Cleaning market 538 – as clear as mud


Last Saturday, I asked someone at a barbeque his opinion as to what Singaporeans were thinking with regard to the Aljunied hawker centre controversy. He said he didn’t think people were paying attention to it. Consistent with his observation, I had noticed that there was hardly any online talk about the issue, at least among my circles, but then it was also the same period when the government’s new restriction on online media was the hot-button issue. The latter could have overshadowed it.

Last night, it was revealed that Ng Kok Khim, the chair of the Block 538 Market Association, was a recipient of the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) long service award. With this twist, I am sure people will take notice now. What had been a highly convoluted, as-clear-as-mud issue is now easily reduced to a contest between Good and Evil.  Few things capture popular attention as easily as such a clash. Look at the blockbusters coming out of Hollywood and you will see this principle in action.

I have been reviewing the documents released so far, though several from the National Environment Agency (NEA) are absent from their website. Statements from the Aljunied-Hougang-PunggolEast Town Council (AHPeTC) refer to these NEA media releases, so I know they must exist, but NEA itself doesn’t have them on their website.

Two hawker centres (also known as ‘markets’) are embroiled in the controversy. In this article, I shall deal only with that surrounding Block 538 Bedok North Street 3. Because the details surrounding Block 511 Bedok North Street 3  (about 500 metres away from the former) are different, it is best not to conflate the two.

The controversy is over the cleaning of the “high areas” of Market 538, including the chimneys, exhaust fans, and structural spans supporting the ceiling. Ng and the association allege that, contrary to previous practice, AHPeTC asked hawkers to pay for the scaffolding needed to reach these high areas. The town council denied it.

A post on The Heart Truths has an infographic showing the key events or media releases relating to Market 538. Readers may find it helpful.

Despite spending an afternoon researching, please don’t expect me to provide a definitive account of what really happened. There are still many gaps in the story, but I think it has come far enough for us to form some opinion about what probably happened and how each side behaved.

The parties

There are four parties involved:

  • The hawkers’  association led by the above-mentioned Ng Kok Khim. From what has emerged so far, there is reason to believe that there was a political motive behind their actions. Alternatively, they had a misunderstanding, and then took advantage of the miscommunication to manufacture an issue for political purposes.
  • ATL Maintenance Pte Ltd, the cleaning contractor, who are in contracting relationship, not with the hawkers, but with AHPeTC. Throughout the saga, they have remained mysteriously silent, thus presenting us with several unknowns as to what actually happened.
  • AHPeTC, which seemed to have been caught on the backfoot when the controversy erupted, and has since performed in a rather plodding way in the face of crisis. So far their statements have been reactive, though I can’t see anything that they’ve said to be false or even mis-assumed. But nonetheless, their limited responses gave the impression that they had something to hide.
  • NEA, which, from what has been revealed so far, appear to be either incompetent or politically-motivated, or both. As a part of the civil service, it should always be scrupulous in party neutrality, but hasn’t shown itself to be so in this case. It has made statements that are contradictory, and at least in one instance, tried to point to “proof”  that actually showed they were wrong. The zealous, and highly accusatory role they played strongly suggests a political dimension to it.

More recently, there is also Vivian Balakrishnan, the minister overseeing NEA, who stridently jumped in trying to make political hay out of this issue, only to make a fool of himself, but I shall ignore him.

Early emails leave open questions

The earliest mentions appear in emails exchanged between NEA and AHPeTC, December 2012. On the 20th of that month, the NEA wrote to AHPeTC to say that, based on the hawkers’  wishes, the “next spring cleaning date” [sic] will be a five-day period Monday 4 March to Friday 8 March 2013.

This raises a number of questions for which I have no answers. Is it the normal practice for the hawkers themselves to set cleaning dates when the payer is the Town Council, and the cleaning contractor reports to the town council? If the town council is responsible, why doesn’t the initiative belong to them? That said, the NEA’s email did ask for comments by AHPeTC, so perhaps a consensus among all parties was being sought.

