Monday, 3 June 2013

NEA vs AHPETC: Cleaning of Hawker Centres








Vivian to WP: Clean up centres and apologise to hawkers
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 12 Jun 2013

MINISTER for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan has called on the Workers' Party (WP) to clean the hawker centres under its charge and apologise to the hawkers involved in a long-running dispute over the cleaning of these centres in Aljunied GRC.

In brief comments to reporters on the sidelines of a media conference on dengue, he said: "I would say at this point in time, my advice to the Workers' Party would be: Clean up the place, apologise to the hawkers."

Only then would he agree to meet WP chief Low Thia Khiang.

"After the place is clean, the hawkers, NEA (National Environment Agency) and I will be inspecting the quality of work," he said. "At that point, I will be happy to invite Mr Low Thia Khiang for a cup of coffee with me."

He added that the hawkers should also be at the meeting.



Dr Balakrishnan was responding to a statement released a day earlier by the WP's Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), where town council vice-chairman Pritam Singh had invited the minister to a dialogue with the WP MPs to "settle any outstanding matters".

Mr Singh had also charged Dr Balakrishnan with engaging in "divisive politics" after earlier comments suggesting that Mr Singh had been untruthful and WP chairman Sylvia Lim was "arrogant and wrong" in alleging that the NEA was "politically motivated".


Yesterday, the minister said he stood by all his comments. The WP could not be reached for comment last night.

Hawkers from two markets in Bedok North and the NEA have said that the hawkers were asked to pay extra for the cleaning of high areas, though Mr Singh and AHPETC have denied repeatedly that this was the case.

That has been a sticking point in a dispute which began after one of the markets, at Block 538, was not cleaned in March when no scaffolding was erected.

Another point of contention was when the other market, at Block 511, would be cleaned. Earlier this month, Mr Singh had released a schedule for the cleaning of markets within the town council. Block 511 was slated for cleaning in November, but NEA later reminded AHPETC that it was due to be cleaned by this month.

However, the issue appeared to be resolved after representatives from AHPETC, NEA and the hawkers met last Thursday. NEA said AHPETC had committed to cleaning Block 511 and Block 630 Bedok Reservoir Road - another market in Aljunied GRC - within a month, without any cost to the hawkers and without compromising public hygiene and safety.




Beyond the Smokescreen: NEA-Hawkers-Workers' Party AHPeTC Saga - excerpt from Singapore Alternatives
" What WP and its AHPeTC have done so far was beating around the bushes without giving any concrete facts to prove that AHPeTC has indeed paid for scaffolding in past cleaning sessions. WP may keep insisting that it has not asked hawkers to pay extra but it is not clear whether it has closed both eyes for its contractor to ask the hawkers to pay extra for the scaffolding. It should know that the contractor has contractual obligations to supply the scaffolding. It is thus a mystery why it didn't stop the hawkers to pay for something which has already been contractually included for its own contractor.
While WP has issued a defensive press statement about NEA playing politics that may have certain merits but playing victim to the whole saga will only score some brownie points which may not woo the middle ground voters. Such political rhetoric is unhelpful for voters to understand what has really happened.
WP Sylvia Lim has stated in her Press Statement that her party will work towards the benefits and welfare of residents and stallholders. I do not see how leaving its clients, i.e. hawkers out of communication would be beneficial to anybody. I also cannot understand how it could be beneficial to the hawkers when WP just closed its eyes, shut its mouth and making assumptions when it is apparent that the hawkers did not need to pay for the scaffolding as it was included in the contract to ATL Maintenance.
What is more telling is that although ATL Maintenance knows about its contractual obligations in providing the scaffolding, it has kept quiet about it and happily quoted the hawkers the price of putting up the scaffolding!
All finer details have pointed to some bigger problem if we look beyond those smokescreen and political rhetoric from both sides. Unfortunately I would say that integrity is somehow lacking somewhere but I am not a bit surprised at all. "




Time for all parties to move on: WP chief
Town council will keep working with NEA to solve problems, says Low
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2013

WORKERS' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang sought to draw a line under the long-running dispute over the cleaning of hawker centres in Aljunied GRC yesterday, calling on all parties involved to move on.

Weighing in for the first time on the saga, Mr Low struck a conciliatory note, saying the WP-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) will continue to work with the National Environment Agency (NEA) "to solve problems on the ground and to address the issues".

"We should move on from the current issue," he told The Straits Times at his Meet-the-People Session in Aljunied GRC last night.

"I would expect the town council to continue to work with NEA for environmental issues on the ground, be it market hygiene, cleanliness, be it littering, be it the dengue fever issue, be it midges at Bedok Reservoir issues," said the MP for Bedok Reservoir-Punggol division.

The WP chief's comments appear to be an attempt to draw to a close an increasingly acrimonious exchange that saw WP chairman Sylvia Lim accusing NEA of politicking last week, drawing a sharp response from Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan.

