Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Victor Lye: Town council should take responsibility for problems caused

ALJUNIED GRC MP Pritam Singh alleged that recent disputes over hawker centre cleaning and trade fairs stemmed from the "politicisation" of grassroots organisations ("Opposition politicians lament politicisation of grassroots, lack of progress since polls", ST Online, last Wednesday).

The truth is that the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), of which Mr Singh is vice-chairman, has repeatedly sacrificed the welfare of hawkers and shopkeepers in Aljunied for its selfish interests.

AHPETC is run by Workers' Party supporters who own FM Solutions and Services, its managing agent.

In June last year, AHPETC failed to clean ceilings in a food centre. The hawkers lost income when they shut their stalls for several days. Adding insult to injury, AHPETC tried to charge them $7,200 for the scaffolding required.

When confronted, Mr Singh and AHPETC chairman Sylvia Lim denied that the town council had tried to collect money from the hawkers.



Last year, AHPETC organised a 70-day trade fair that affected Aljunied shopkeepers' business.

On Oct 13, I asked Ms Lim for a private meeting. She took 18 days to meet me, and said she doubted the shopkeepers were affected. I then encouraged her to speak to the shopkeepers.

There was no action. The matter later became public when the media reported that AHPETC had called in the police to handle the unhappy shopkeepers.

Last month, AHPETC told Kovan shopkeepers they would be fined $1,000 a day, backdated for a week, because a tent, dustbin and a rope were 1m out of place ("Town council, PA in festive fair spat"; last Thursday). When shopkeepers highlighted this pettiness, Mr Singh backpedalled and denied any "formal fine" had been issued.

Why is AHPETC cutting corners, organising illegal trade fairs, and levying arbitrary and exorbitant fines?

To date, it has given $26 million of public funds in contracts to close supporters - $5.2 million handed over without tender.

Their managing agent is paid 50 per cent more than People's Action Party town councils - and it might be 70 per cent higher this year. Why is it paid so much more? Where is the money going to?

Mr Singh accused Aljunied grassroots leaders of lowering his standing. But it is Mr Singh and AHPETC that shirked responsibility, dismissed legitimate concerns and blamed others.

Aljunied grassroots leaders have been helping hawkers and local businesses seek redress for problems caused by AHPETC.

It is not surprising that Mr Singh is trying to cover up his sorry record, and blame his problems on grassroots leaders instead.

Victor Lye
Chairman
Bedok Reservoir - Punggol
Citizens' Consultative Committee
ST Forum, 4 Feb 2014









Grassroots leader hits back at WP MP's claims
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2014

A GRASSROOTS leader in Aljunied GRC has accused the Workers' Party-run town council vice-chairman Pritam Singh of blaming a recent slate of controversies in the ward on politics in the grassroots, to "cover up his sorry record".

Mr Victor Lye, who chairs the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol Citizens Consultative Committee (CCC), said yesterday in a forum letter to The Straits Times that Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) "has repeatedly sacrificed the welfare of hawkers and shopkeepers in Aljunied for its selfish interests".

"It is Mr Singh and AHPETC who shirked responsibility, dismissed legitimate concerns, and blamed others," he said.

Later in further comments to The Straits Times, he added: "He (Mr Singh) is casting aspersions on the grassroots, and I argue that he is politicising it, because grassroots have always been there doing its work... and is still continuing to do what it has been doing, which is to bond the people, and engage the people."

Mr Lye, who is also the People's Action Party (PAP) branch chairman, was responding to comments by Mr Singh at a National University of Singapore Students' Political Association forum last Wednesday.

Mr Singh had said that recent disputes between AHPETC and government agencies over hawker centre cleaning and trade fairs were due to the "politicisation of grassroots".

Grassroots organisations under the People's Association (PA), such as CCCs, have a fundamental purpose to "perpetuate the one-party state", and can be "politically motivated to lower the standing of an elected MP", the MP for Aljunied GRC added.