AHPeTC said in reply that they had no problems with the proposed dates, but then asked about the “staging/scaffolding erection and dismantling dates so that TC can arrange accordingly.” This already begins to confuse. If the town council and its contractor were responsible for scaffolding, then why does this question arise? Two possibilities I can think of are:

  • In this email AHPeTC used the term “staging/scaffolding”  to mean putting up the canvas covering over the stalls to prevent dirt from dropping into the cooking spaces. This would be a responsibility of the stallholders themselves, and perhaps AHPeTC was asking whether the hawkers planned to do this outside the five-day window or within it. It will have an impact on how ATL, the contractor, schedules its own work. This sloppy, confusing use of the term “scaffolding”  appears to recur through the controversy. In this article I will use the term “canvas covering”  to mean this protection exercise, in order to distinguish it from the staging and scaffolding needed to reach and clean the chimneys, exhaust fans, etc. Or,
  • In this email, AHPeTC really meant staging and scaffolding for cleaning of high fixtures, but there had been some prior communication (not disclosed) about who should pay for it.

Why should the question of who should pay come up? Didn’t the Workers’ Party and AHPeTC say clearly that they knew that the town council was responsible?

Major and minor spring cleaning

This is because there are two kinds of spring cleaning — more problems with sloppy, unclear terminology! Apparently, there is “minor spring cleaning” where the floors and areas reachable by a standing human are cleaned, and “annual major spring cleaning” where the high fixtures are also cleaned. There must altogether be four spring cleanings a year, of which three are minor and one major. AHPeTC noted in its media release of 1 June 2013 that NEA had confirmed on 31 May 2013 that this was the extent of the town council’s obligation.

Somewhere along the way, a hawker was quoted by the press as saying that minor spring cleaning was normally a two-day exercise, while the annual major spring cleaning was a five-day exercise. I don’t know whether this is true. But let’s assume that historically, this has been the case. If so, when the hawkers nominated a five-day period (4 to 8 March 2013), they might have assumed that it would be an annual major spring cleaning.

AHPeTC may take the view that it is not for the hawkers to decide when to do the annual major spring cleaning; it is for AHPeTC, since the town council is the payer. On the other hand, the hawkers could have reason to assume that the March 2013 exercise should be a major one, since the last annual major spring cleaning was done in March 2012. See photographs released by AHPeTC.

There seemed to have been some failure of communication at this point. Could it be that neither side was clear what they were talking about?

More likely, there was some additional, perhaps verbal communication, not yet revealed publicly. I have a suspicion that AHPeTC went back to the hawkers to say, look guys, the annual major spring cleaning for Block 538 isn’t scheduled until October 2013, but if you still want the high areas cleaned in March 2013, then pay for it yourself. It would be additional to the October 2013 major cleaning.

This would explain NEA’s email to AHPeTC on 7 February 2013, saying

. . .the Hawkers Association will make the necessary arrangements with their contractors on the scaffold erection/ dismantling during the spring cleaning period from 4-8 March 2013.

Hawkers sought their own quotation

My conjecture would also explain why Ng Kok Khim and the association sought a quotation from ATL Maintenance Pte Ltd for cleaning the high areas. They did this directly; the town council said they knew nothing of this request for a quote.

pic_201306_06The quotation from ATL, addressed to Ng Kok Khim and the association (click thumbnail at left) was dated 19 February 2013. It clearly says that the scope of work encompassed cleaning the high fixtures, and that it includes the erection of scaffolding.

After the controversy broke, I recall seeing a story in the press saying that the hawkers had requested for a quotation to provide only canvas covering. This was before the quotation letter was made public. Once it became public, it became obvious that whoever told the press (NEA? Hawkers?) that they only wanted a quote for canvas covering was engaging in disinformation. Worse, NEA tried to back up this claim, in its media statement of 9 June 2013:

. . . the documents show that the hawkers of Block 538 of Bedok North Street 3 had expected the hawker centre to be cleaned as per normal during the spring cleaning exercise in March 2013. This was why they had made arrangements for the period including putting up canvas as indicated in the email our officer sent on 7 February 2013 to AHPETC.

