NEA rejects charge of being "politically motivated" in hawker centre dispute

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has refuted a charge by Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim that the government agency was "politically motivated" to tarnish the town council's image, in an ongoing dispute over the cleaning of hawker centres.

"NEA and its officers are civil servants who are duty bound to protect the safety of the public through ensuring high standards of hygiene. It therefore rejects allegations that any of its actions have been politically motivated," said the NEA in a statement on Sunday.

It came two days after Ms Lim, who chairs the WP-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), issued a statement asking if the NEA was "playing politics".

On Sunday, NEA also released three documents "in response to calls by the public for more information".

The first, dated Feb 19, was a quotation by AHPETC contractor ATL Maintenance for high-rise cleaning of stalls at the Block 538 Bedok North Street 3 market, one of two markets in Kaki Bukit involved in the dispute. NEA said the quotation, addressed to the hawkers association representative, showed that ATL wanted the hawkers to pay it separately for the scaffolding and cleaning of high areas, although "this is work which clearly falls within the responsibility of the town council itself".

Ms Lim had clarified on Friday that the ATL quotation was in response to a separate request by the hawkers association, and was not part of the contractor's obligation to carry out annual cleaning of the high areas in hawker centres. However, NEA disputed this on Sunday, as "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 Kaki Bukit Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap to AHPETC. Mr Faisal had asked the town council to look into an appeal by the market association of Blk 511 Bedok North Street 3, as the hawkers said they had been informed by the town council that they would have to bear the cost of any cleaning above 2.5m.

The final document consisted of petition letters submitted to the media on June 3 by hawkers of Blks 511 and 538. NEA said the letters "reflect the consistent position taken by the hawkers throughout this incident", adding that it stood by the hawkers' accounts.

The NEA statement added that taken together, the documents show that Block 538 hawkers "had expected the hawker centre to be cleaned as per normal" during the spring cleaning exercise in March.