On Tuesday, Dr Balakrishnan called on WP to clean up the hawker centres under its charge and apologise to the hawkers involved in the dispute. Only after the hawker centres are clean and inspected would he meet Mr Low, together with the hawkers, he said.

The minister's comments had come in reply to a strongly worded statement from AHPETC vice- chairman Pritam Singh, which included an invitation to a dialogue with the WP MPs to "settle any outstanding matters".

Asked for his response to Dr Balakrishnan yesterday, Mr Low said: "I would like to move on. So let's move on. And I think the hawkers need, very much, peace to do their business."

At the heart of the dispute is the question of whether hawkers from two markets in Aljunied GRC were asked to pay extra charges for the cleaning of high areas. Hawkers and NEA have said that this was so, while AHPETC has denied that the hawkers were asked to pay more.

Yesterday, Mr Low said the town council has been cleaning the markets and hawker centres and washing the floor every day.

"It has also participated in spring cleaning, besides annual cleaning," he said, adding that the town council also did the same last year.

Asked if he would go down to speak to the hawkers, Mr Low reiterated his wish to move on and said: "Whatever it is, the town council will have to do what is necessary."




Workers' Party town council invites Vivian to dialogue with its MPs
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 11 Jun 2013

THE Workers' Party-run town council has invited Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan to a dialogue with its elected MPs to "settle any outstanding matters", even as salvos continued to fly in the dispute over hawker centre cleaning in Aljunied GRC.

Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) vice-chairman Pritam Singh yesterday issued a statement offering the minister a dialogue on "this or any other matter in future, should he wish to do so", but not before charging Dr Balakrishnan with politicking.

Mr Singh, who is also an Aljunied GRC MP, rebutted Dr Balakrishnan's suggestion that he had been untruthful on whether hawkers had been asked to pay extra for the cleaning of high areas in two Bedok North markets.



That issue has been at the heart of the dispute, with the National Environment Agency (NEA) and hawkers from Blocks 538 and 511 saying that hawkers were told to pay more to have the ceiling of the hawker centres cleaned, and AHPETC denying this was the case.

On Sunday, Dr Balakrishnan, the minister overseeing the NEA, issued a strongly worded statement saying the hawkers had been consistent and truthful throughout the episode.


He also charged WP and AHPETC chairman Sylvia Lim with being "arrogant and wrong" when she said last Friday that NEA was "politically motivated" to tarnish her town council's image.

Commenting for the first time on the dispute, the minister said NEA's civil servants are "duty bound to protect public hygiene and to ensure that hawkers are treated fairly".

Yesterday, Mr Singh said that he and AHPETC staff had been truthful: "If the minister has any proof to the contrary, he should present this, rather than make sweeping allegations."

He cited prior statements by AHPETC to show that it was ready to cooperate with government agencies to serve residents. But this did not mean "AHPETC can be bullied or is an easy target to be used by the Government to score political points".

He also questioned why the minister weighed in after representatives from the town council, NEA and hawkers had already settled the dispute at a meeting last Thursday.

Following the meeting, NEA said AHPETC had committed to clean two hawker centres in Aljunied GRC within a month, without any cost to the hawkers and without compromising public hygiene and safety.

But that was not the last word on the matter, with both NEA and Ms Lim continuing to issue statements arguing their positions.

Mr Singh said Dr Balakrishnan had visited hawker centres in areas managed by AHPETC during the dispute and earlier in April, before the news broke last month. The minister could have reached out to all parties, including the hawkers' association and the town council, to resolve the matter amicably, said Mr Singh.

"The PAP constantly warns Singaporeans of divisive politics and clamours for an inclusive Singapore," he said. "However, the minister's approach appears to perpetuate the opposite. Accusing the elected members of AHPETC of arrogance and being untruthful does not help resolve matters."







'WP wrong to make political attack on NEA officers'
It's arrogant of Sylvia Lim, says Vivian; they were simply doing their duty
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 10 Jun 2013

IT IS arrogant and wrong of the Workers' Party (WP) chairman to make a political attack on National Environment Agency (NEA) officers, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said yesterday.

Commenting for the first time on a dispute over hawker-centre cleaning between an agency under his charge and a WP-run town council, Dr Balakrishnan said NEA's civil servants are "duty bound to protect public hygiene and to ensure that hawkers are treated fairly".


Ms Lim, who chairs the WP and its Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), had last Friday accused NEA of being "politically motivated" to tarnish her town council's image.

A sticking point in the dispute centres on whether stallholders at two markets in the WP-held Aljunied GRC were asked to pay extra fees for the cleaning of high areas.

Yesterday, Dr Balakrishnan called the episode "a completely unnecessary distraction" caused by the town council and its managing agent.