One oft-cited reason is that PAP MPs are appointed grassroots advisers, but opposition MPs are not.

But Mr Lye countered that the incidents were instead caused by AHPETC's "actions, misactions and inactions". He urged the town council to "take responsibility", and added that Aljunied GRC grassroots leaders have been helping hawkers and local businesses seek redress for problems caused by AHPETC.

Mr Lye, who assumed the PAP branch chairmanship from former foreign affairs minister George Yeo in February 2012, also accused AHPETC of politicisation, as it gave out contracts to close supporters. After a review of town councils, it was revealed in Parliament in May last year that AHPETC awarded the managing agent contract to a firm owned by WP supporters, and that the managing agent was charging residents a higher fee than other town councils.

The town council has also given $26 million of public funds in contracts to close supporters, Mr Lye added.

Another dispute occurred after AHPETC allegedly told Kovan shopkeepers organising a trade fair with the PA that they would be fined $1,000 a day, backdated for a week for encroaching onto town council common property.

Mr Lye accused Mr Singh of later "back-pedalling" and "denying any formal notice of a fine".

In yet another incident, AHPETC was last week summoned to court by the National Environment Agency for operating a trade fair without the necessary licence last month.

Mr Lye said that he was puzzled as to why it did not apply for the licence, as AHPETC vice-chairman Png Eng Huat had approached him on Jan 9 to ask for the CCC's support, which he gave.

He said: "Why is AHPETC cutting corners, organising illegal trade fairs and levying arbitrary and exorbitant fines?"

In response, Mr Singh said that AHPETC "seeks to maintain a professional working relationship with all government and non-governmental entities".

He added that the "desire for a constructive approach towards town management in the interest of businesses and residents also extends to (Mr Lye)".





CNY fair dispute: Town council 'not picking fight'
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2014

ALJUNIED-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) chairman Sylvia Lim said yesterday it was not picking a fight or engaging in a tit-for-tat exchange with the People's Association (PA) and merchants' association in a dispute over a Chinese New Year fair.

Responding to comments online and in media reports since news of the spat broke last week, she said: "Some people may want to characterise it as a tit-for-tat, but it's not."

The issue arose after the Workers' Party-run (WP) town council issued three notices for a fair organised by the Kovan Merchants' Association on land leased by the Government to the PA.

The notices said that the tentage and ropes for the fair protruded beyond the boundaries of the leased plot, encroaching on common property and flouting a by-law of the town council.

AHPETC has cited safety concerns to do with tentage being anchored to a railing instead of to the ground. But the merchants' association and PA grassroots leaders say the issues, which allegedly also involve a dustbin encroaching onto the council's common property, were rectified on the day AHPETC notified the merchants.

In her first comments on the issue yesterday, Ms Lim, who is also the WP chairman, reiterated the council's responsibility to residents and the public to look out for safety concerns.

As the town council is answerable for the management and maintenance of common areas as defined by the Town Councils Act, it will be held liable for anything that happens there, including obstruction and safety risks, she said.

AHPETC has issued a notice of offence to the merchant's association, but has not told it how much the fine will be, said Ms Lim. "We are looking at the circumstances and what will be fair."

She stressed there was no link between AHPETC's enforcement in Kovan and the National Environment Agency's (NEA) summons to the town council for holding a Chinese New Year fair in Hougang Central without a licence last month.

Ms Lim declined to comment on the latter case as AHPETC is due to appear in court on Feb 18.

On the spats involving AHPETC and government bodies like NEA and PA since the WP won Aljunied GRC in 2011, Ms Lim said the town council strives to have a professional working relationship with government departments for residents' benefit.

Despite "some hiccups along the way", AHPETC has had "good relationships" with many government departments, even some under NEA, Ms Lim said.

She herself has had very good experiences with the Land Transport Authority and police, for instance. "I don't think it's fair to say that we go along picking fights with people."



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