What on earth is “as per normal”? What sloppy writing! And most certainly the email of 7 February (quoted above) said nothing about putting up canvas, nor did the quotation that ATL sent to the hawkers association. It isn’t hard for a reasonable person to conclude that the NEA either didn’t know what it was talking about or was trying to mislead.

Even more to its discredit, the NEA accused AHPeTC of not having cleaned the higher fixtures at all in 2012, an accusation the town council could easily show was false. Why, you may rightly ask, was the NEA shooting so zealously?

All quiet for over two months, resurrected in June

Apparently ATL heard nothing from the hawkers after that, so one can surmise scaffolding was not needed after all and that the spring cleaning carried out in March 2013 did not include the high areas.

Then nothing seemed to have happened for two months or more, until late May or early June when the hawkers roused themselves again.

Amazingly, the NEA provided attachments showing what the hawkers wrote to the editors, but they look very strangely formatted. They don’t look like emails; they don’t look like snail mail either. They look like amateurish post-hoc reconstructions of whatever they sent to the media. I shall be interested to see whether the Straits Times editor will release what exactly the newsroom received.Once again, it is very suspicious why NEA is in the business of helping the hawkers speak to the public. Isn’t it for the hawkers to release their letters to the editors? Why the NEA?

On 3 June, they wrote to the editors of mainstream media, the NEA said (Media statement, 9 June 2013, para 5). What the hawkers said to the editors was interesting, shedding a bit more light into the issue. They said (assuming the fragment released by NEA is an accurate facsimile):

Our hawker centre was closed for 5 days from 4-8 March 2013, but cleaning was not properly done. Hawkers have spent $140 each to cover our stalls, lost 5 days of income, but the ceiling, exhaust were not cleaned.

We hope the Town Council will discuss with us on suitable compensation, especially given that the newspaper have reported the Town Council authorised person saying that cleaning of ceiling is within the Town Council’s responsibility and it would bear all costs.

So what can we surmise from the above? Firstly, that even without contracting with ATL, the hawkers managed to canvas-cover their stalls. It contradicts the claim that ATL was asked for a quotation for canvas covering. Secondly, the hawkers expected the high fixtures to have been cleaned (why else would they canvas-cover?).

The latter suggests that AHPeTC did not make it sufficiently clear to the hawkers that the March exercise was a minor spring cleaning. Perhaps AHPeTC staff were themselves hopelessly confused?

On the other hand, one could point out that the very fact that the hawkers sought their own quotation from ATL for cleaning of high fixtures — saying that the quotation was for canvas-covering is simply not believable — would indicate that the hawkers knew very well that there would not be a major cleaning in March. How could they continue to think that ATL would be doing the ceiling work at AHPeTC’s  expense?

It is here that a mystery remains. Who knew what?  Who believed what? Did hawkers really cover their stalls with canvas? Did they really believe the high fixtures would be cleaned by AHPeTC when their request to ATL for a quotation suggests that they knew well enough that the town council wasn’t scheduling it?

The resurrection of the issue after a hiatus of over two months cries out for an explanation. It is hard to eliminate the possibility that someone saw political advantage in raising the issue again.

The Workers’ Party’s reactive response

The Workers’ Party, which runs AHPeTC, responded in a manner that is quite typical of them — it focusses on answering the specific questions raised without sufficient attention to broader, implied questions in the public’s mind.

The trouble with only dealing with specific questions raised is that the light it sheds is disjointed and patchy. The bits of information revealed do not connect up (and as you can see from my inability to piece together the whole story above, they still do not add up). To the average person, if things don’t add up, there is cause for suspicion that less flattering information is being withheld.

One example was when allegations first surfaced that AHPeTC had asked hawkers to pay extra for the cleaning of high fixtures. In response, AHPeTC insisted several times that no “authorised person” asked hawkers to pay extra. For example, in a media release dated 1 June 2013, the town council said:

We reiterate that no authorized TC staff told any hawker or anyone of any additional charges to be imposed for the cleaning.

But when the hawkers of Block 511 (note: not Block 538) named the person they said told them they would have to pay extra, AHPeTC didn’t look so credible after all.

