Bukit Batok by-election

What residents want: Home improvements, estate renewal

Details of the renewal programme were put up during Mr Murali's walkabout last weekend.
Details of the renewal programme were put up during Mr Murali's walkabout last weekend.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Estate upgrading is shaping up to be a major issue in the by-election

The aunties in Bukit Batok are worried. They believe the new toilets and sheltered walkways they are hoping to get are at risk of being delayed, even derailed, by the by-election.

Says Madam Tan Siew Bee, 65, in Mandarin: "The aunties have been talking about it in the market."

Her block was picked for the Home Improvement Programme, or HIP, last year, though work has not started. Under the programme, the Housing Board will carry out work to fix ageing flats. Improvements to homes include repairing spalling concrete and installing a new and safer clothes-drying rack.

 

The residents can opt to have their refuse chutes and toilets upgraded at a subsidised rate: They pay an estimated $630 to $1,575, depending on the flat type.

The issue of estate upgrading is shaping up to be a major election tussle in the Bukit Batok single-member constituency (SMC).

Both the People's Action Party (PAP) and Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) candidates are taking pains to convince voters of their ability to run a town council because it plays a crucial role in upgrading projects.

As town councils propose and manage these upgrading projects, successful implementation hinges on their ability to carry out the plans through to completion.

In the past week, PAP's Mr Murali Pillai and SDP's Dr Chee Soon Juan have been arguing over the SMC's upgrading plans.

Dr Chee had taken issue with a $1.9 million upgrading plan Mr Murali unveiled last Sunday, and asked what happened to some $24 million worth of plans the PAP had pledged in last year's general election.

Last Thursday, Mr Murali said the $1.9 million plan was for one precinct in the estate, and it was part of a $23.6 million, five-year master- plan that former MP David Ong had announced in the general election eight months ago.

It prompted Dr Chee to question why it was not made clear that the $1.9 million renewal project was part of the $23.6 million plan.

He said he would continue with the PAP's plans for Bukit Batok should he be elected and added that he would suggest other upgrading projects, such as zebra crossings and more feeder bus services.

Mr Murali also explained last Thursday that the $1.9 million plan came under the Government's Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP), which is "funding-neutral". This means state funds would be disbursed regardless of who won the by-election.

While debate hitherto appears to have been largely driven by the two candidates, some residents say the upgrading plans are not pivotal in whom they will choose to back.

They say that, over the years, the constituency has enjoyed improvements, especially in areas that matter to them.

One vital enhancement is lift upgrading. It has been done in all eligible blocks in Bukit Batok.

Many residents also confess that they do not grasp the exchange between the two candidates.

For them, the dispute boils down to one question: Will my estate continue to be upgraded regardless of whom I vote for?

Cabby Selvaraj Marimuthu, 56, says he is generally happy with his neighbourhood. The blocksare getting a fresh coat of paint and cracks on staircases are being repaired.

"There are enough buses and coffee shops. I think we have enough sheltered walkways too," he says.

Such external upgrading works are less crucial to him than the HIP. "Things like fixing our ceilings and toilets - these are necessary because we use them every day," he says.

He hopes that regardless of the results on May 7, his block will be nominated soon for HIP.

Former Nominated MP Zulkifli Baharudin, who had managed two town councils in the 1990s, says it cannot be denied that incumbency comes with privileges.

"People want to see public facilities distributed based on needs and not politics. But estate upgrading can't be totally apolitical because the PAP Government can give priority to its town councils over those run by the opposition," he says.

But it does not serve the PAP to use upgrading as a carrot during elections "because if pushed too far, it might get to a point where people get frustrated and vote against them", he adds.

Upgrading was the one question housewife Tham Yoke Lin, 55, had for Mr Murali and his party activists when they knocked on her door.

"I'm waiting for the toilet upgrading. They tell me it should happen in the next two years," she says in Mandarin, adding that she thinks the project will eventually be delivered whatever happens in the vote on Saturday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 01, 2016, with the headline 'What residents want: Home improvements, estate renewal'. Print Edition | Subscribe