30 years of GPCs

Lee Bee Wah: Fearless in not taking 'no' for an answer

Ms Lee Bee Wah raised funds for more smoking points in her ward, as they are the way to reduce harm from second-hand smoke.
Ms Lee Bee Wah raised funds for more smoking points in her ward, as they are the way to reduce harm from second-hand smoke.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Lee Bee Wah

At MP Lee Bee Wah's request in 2013, the National Environment Agency (NEA) piloted six designated smoking points for one year in her ward in Nee Soon South.

It was a success and she went to the NEA asking for points to be implemented throughout her constituency.

"And that was when they told me, 'No funding'," she recalls.

But the gung-ho MP wouldn't take no for an answer. She decided that if the NEA was not going to do it, she would do it herself.

She raised money from business owners and other Nee Soon supporters who shared her vision - and they have rolled out 42 designated smoking points. They are aiming for 50 of the 3m by 3m sheds where smokers are encouraged to take a puff in, away from the lower floors of housing blocks where their smoke could drift up to residents. The expansion is estimated to cost $500,000.

"If I can do something for the benefit of residents, then why not?" she says.

Ms Lee, who is chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Environment and Water Resources, had read in a World Health Organisation report that such smoking points are the way forward for reducing harm from second-hand smoke.

She is also a member of the GPC for National Development.


This was not the only time answers from the NEA and Environment Ministry had left her less than satisfied.

In 2012, she filed an adjournment motion in Parliament to speak on the issue of littering, where she asked if enough was being done to stop litterbugs.

"While the state of cleanliness is deteriorating, I understand that the number of litterbugs nabbed is decreasing instead of increasing. I just wonder, why? Is it because the enforcement officers are not in plain clothes, but in uniforms where people can then recognise them? Or is there a lack of usage of technology?" she said in Parliament.

She tells Insight that she filed the motion because she felt frustrated after calls on the ministry to carry out more effective enforcement did not seem to have much effect.

"At some point in time, I felt that the ministry went a little bit soft - it dared not carry out enforcement," she says.

The ministry kept stressing the importance of educating the public to her. But she felt education and enforcement should go hand in hand.

Since the adjournment motion, she has noticed a step-up in enforcement over the past few years, noting that the number of summons against litterbugs has risen.

Ms Lee is convinced that the GPC system works well, calling them an "additional link between Government and citizens".

She adds: "Through GPCs, MPs can put up residents' questions or feedback, and have them clarified, considered and improved upon. The GPC system also pushes MPs to ask more questions about complex or 'unsexy' topics (in their assigned domains). So they have helped to keep Government accountable."

Asked if ministries have tried to get her not to push so hard in public on certain issues, she laughs.

"They know that wa si bo tia weh eh," she says, using the Hokkien phrase meaning "I am very disobedient".

She adds: "I always smile and tell the minister, 'If you give me whatever I ask for, then we don't need to debate.' "

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 19, 2017, with the headline 'Fearless in not taking 'no' for an answer'. Print Edition | Subscribe