The NEA last weekend released a letter from hawkers at Block 511 Bedok North Street 3 stating that AHPETC’s property manager Mr Tai Vie Shun had told them they would need to pay extra for scaffolding for high area cleaning.

— Asia One, 7 June 2013, NEA “politically motivated” to tarnish WP town council image: Sylvia Lim. Link.

Still, Sylvia Lim was quoted in the press denying it again:

She maintained that AHPETC staff never approached stallholders to pay extra charges for cleaning.

“Has any stallholder been approached by AHPETC staff or its contractors for the extra charges? If so, please make it public,” she said on Friday.

— ibid.

While I can’t say I know the truth of the matter, I can imagine that AHPeTC may be technically correct, but their replies still fail to connect the dots. Tai Vie Shun could have advised the hawkers that if they wanted an extra unscheduled cleaning of the high areas, they’d have to find their own contractor and pay that contractor themselves. There’s a fine difference between saying that and saying the hawkers had to pay AHPeTC (“charges to be imposed”). The former was advice delivered in his personal capacity; it would not be a demand from AHPeTC for payment from hawkers.

Was that what happened? If not, why doesn’t AHPeTC say out loud what transpired? Why hide behind the expression “no authorised person”. . . .

One of the cardinal rules of crisis management is that one should seize the information initiative. One should not allow oneself to be yanked here and there by the other side’s questions, new ones popping up each day.

The party and AHPeTC should have  conducted a thorough internal investigation — better yet, should have commissioned independent third parties to join the review — and announced the full findings. They should have done this urgently; have it completed within three days. If there had been miscommunication or oversight, then admit it. Voters aren’t  unforgiving; people can understand small slip-ups and misunderstandings.

I do not think AHPeTC has any major skeleton to hide in its closet, for here is an outfit that has run Hougang for years and years. It has also managed Aljunied for the whole of 2012 with its scheduled major and minor spring cleanings. It is almost inconceivable that they do not know the regulations concerning cleaning of markets. But the halting, piecemeal way they went about defending themselves, issuing cryptic, partial responses and failing to anticipate the implied questions, did them no favours at all.

47 Responses to “Cleaning market 538 – as clear as mud”

  1. 1 James Tan 13 June 2013 at 05:14

    Only an idiot would think that AHPETC is solely responsible for this cooked up saga. The hawkers,the NEA and the MEWR also have a lot to answer for. What is so obvious is the weight throwing by the so called public service agencies and worse still the minister in charge. Talk of arrogance? Did he never learn from his remarks about the poor when he was in charge of MICA?

  2. 2 Ziggy 13 June 2013 at 05:48

    Honestly, this isn’t even a major issue. Mature adults should be able to sit down and work out the problem. The fact that the PAP(sorry, I mean NEA) is kicking up such a fuss over such a small petty issue only shows how desperate they are. Imagine how bad it will look for them when the residents of Aljunied elect the WP for a second term in 2016. All that talk of “5 years to repent” will sound very silly indeed.

  3. 3 Pretzel 13 June 2013 at 08:32

    Honestly, if this was a dispute with a PAP TC, would this garner so much publicity i.e. in MSM? It was very political in nature at the beginning with NEA starting the arm twisting even without concrete & evidential proof.

    Good point to note that you have leave out Dr Bala’s involvement in this whole affair. Not only does it come too late, there’s nothing new to add but just assertions. No matter how false they may be.

    WP was already on the face of onslaught over AIM and it’s crumbs. This is a new attack to keep them unbalanced. I would have done the same if caught in the same situation. Bear in mind that this was reported months after the incident happened. And the allegations(?) (by NEA) that start straying from the original intention leaves much to be desired.

    I feel what WP had done right was to counter each point with facts. Can’t say the same for the ones in white….

  4. 4 ricardo 13 June 2013 at 08:45

    This is a storm in a teacup.

    Once the Min. of Truth has finished coercing … I mean obtaining the enthusiastic and patriotc cooperation … of the intenet, ALL records, both public and private, will show that … whatever the issue ..

    – the Worker’s Party were at fault
    – Big Brother’s representative, ie Balakrishnan, stepped in and saved the day.