He said all town councils have always done routine spring-cleaning of hawker centres and "there is no excuse" for AHPETC to delay cleaning the centres in its wards.

He called on the town council to cooperate with NEA, consult closely with the hawkers and fulfil its obligations. "The safety of the public must remain our paramount concern," he added.

In a dramatic day, NEA and Ms Lim also issued separate statements, with the government agency refuting the charge that it was politically motivated and Ms Lim saying NEA was "contradicting itself".

NEA released three documents which it said, taken together, show that the hawkers of Block 538 in Bedok North had expected the market to be cleaned as per normal during the spring-cleaning exercise in March.

The first document, dated Feb 19, is a quotation by AHPETC's contractor, ATL Maintenance, for the high-rise cleaning of stalls at Block 538. The letter thanks the Block 538 market association for inviting ATL to quote and lists a lump sum of $7,200 for the "cleaning of entire premises", including scaffolding.

This quotation showed ATL wanted separate payment from the hawkers for both the scaffolding and cleaning of high areas, NEA said. This, despite being "work which clearly falls within the responsibility of the town council itself".

However, Ms Lim had clarified last Friday that AHPETC did not ask for extra charges. ATL's quotation was in response to a separate request by the hawkers and was not part of the firm's contractual obligation with AHPETC to carry out annual cleaning of high areas at markets and hawker centres, she said.

She noted that a Feb 7 e-mail from NEA to her town council - which the WP made public yesterday - stated the hawker association would "make the necessary arrangements with its contractors on the scaffold erection/dismantling" for the March spring-cleaning.

When the hawkers did not provide the scaffolding, the town council's cleaners were unable to clean the high areas.


Yesterday, NEA disputed AHPETC's claim that the hawkers had asked for the ATL quotation. It noted that "the hawkers have said that this is not the case".

The second set of documents released by NEA included a letter from WP MP for Aljunied GRC Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap to the town council regarding the other market in the dispute. Mr Faisal had asked the council to look into an appeal by the market association of Block 511 in Bedok North, over them having to pay for the cleaning of high areas.

NEA said his letter confirmed the "seriousness and validity with which the MP treated the hawkers' appeal against the AHPETC's requirements for extra charges to be borne by the hawkers if the high areas are to be cleaned".

But Ms Lim countered that contrary to NEA's portrayal, the letter showed Mr 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, Mr Faisal would not have written to AHPETC to look into the issue, she added. "NEA's assertion in its statement flies in the face of logic. NEA is contradicting itself," said Ms Lim.

The third document released by NEA consisted of petitions by the hawkers of Blocks 511 and 538 sent to the media last Monday. NEA said the letters reflect the consistent position taken by the hawkers throughout the incident, adding it stood by their accounts.

Yesterday, Block 538 market association chairman Tan Gin Xiong clarified that the hawkers there will be satisfied if the town council does not charge them for the next spring-cleaning. "We hope this episode can end here."




Exchanges following hawker's appeal to MP Faisal

ON MAY 8, hawker Chan Kheng Heng wrote a letter of appeal to Workers' Party MP Muhammad Faisal Abdul Manap on behalf of hawkers at Block 511, Bedok North Street 3.

Mr Chan gave the National Environment Agency (NEA) his letter, as well as Mr Faisal's appeal letter to the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC). The NEA released both yesterday. Here are extracts from the letters:


Mr Chan's letter to Mr Faisal:

"I am appealing to you for assistance for the coming spring cleaning at Block 511, Kaki Bukit Market & Food Centre scheduled for five days from June 24 to 28, 2013.

"On April 26, we had a meeting with Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, Mr Tai, and was informed that their contract with the current vendor does not include any cleaning above 2.5m above ground, and (for) any cleaning above 2.5m, the additional expenses incurred shall be borne by the stall owner/operator."




"Mr Chan said that he was informed by your good office that the contract with the vendors does not include the cost for any cleaning above 2.5m above ground and as such, the costs of such a cleaning work have to be borne by the stallholders themselves.

Mr Chan has kindly put forth his appeal in the letter enclosed. Please look into the case and assist the constituent where possible."




"Mr Faisal's letter on behalf of the hawkers of Block 511 "confirms the seriousness and validity with which the MP treated the hawkers' appeal against the AHPETC's requirement for extra charges to be borne by the hawkers if the high areas are to be cleaned."




"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."




Extracts released by NEA and WP

THE National Environment Agency (NEA) and the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) yesterday released documents giving competing reasons on why high areas in the Block 538 market were not cleaned.



"Pl note that the Hawkers Association will make the necessary arrangements with their contractors on the scaffold erection/dismantling during the spring cleaning period."




"Subject: Quotation for Market Stalls High-Rise Cleaning at Block 538, Bedok North Street 3

Thank you for inviting us to quote.

