HAWKER CENTRE CLEANING DISPUTE

Time for WP town council and NEA to move on: Low Thia Khiang

Town council will keep working with NEA to solve problems, says Low

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."

andreao@sph.com.sg