    Once history has been corrected, the Min. of Love (aka DPM Teo’s ISD) will award free extended holidays to those with faulty memory..

  5. 5 daniel 13 June 2013 at 08:50

    As you have pointed out, some parts of the communcation may have been done by phone, leaving them no way to prove, unless they record that as well. That is why it is important to tell the other party to write in for important things to keep it formal and for record in case things cropped up in future.

  6. 7 dorris 13 June 2013 at 09:07

    Dr Vivian Balakrishnan doesn’t know his priority. Instead of tackling the Dengue menace, he is trying hard to score political points and making a fool of himself by doing so. What more does he want? 9000 cases, 90,0000 cases or 900,000 cases of Dengue? Such arrogance to pat himself on the back saying the death rate has fallen when the peak season has just begun. At this rate, he could break our record yet again, aside from bursting the YOG budget by 300%.

    • 8 JeopardyAce 13 June 2013 at 17:02

      VB is the classic example of an empty vessel makes the most noise, he hits every single note of this idiom to perfect pitch. Refer to GE2011 campaigning of his infamous remarks towards his opponents in Holland-BT GRC and now this fiasco.

  7. 9 ape@kinjioleaf 13 June 2013 at 09:40

    Two questions came to my mind.
    How was the major spring cleaning carried out in 2012 for these markets?
    How are major spring cleaning carried out in other constituencies?

  8. 10 Jammie Wong 13 June 2013 at 09:53

    “Even more to its discredit, the NEA accused AHPeTC of not having cleaned the higher fixtures at all in 2012” …is FALSE.

    NEA doubted whether the Town Council provided the scaffolding in March 2012 cleaning.

    “However, our record shows the town council also did not provide scaffolding for this centre’s cleaning last year.”

    • 11 yawningbread 13 June 2013 at 10:28

      Has WP refuted this? If not, it’s serious.

    • 12 ape@kinjioleaf 13 June 2013 at 19:40

      Interesting. If NEAs record shows AHPeTC did not carry out cleaning of high areas last year, did NEA take follow-up actions such ss warning/reminders?
      Also, if AHPeTC did their part, they could also have shown proof that the works have been carried out dutifully.
      So far, it seems to me that Low TK made the most sensible statement. Resolve the matter. Move on. Let the hawkers continue their business in peace.

    • 13 xavi 14 June 2013 at 02:51

      so why dint the NEA bring this up then?

  9. 14 ah loong 13 June 2013 at 10:22

    as a thought leader, alex, if you say vivian is a fool, people would vote him out 2016 causing the world to end

  10. 16 Hsq 13 June 2013 at 12:51

    i think all these wayang is specially performed just for the eyes of the daft 60.1 %. Not for the enlightened.

  11. 17 Alan 13 June 2013 at 15:41

    It appears the modus operandi of the whole gang seems to throw the shit at WP for them to answer first, never mind whether it is true or not. Just like the style of our old hero.

    • 18 Chow 14 June 2013 at 09:03

      It’s their modus operandi. Throw all the shit in the bucket, borrow some from the neighbours, and hope that some of it sticks.

      It strikes me that no other Minister or MP came out to stick their oar in. Nobody, with the exception of Vivian B. Perhaps, like the White House and the Kremlin, there’s a little red emergency phone from the ghq to Aljunied and someone called someone else, learnt that it was all a mirage and told all those willing to listen that it was a non-issue.

  12. 19 SashaQueenie 13 June 2013 at 16:04

    Has anyone interviewed this Tai Vie Shun guy?

  13. 21 Nathan Prince 13 June 2013 at 17:08

    I think Ng Kok Khim should come out to say something instead of hiding behind the market association.

  14. 22 George 13 June 2013 at 17:28

    I have been to hawker centres in PAP held wards where I have to watch my steps negotiating my way through the dark filthy conditions. Two of them are in Vivian Bala’s own ward! Pot calling the kettle black.