Scope of work: Provision of manpower, equipment, materials, chemicals, insurance and supervision for the cleaning of entire premises, consisting of 40 market stalls (Date: March 4 to March 8 this year).

Equipment and chemicals: Scaffold, warning signages, cleaning tools, machineries and chemicals.

Access method: Scaffold.

Lump-sum fee: $7,200, subject to 7 per cent GST."



"Our hawker centre was closed for five days, but... the ceiling, exhaust were not cleaned. We hope the town council will discuss with us on suitable compensation, especially given that the newspaper has reported the town council authorised person saying... it would bear all costs."





NEA 'duty bound to protect public hygiene and to ensure hawkers are treated fairly'


"This is a completely unnecessary distraction caused by the Aljunied-Hougang- Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) and its managing agent FMSS.

All town councils have always done routine spring-cleaning of hawker centres. There is no excuse for the AHPETC to delay the current cleaning programme. The safety of the public must remain our paramount concern.

The hawkers are honest, hardworking people just trying to make a living. There is no reason to charge them more for cleaning the ceiling. There is no reason to disrupt their business. The hawkers have been consistent and truthful throughout this entire episode. Either Mr Pritam Singh or the hawkers are telling the truth. It is obvious that the hawkers are speaking the truth.

The civil servants in NEA are duty bound to protect public hygiene and to ensure that hawkers are treated fairly. It is arrogant and wrong of Ms Sylvia Lim to make a political attack on NEA officers for simply doing their duty and for protecting the hawkers. I ask AHPETC to cooperate with NEA, consult closely with the hawkers and fulfil its obligations."





NEA politically motivated: Sylvia Lim
National Environment Agency says it stands by accounts given by hawkers
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 8 Jun 2013

THE Workers' Party (WP) town council yesterday accused the National Environment Agency (NEA) of being "politically motivated to tarnish the image" of the council, as the running battle over hawker-centre cleaning continued to brew.

Ms Sylvia Lim, chairman of WP and Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), weighed in on the issue for the first time, calling NEA's recent claims "puzzling and unprofessional as a government agency".

She maintained that AHPETC has never told stallholders to pay extra fees for cleaning: "Has any stallholder been approached by AHPETC staff or its contractors for the extra charges? If so, please make it public."

NEA responded with a one-line statement, saying that it "stands by the accounts provided by the hawkers of blocks 511 and 538, Bedok North Street 3".

The matter of whether AHPETC had told the hawkers of extra charges has been one of the key sticking points in the saga.



A Sunday Times report on May 26, based on interviews with hawkers from blocks 511 and 538, had said they were unhappy about being told by the town council that they had to pay more for the ceiling to be cleaned.

AHPETC said then that the high areas of the hawker centre were not cleaned because no scaffolding was put up. Both it and Ms Lim did not answer further queries.

Yesterday, Ms Lim said the claims in the press report were "baseless". She added that the NEA's attempt to substantiate the hawkers' claims with a quotation from a cleaning contractor was also off the mark.


NEA also said the council's cleaning contractor, ATL Maintenance, prepared a quotation for the cleaning of the entire premises of Block 538 including scaffolding. They said this implied AHPETC was aware of all the works ATL was supposed to do, but yet tried to push the costs of $7,200 to the hawkers, only to "deflect blame" when it failed.

Ms Lim said ATL's quotation was for a "separate request by the hawker association", and that all cleaning contractors under AHPETC are "well aware" of their obligation to clean high areas.

She also repeated the council's assertion that a Feb 7 e-mail sent by NEA about the cleaning of Block 538 could mean only that the hawkers would provide the scaffolding.

NEA has since said it was referring to scaffolding to put canvas covers on stalls, not for cleaning ceilings which the town council is responsible for.

Ms Lim said it was "ludicrous that a government agency would claim that its statement means anything else than what it says, and to change its position repeatedly".

She asked if NEA was "playing politics", as AHPETC had "positively responded" and "welcomed" an earlier NEA advisory reminding the council of its legal duties, which are to clean common areas while bearing all costs.

"It is regrettable that our attempts to resolve the issue amicably have not been reciprocated, with the Government taking the opportunity to point fingers at AHPETC, alleging that it was AHPETC which was 'deflecting blame'.

"Who is really the party deflecting blame? I set out the facts above and I believe that the public can judge for itself," she said.




WP town council, hawkers reach agreement
Dispute over food centre clean-up resolved after meeting with NEA
By Tessa Wong And Elgin Toh, The Straits Times, 7 Jun 2013

THE National Environment Agency (NEA) and a Workers' Party- run town council came to an agreement yesterday for the council to clean the ceilings of two hawker centres within a month and stagger the cleaning times so stalls will not have to close.

They did so at a meeting involving the NEA, staff of the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) and representatives of the hawkers at two food centres in Blocks 511 and 630 in Bedok. MPs in charge of the town council did not attend.

