Town council tried to deflect blame: NEA

THE Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) tried to get hawkers at Block 538, Bedok North Street 3 to pay extra cleaning costs, and when that failed it deflected blame, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) last night.

In a statement issued hours after it reached a resolution with the town council about the cleaning of two other hawker centres, NEA sought to address one last issue - who exactly was to blame for the failure to clean the ceiling of Block 538 in March.

When NEA e-mailed AHPETC on Feb 7 saying the hawkers would make "necessary arrangements" for scaffolding for the cleaning exercise, it said it was referring to scaffolding used to put up canvas sheets over stalls, and not for the cleaning of high areas.

Hawkers are not responsible for the ceiling scaffolding and "this is a longstanding practice that AHPETC and its contractors should have understood perfectly", said the NEA.

The council's contractor ATL Maintenance had also prepared a quotation dated Feb 19 for the cleaning of the entire premises, including scaffolding. "This implies that AHPETC was aware of the full scope of work that its contractor was supposed to do, but tried to deflect costs of $7,200 to the hawkers instead of paying for the work itself," NEA added.

When the quotation was rejected by the hawkers, the town council's property manager Tai Vie Shun told ATL that the council would pay for all costs, it said.

But when the hawkers discovered afterwards that their ceiling was not cleaned, Mr Tai then claimed that the hawkers were responsible for the cost of putting up the scaffolding, said NEA.

It added: "The sequence of events and documentation show that AHPETC was trying to get the hawkers to pay additional fees for cleaning. When the hawkers refused to pay, an incomplete job was done, leaving the hawkers suffering business losses due to unnecessary closure. It then tried to deflect blame by claiming that the NEA e-mail had confused the town council and everyone else."

The director of NEA's hawker centre division, Mr Richard Tan, also said yesterday that the rumour that the employee who sent the Feb 7 e-mail to AHPETC had been suspended and disciplined was "not true" and the agency was "behind her all the way".

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