarnish the reputation of AHPETC.”
So, did the market already know that it had to pay additional anyway? Did the NEA knew that the market had to pay additional anyway? Does it mean that the AHPTEC was right all along?
Yet, this continues to beg the question– does the AHPETC or the NEA manage the contracts? And why is it that the contracts are not released but only the quotation? Without the contract(s), how are we to sensibly make sense of the quotation?
A Petition With No Dates And Signatures?
The NEA had also released, “the hawkers’ petition to the media, dated 3 June 2013, saying the town council and its cleaning contractor had said told them “they will not clean anything above two-and-a-half metres”.
However, if you look at the “petitions”, they weren’t dated or signed. How representative are these petitions of the hawkers?
AHPETC Reaffirms Their Same Stand Yet Again
Finally, the AHPETC reiterated its stand yet again by saying that, “The Blk 538 market incident was caused by NEA’s email of 7 Feb 2013. NEA had confirmed that the hawkers’ association would be providing the scaffolding which was not done for reasons unknown to us. In addition, any decision for market closure came from the hawkers’ association and not from the town council, as it was not needed by us.
The appeal letter by Mr Faisal released by NEA pertained to Blk 511 Market, which is scheduled for cleaning at the end of June 2013 by the Market Association. Contrary to NEA’s portrayal, the letter evidently shows MP Faisal’s awareness that it was not the policy of AHPETC not to clean the high areas of the market during annual cleaning, nor to collect any additional charges from the hawkers; otherwise, MP Faisal would not have written to AHPETC to look into Mr Chan Kheng Heng’s claim.”
Who Is Playing Politics?
But yesterday, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan chimed in and said that, Workers’ Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim was “arrogant and wrong” to make a “political attack” on NEA. He had also said that, “It is obvious that the hawkers are speaking the truth.”
Obviously, many observers would consider that the PAP and the Worker’s Party are both playing politics, so it would be seen as a case of the pot calling the kettle black – perhaps one more so than the other.
But as to whether it’s obvious that the hawkers are “speaking the truth”, who really knows at this point? The only evidence that we have so far are the “hawkers’ petition to the media” that the NEA had released and AHPETC’s claim that they had “investigated the claim and found the claim published in the press report to be baseless”.
I hardly consider that Mr Balakrishnan could make such a sweeping statement at this point about who is speaking the truth. This is political.
NEA and AHPETC Have To Release More Documents and Evidence
All in, there are still some loopholes. I am more inclined to believe that the AHPETC is telling the truth because there is more consistency in their arguments. However, I stumbled at the point where the NEA had released a letter by Mr Faisal – I simply do not have enough information to make an informed understanding.
I am less inclined to align myself with what the NEA had said because of what seems like stances which flip-flop. The NEA doesn’t seem to hold on to a consistent argument but relies on new ones, as the AHPETC constantly defends itself successfully.
But in order for there to be clarity, the following needs to be released to the public:
- All the contracts involved, if not, the managers of these contracts – so that we know who should rightfully be taking responsibility, but has shifted the “blame” away
- The full schedule of the cleaning of the food centres in the past 2 years – so that we know what the regular schedule has been like and whether the demands made are reasonable
- An independent survey and/or report with all the hawkers to find out what their involvement and agreement in this issue is like – so that know if all the hawkers are agreeable to the current matter or only certain hawkers have been given fair airing
These documents would allow us to have better clarity on this issue.
The question is, would this issue end up as how the Aim saga had ended, where the Worker’s Party would invite the NEA to invite “the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau or other relevant agencies to investigate the matter”? Would the NEA remain silent after that as well?
Afterword: After I had written Part 2 of this article, “The AHPETC … invited the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan to a dialogue with the MPs in the council to “settle any outstanding matters”.” AHPETC Vice-Chairman, Workers’ Party MP Pritam Singh, had also said that, “the council has been consistent in its attitude and always prepared to cooperate with government agencies for residents’ benefit. “However, the Minister should not mistake this to mean that AHPETC can be bullied or is an easy target to be used by the government to score political points.”
As expected, the Worker’s Party had fired their salvo. To know how this will end, you just need to look at how Vivian went silent after making disrespect and disparaging remarks about politician Vincent Wijeysingha during the general elections in 2011.
Our Civil Service Are Pawns On The Chess Board?
Actually, the whole thing is very simple. When you have belief and conviction in what you do, it will come out in what you say. Why do I say that? When you believe in what you do, you would be consistent in what you say. I say that because in my emails to the MDA, this is also what I’ve encountered – there seems to be a constant shifting in the goal posts by the MDA, as does the NEA. Which is why I’m more inclined to agree with the AHPETC because their responses have by far been much more consistent.
The problem is when you start playing politics, the strategies you use are about keeping yourself in power, and sometimes, you lose what you had originally stood for. In my analysis, this is what has happened – has our civil service become pawns in a chess set, where they are powerless to control their own destiny, being that for years, they’ve been controlled by the PAP?
This is why the independence of our civil service and the other estates of governance – presidency, judiciary and media – needs to remain independent, so that they would always be held responsible and accountable for what they say or do. Otherwise, you can already see how the ridicule that has lent itself to the NEA and the MDA can be detrimental for the stability and strength of our institutions. When our civil service loses its credibility, and then when the government falters, what can we count on to prop our country up?
In playing politics, have our politicians become so short-sighted that they are willing to allow our civil service to languish and the reputation of the strength of our institutions to languish, at their pride and ego?
Have they allowed their personal interests to get ahead in the long term interests of our country and people? I am honestly quite tired that my country’s history and truths are constantly being manipulated out of our common senses. A country which loses its sense of history loses a wealth of experience that it needs to base itself on.
We Need to Protect the Freedom of Our Internet
This episode has shown us one thing – it is important that the Internet is free. When we are able to have an open access to information on the Internet, we can make better sense of what is going on in Singapore.
I am also better able to form an opinion of what is going on by sieving through the information.
If the government can successfully impose a $50,000 performance bond and to ask a website to take down its article within 24 hours, I might not be able to access information which can provide me with more insight.
Thus we need to take a stand to ensure that the independence of our Internet is protected. You can sign the online petition by #FreeMyInternet here to protect our right to access information on the Internet:
You can also see the infographics in Part 3 here.