The meeting was held to resolve a long-running dispute between the NEA, AHPETC and several groups of hawkers over the cleaning of food centres.

A key issue was whether the town council or hawkers should pay for the scaffolding needed to clean the ceilings of the food centres and other high areas.

Some hawkers in Bedok had complained that they had been asked to pay for the scaffolding. The NEA stepped in to remind AHPETC that all town councils were obliged to do the major cleanup without imposing extra fees on hawkers.



After yesterday's meeting, Mr Richard Tan, director of NEA's hawker centre division, told reporters: "We note that the town council is committed to ensuring that spring-cleaning is done without any costs to the hawkers and without compromising public hygiene and safety. They will do the spring-cleaning in a month."

Earlier this week, the dispute shifted to when AHPETC should carry out the spring-cleaning for the food centre at Block 511, Bedok North Street 3.

On Monday, AHPETC released a cleaning schedule for the food centres in its charge. It showed that the spring-cleaning would take place in either October or November. A day later, the NEA responded to say that the cleaning of the food centre at Block 511 should take place without delay.

Hawkers who attended the hour-long meeting at NEA's office in the HDB Hub said they were "satisfied and happy" with the outcome.

The parties present agreed that the food centre at Block 511 will have its floor and tables cleaned later this month, and its ceiling cleaned next month. Block 630, Bedok Reservoir Road, will be cleaned from top to bottom later this month.

Block 511's hawker association secretary Chan Kheng Heng said they were told that the cleaning of the high areas would be done when there are "not many customers around" and "in segments".

Still, yesterday's meeting began on a tense note when Mr Chan asked AHPETC why it had taken so long to release its cleaning schedule and make clear to hawkers that they need not pay extra fees for the cleaning.

"I told them off. I said if you have a schedule, you should have told us earlier and not keep quiet all this while. They never replied to our e-mails," he said.

"We won't hold anything against them, we are moving on since they say the cleaning will be done without any hindrance to us. This is good for both residents and hawkers."

Representatives of AHPETC, including property manager Tai Vie Shun, declined to comment yesterday when approached.




Town council tried to deflect blame: NEA
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 7 Jun 2013

THE Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) tried to get hawkers at Block 538, Bedok North Street 3 to pay extra cleaning costs, and when that failed it deflected blame, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) last night.

In a statement issued hours after it reached a resolution with the town council about the cleaning of two other hawker centres, NEA sought to address one last issue - who exactly was to blame for the failure to clean the ceiling of Block 538 in March.

When NEA e-mailed AHPETC on Feb 7 saying the hawkers would make "necessary arrangements" for scaffolding for the cleaning exercise, it said it was referring to scaffolding used to put up canvas sheets over stalls, and not for the cleaning of high areas.

Hawkers are not responsible for the ceiling scaffolding and "this is a longstanding practice that AHPETC and its contractors should have understood perfectly", said the NEA.

The council's contractor ATL Maintenance had also prepared a quotation dated Feb 19 for the cleaning of the entire premises, including scaffolding. "This implies that AHPETC was aware of the full scope of work that its contractor was supposed to do, but tried to deflect costs of $7,200 to the hawkers instead of paying for the work itself," NEA added.

When the quotation was rejected by the hawkers, the town council's property manager Tai Vie Shun told ATL that the council would pay for all costs, it said.


It added: "The sequence of events and documentation show that AHPETC was trying to get the hawkers to pay additional fees for cleaning. When the hawkers refused to pay, an incomplete job was done, leaving the hawkers suffering business losses due to unnecessary closure. It then tried to deflect blame by claiming that the NEA e-mail had confused the town council and everyone else."

The director of NEA's hawker centre division, Mr Richard Tan, also said yesterday that the rumour that the employee who sent the Feb 7 e-mail to AHPETC had been suspended and disciplined was "not true" and the agency was "behind her all the way".





Clean food centre this month, NEA orders
For hygiene's sake, cleaning can't be postponed, WP town council told
By Elgin Toh And Joyce Lim, The Straits Times, 5 Jun 2013

A LONG-DRAWN-OUT dispute between a Workers' Party-run town council and the National Environment Agency (NEA) over the cleaning of hawker centres continued yesterday, with the debate moving from who should pay for cleaning to when the cleaning should take place.

The shift follows a morning visit made by Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan to two Bedok hawker centres at the heart of the row to listen to the food sellers' concerns.

They are in blocks 511 and 538 in Bedok North Street 3.

Shortly after the visit, the NEA issued a statement calling on Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) not to delay an annual spring cleaning of the hawker centre in Block 511.



The AHPETC had said on Monday the cleaning would be done in the last week of November.

But the NEA, in its statement, notes that the major clean-up, including the centre's high areas and ceiling, is due on June 24 and "this cannot be postponed".

