NEA statements inaccurate, says WP town council

THE only Workers' Party-run town council yesterday issued a cleaning schedule for its five hawker centres, in its rebuttal of the National Environment Agency's (NEA) recent statements which the town council said contained "inaccuracies" and "unfounded allegations".

The Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) sought to make the point that it would fulfil its obligations to clean these centres from top to bottom once a year, and bear all costs for doing so.

The AHPETC is embroiled in a dispute with the NEA over complaints by hawkers in two food centres in Bedok North that the council failed to clean the high areas of these centres, and sought to charge hawkers for the scaffolding needed for such cleaning.

A key point of discord concerns the cleaning of Block 538's food centre in March. The cleaning of high areas was not done as no scaffolding was provided.

The AHPETC said NEA had indicated that the hawkers would make sure scaffolding was in place.

But NEA disputed that at the weekend and said it meant hawkers would arrange for canvas covers to protect their stalls.

Yesterday, AHPETC vice-chairman Pritam Singh quoted from a Feb 7 e-mail from NEA to the town council which said "the hawkers association will make the necessary arrangements with their contractors on the scaffolding erection/dismantling during the spring cleaning period".

Mr Singh added: "We leave it to the public to judge whether any reasonable person would take the sentence to refer merely to the provision of canvas rather than the erection/dismantling of scaffolding itself, as NEA now claims."

He said AHPETC's contractor, ATL Maintenance, was approached by the hawkers for a quotation on scaffolding but "nothing further was heard".

If NEA had felt the arrangements were not in accordance with requirements, it could have "clarified the matter instead of perpetuating the confusion", he added.

He attached photos taken last year showing that AHPETC had cleaned Block 538's ceiling.

He then turned to the issue of whether town council staff had told hawkers they needed to pay extra for high-area cleaning.

The NEA had previously released a letter written by the Block 511 hawkers association stating that a Mr Tai from AHPETC had told them to pay extra. It said this man was the council's property manager Tai Vie Shun.

Mr Singh said: "Our property manager merely sought confirmation (on) whether NEA would facilitate the same arrangement regarding the scaffolding (in Block 511) as was done for Block 538."

In AHPETC's tentative plan for annual cleaning this year, food centres in blocks 538, 105 and 630 will be cleaned in October, and blocks 511 and 209 in November.

Mr Singh said AHPETC believed it was prudent to deal with NEA as the lead agency on the cleaning of hawker centres, "rather than other bodies such as the hawkers association and the Citizens Consultative Committee under the People's Association", so as to resolve issues without further complication.