Citing hygiene reasons, it said: "As a public service agency, NEA's main priority is to ensure that the standards of public hygiene are not compromised and the hawker centres well maintained. NEA imposes the same standards on all town councils and expects all stakeholders to act in good faith."

The NEA added that it would meet AHPETC and affected hawkers tomorrow "to ensure a fair and safe outcome for the hawkers and members of the public".

Responding to the NEA last night, AHPETC vice-chairman Pritam Singh said "all outstanding issues will be discussed at that meeting". He did not comment, however, on the call not to postpone the cleaning.

The controversy over who should pay for the annual spring cleaning has been on the boil since March.

It came to light last month, when The Sunday Times reported that hawkers in blocks 511 and 538 were unhappy that they had been asked to pay for scaffolding needed to clean the ceilings of their hawker centres.

A war of words ensued between NEA and AHPETC, which claims an NEA e-mail dated Feb 7 suggested the hawkers would set up the scaffolding.

In his statement last night, Mr Singh noted that the NEA did not dispute AHPETC's point that its Feb 7 e-mail had led to the confusion.

Yesterday, the NEA reiterated its position that all town councils are obligated to do the major clean-up without imposing extra fees on hawkers.

The practice has been in place for more than a decade, it said.

But it is "gratified the AHPETC has belatedly acknowledged its responsibilities to bear all costs".

"This is precisely the point NEA has been trying to convey to AHPETC all along," it added.

Meanwhile, 32 hawkers of Block 511 have sent a petition to AHPETC asking for the cleaning to be done as planned, in June.

Similarly, 36 hawkers at Block 538 have sent AHPETC a petition asking for compensation for loss of income from a cleaning exercise in March, during which the ceiling was supposed to be cleaned but was not. They, however, did not stipulate the amount.

Said carrot-cake seller Yong Heng Ran, 54: "We still had to pay our workers when the centre was closed (in March). A day's closure can easily cost us up to $1,000. Now, we are told we need to close for another five days in October.

"Have they spared a thought for the livelihood of hawkers?"






Hawkers seek compensation, smooth cleaning
By Joyce Lim, The Straits Times, 4 Jun 2013

HAWKERS at two food centres in Bedok have issued separate statements to The Straits Times, to seek compensation from their town council and an assurance of a smooth cleaning exercise later this month.

They arise from a dispute between hawkers of blocks 538 and 511 in Aljunied GRC and the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol-East Town Council (AHPETC) of the Workers' Party over the cleaning of the food centres.

Yesterday, hawkers of Block 538 in Bedok North Street 3 handed this newspaper a statement seeking compensation from the town council for failing to do a proper cleaning of the market in March, when the food centre was closed for five days from March 4 to 8. It resulted in a loss of five days' income for the hawkers, but "cleaning was not properly done", the hawkers said. Thirty-six out of 40 cooked food stall owners signed the statement.

Some 32 hawkers of Block 511, Bedok North Street 3 signed a separate statement in which they appealed to the town council for a smooth cleaning exercise from June 24 to 28, when the food centre is scheduled to close. They said AHPETC and its contractor had said they would not clean areas above 2.5m.

"This is not fair, given that we pay monthly conservancy fees, we are losing income by closing our stalls for five days, and yet the areas above 2.5m will not be cleaned," they said in the statement. They also called on the National Environment Agency (NEA) to intervene and ensure the town council was fair to them.

On May 26, The Sunday Times first reported that stallholders of blocks 511 and 538 claimed they had been told to pay for the scaffolding that is erected for the cleaning of high areas, when they never had to in the past. Last week, NEA issued a formal reminder to AHPETC of its legal obligations to conduct thorough cleaning of food centres, including high areas, without imposing extra charges on the hawkers.

Yesterday, Mr Tan Boon Hong, 65, who runs a snacks stall at Block 538, said the hawkers paid $140 each for canvas to cover their stalls during the March cleaning exercise, yet the ceilings were not washed. Another hawker who wanted to be known only as Mr Bai, 48, said the town council could compensate hawkers through rebates on their monthly service and conservancy fees.

Block 511 nasi lemak seller Mazlan Mohd, 52, said such closures can cost hawkers $1,000 a day, including rental and workers' fees.





NEA says more hawkers raise concern over AHPETC's spring cleaning exercise
Channel NewsAsia, 2 Jun 2013

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has said that it has received feedback that the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) does not intend to clean areas above 2.5 metres, at another hawker centre.

Responding to media queries, the NEA said concerns were also raised by hawkers at Block 630 Bedok Reservoir.

The comments come amid an ongoing dispute between the NEA and the AHPETC over who is responsible for paying for scaffoldings that need to be erected for the spring cleaning of ceilings, beams and exhaust ducts at food centres.

The AHPETC said hawkers need to bear the cost.

Some of the affected hawkers have said that from past practice, it was the town council that paid for the scaffolds.

The NEA had noted that the hawkers' refusal to pay was in line with normal practice.

In its reply on Sunday, the NEA said the issue of cleaning areas above 2.5m and AHPETC requiring the hawkers to pay for any scaffoldings, arose from the spring cleaning of Block 538 Bedok North.

"Apart from the hawkers at Block 511, we have also received similar feedback and concerns from hawkers at Block 630 Bedok Reservoir that AHPETC does not intend to clean areas above 2.5m," it added.

"For the spring cleaning at Block 209 Kovan starting 3 June 2013, we have been informed by the contractors that they will not be putting up scaffoldings but will instead be using long poles to clean the ceiling," said NEA.

The NEA also said it was in discussions with AHPETC between December 2012 and February 2013 regarding the detailed timing of the erection and dismantling of the scaffolding needed for the cleaning works for Block 538.

In that context, NEA said it had told AHPETC in February 2013 that the Hawkers Association will make the necessary arrangements with their contractors for their own preparations in relation to the erection and dismantling of the scaffolding by the town council.

The NEA said this though, refers to the need for canvas covers to protect their stalls during the cleaning of the ceilings and beams.

NEA said the protective covers are always paid for by the hawkers.

It added "there was no discussion on any change to the normal practice for the town council to put up and pay for the scaffoldings needed for the cleaning of ceilings during the March spring cleaning exercise at Block 538".

The NEA requires ceilings, beams and exhaust ducts at food centres to be cleaned at least once a year during major spring cleanings.

It has advised AHPETC not to compromise on public hygiene and safety.







NEA, town council war of words heats up
NEA slams 'misleading, inaccurate' statements
By Tessa Wong, The Sunday Times, 2 Jun 2013

The National Environment Agency (NEA) yesterday accused the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) and its vice-chairman Pritam Singh of making "misleading and inaccurate" statements, as the war of words over the cleaning of hawker centres was taken up a notch.

The NEA also released a letter from a hawkers' association to show that hawkers had been told by a town council staff member that they would have to pay extra to clean the higher parts of their food centres, contrary to the council's previous claims that no such statement was made.

The NEA responded after Mr Singh, a Workers' Party MP for Aljunied GRC, put out a media release on behalf of the town council, saying it had "duly carried out its responsibilities as required" in the cleaning of hawker centres.

He also said there was no need for the NEA to have sent the town council a formal notice on Friday reminding it of its legal obligations.

The dispute follows a report in The Sunday Times last week about a row between several hawkers and the town council.

Stallholders from two food centres in Bedok had said they were told by the town council that they would have to pay extra for scaffolding to be erected for scheduled clean-ups, whereas they never had to pay in the past.

Hawkers from Block 538 Bedok North Street 3 Food Centre complained that its ceiling was not washed when it closed for a spring cleaning in early March.

The town council subsequently sent a letter to The Straits Times Forum Page saying it could not clean the ceiling because there was no scaffolding, which it had been told would be provided by the hawkers' association.

Yesterday, Mr Singh said that the town council cleaned the high areas of hawker centres last year and so had fulfilled its duties.

He also noted that NEA's notice on Friday had stipulated that the cleaning of high areas needed to be done annually, and not every quarter.

Mr Singh reiterated that "no authorised town council staff told any hawker or anyone of any additional charges to be imposed for the cleaning".

Within hours, the NEA issued its statement refuting his claims.

It said that the high areas at Block 538 were not cleaned because the town council wanted the hawkers' association to separately pay the council's contractor, ATL Maintenance, for putting up scaffolding.

The hawkers refused, and referred ATL to the town council on Feb 19, less than two weeks before the spring cleaning was scheduled to begin on March 4.

"Despite this being acknowledged by the town council at that point, the scaffolding was not put up on the day of the spring cleaning," said the NEA.

"Mr Singh now says that, since the cleaning of high areas only needed to be done once a year, it did not plan to do so in March because such cleaning was already done last year. However, our record shows the town council also did not provide scaffolding for this centre's cleaning last year."

The NEA also released a letter dated May 8, written by the association representing stallholders at Block 511 Kaki Bukit Market and Food Centre. Addressed to the area's MP, Mr Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap, it said that stallholders were told by a Mr Tai from the town council that they would have to pay for cleaning of areas above 2.5m.

The NEA identified the man they referred to as Mr Tai Vie Shun, the town council's property manager.

Said NEA: "The sequence of events and documents clearly show that the AHPETC's claim that 'no authorised town council staff told any hawker or anyone of any additional charges to be imposed for the cleaning' is false."

The town council had also taken issue with NEA's notice on Friday, reminding it of its legal obligations. Mr Singh said it had wanted to meet the NEA on Friday but the agency rescheduled the meeting to June 6.

The NEA said yesterday it did not want to meet on May 31 as originally proposed by AHPETC because the council wanted to exclude hawkers from the meeting.

"NEA strongly advises AHPETC not to compromise public hygiene and safety," it added.

Last night, The Sunday Times learnt that market representatives of the Block 511 and Block 538 centres are preparing to petition against the charging of scaffolding fees for the spring cleaning of the centres by the town council.

They started collecting signatures from hawkers on Friday night and have about 70 signatures so far.






NEA sends formal notice to Aljunied town council
It issues reminder on cleaning of common areas
By Joyce Lim, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2013

THE National Environment Agency (NEA) has sent a formal notice to Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), reminding it of its legal obligations, after it failed to do a thorough cleaning of a market and food centre in Bedok.

The advisory issued yesterday to the Workers' Party (WP)-led town council stated that under Section 18 (1) of the Town Councils Act, town councils are responsible for the maintenance and cleanliness of all common property, including markets and hawker centres.

It noted that since the 2003 Sars outbreak, all town councils have been expected to do spring cleaning of Housing Board-owned markets and hawker centres under their charge.

The NEA, which has had a coordinating role in the spring cleaning of these hawker centres since 2004, said town councils must "carry out a thorough cleaning" of all common areas including drains, columns, floors and fans. "The ceilings, beams and exhaust ducts are to be cleaned at least once a year during major spring cleanings," said the NEA note, released to the media.

The NEA reminded the town council that it must bear costs of the cleaning, including the erection of scaffolding, "without any additional charges" as it collects monthly service and conservancy fees from stallholders.

It added that the town council will be held accountable for any hygiene or public health lapses under the Environment and Public Health Act.

The agency's reminder yesterday came after stallholders of Block 538, Bedok North Street 3 returned to their stalls after a five-day closure in March to find that ceiling and exhaust ducts had not been cleaned. Ten stallholders there said they each paid $140 to their committee chairman in March for canvas covers for their stalls during the clean-up.

They also said they were told by AHPETC that it was not responsible for the ceiling cleaning.

Stallholders at two other food markets and food centres in Aljunied GRC said they, too, were told by AHPETC that they must pay for the erection of scaffolding in order for AHPETC's contracted cleaners to clean the high areas. These centres are at Blocks 511 of Bedok North Street 3 and Block 630 of Bedok Reservoir Road.

All three market and food centres are being maintained by FM Solutions and Services (FMSS), the AHPETC's managing agent.

The row between the stallholders and AHPETC came amid a war of words between the WP and the People's Action Party (PAP) in Parliament last month over managing agent rates.

In the case of the Block 538 centre, AHPETC admitted it had not cleaned the ceilings and exhaust ducts.

Mr Yeo Soon Fei, its deputy general manager, later wrote to The Straits Times Forum to say that it was told by the NEA in February that the hawker association there would be making the scaffolding arrangements.

But "for reasons unknown", the structures were not provided for, said Mr Yeo.

The NEA responded, stating that "all town councils have always been responsible for paying contractors to erect scaffolding where required to clean walls".

The NEA also noted yesterday that the cleaning contractor had provided scaffolding for Block 511 during last year's spring cleaning exercise, while scissor lifts were used during the spring cleaning of Block 630, Bedok Reservoir Road.

Mr Wan Khow Wai, 62, who runs a cooked food stall at Block 511, said: "All this while, the town council would clean the ceilings and exhaust ducts and we never had to pay extra."

At another food centre maintained by AHPETC - Block 209, Hougang Street 21 - its committee chairman Lau Meng Chye said that for its cleaning next week, AHPETC told him that stallholders must pay to erect scaffolding as its cleaners will not clean areas above 2.5m. But because it did not issue a letter stating this formally, the 53-year-old has cancelled the scaffolding plans.

The town council did not reply to The Straits Times' queries last week.

A Straits Times check with 30 stallholders from markets and food centres managed by the other 15 town councils islandwide found all saying that they have never had to pay for the erection of scaffolding so that their town councils' cleaners can clean the high areas.

Hawker Raymond Tan, 56, a snack seller at 50A Marine Terrace Market for more than 30 years, said: "Cleaning is carried out by the town council on a quarterly basis. Twice a year, the cleaners will clean the ceiling and fans. We've never had to pay any fees for such major cleaning."



Related
Beyond the Smokescreen: NEA-Hawkers-WP AHPeTC Saga

NEA Releases Documents in AHPETC Case -9 Jun 2013
Props and Metal Scaffoldings for the Canvas Covers to Protect Hawker Stalls
vs
Scaffoldings and Height Access Equipment (i.e. Scissor Lift) for Cleaning of High Areas

Statement from Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources: NEA duty bound to protect public hygiene and to ensure hawkers are treated fairly -9 Jun 2013

What hawkers think of the hawker centre cleaning saga
Questions that ATL Maintenance should answer

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