  15. 23 Jayden 13 June 2013 at 23:28

    I’ve two points that still remain unanswered,
    1. Why the hawkers not informed were of the annual main cleaning dates, and
    2. If they were indeed made aware, for this years spring cleanings for block 538 – March (annual cleaning – last week of Oct) and block 511 – Jun (annual cleaning – last week of Nov), why suddenly the hawkers is of the understanding that cleaning of high places will take place during the spring cleanings and ahpetc to foot the bill ?

    Don’t tell me they wanted it cleaned themselves(unbelievable to me, at least) and last minute decide that the quote was too expensive and then hope to pass it over to ahpetc ?

  16. 24 JG 13 June 2013 at 23:32

    This spat is, in part, stirred by irresponsible reporting by the ST. The ST thought they’d got a “gotcha” incident and, without checking the facts thoroughly, provided piecemeal, inaccurate, incomplete reporting. It made this a far bigger issue than it ought to be and overnight, politicised it. Stupid NEA and Vivian jumped into the fray.

    It got to the extent that the facts really does not matter anymore; in fact, the welfare of the hawkers are incidental. It becomes about not losing face anymore.

    ST has behaved exactly like Utusan Melayu is to UMNO — “Apa lagi Cina mahu”? If any media needs to be reigned in (and fined the $50k and have reporters jailed), its the ST.

  17. 25 Jasmine 14 June 2013 at 00:00

    “Our hawker centre was closed for 5 days from 4-8 March 2013, but cleaning was not properly done. Hawkers have spent $140 each to cover our stalls, lost 5 days of income, but the ceiling, exhaust were not cleaned.”

    So if ATL’s services weren’t used, then who are hawkers paying $140 each to? And it costs $140 just to have each stall covered? That sounds pretty steep to me.

  18. 26 Alan 14 June 2013 at 10:53

    Did that stupid Minister really said that honest and hardworking hawkers should not be charged for the scaffolding just because they are making an honest living?

    Then why does our PAP Govt make everyone of us pay a bomb for our HDB flats just when everyone of us are truly making an honest living? Then why say that not charging us for the land is a raid on our reserves when the acquired land costs cost them next to nothing?

    They only speak for us peasants when the situation suits them politically, don’t they?

  19. 27 Raju 14 June 2013 at 11:15

    Did they really believe the high fixtures would be cleaned by AHPeTC when their request to ATL for a quotation suggests that they knew well enough that the town council wasn’t scheduling it?

    I should think so. Why else did they pay the $140 each to cover their stalls ? Close 5 days just to spring clean ?

  20. 28 Daveze 14 June 2013 at 12:06

    I think AHPTC should take responsibility for this and apologize. for a few reasons

    1. Why was it NEA who initiate or liaise with the hawkers? I’m not sure if this is part of any political games but AHPTC should have taken the initiative and not leave it other parties.

    2. if its clearly their responsibility to provide the cleaning of high areas, they failed to do so. The fault rest on them. They should not have asked NEA who should provide the staging/scaffolding in the first place. Did they ask out of ignorance, trying to ‘tai-chi’ the cost or was there a prior discussion on this? this leads to the next point.

    3. as Alex pointed out, AHPTC has not been forthcoming with all the facts.

    • 29 yawningbread 14 June 2013 at 12:19

      You’re not getting the point I was making. It is the AHPeTC’s responsibility to provide scaffolding when it is time to do do major annual spring cleaning. But there seems to have been some misunderstanding over whether the March exercise was minor or major springcleaning. It appears that NEA and certain lead hawkers seized upon this to make political hay, when they may be just as much at fault, if not more.

  21. 30 yawningbread 14 June 2013 at 12:22

    Ng E-Jay came to similar conclusions about the roots of the saga — see his article at .

    To truly understand what happened, more details about the events LEADING up to March 2013 must be available, especially the ATL quotation. At present all we’re getting are denials or silences. And some denials from Ng Kok Khim, etc, are just not believable.

    • 31 Daveze 14 June 2013 at 15:13

      E-Jay says what I would like to reply:

      “The onus should have been on AHPETC to follow up and check why the hawkers were making such an arrangement, given that this should be under the town council’s scope of duties. AHPETC probably thought all along that the hawkers wanted an additional major cleaning in addition to the mandatory one set by NEA guidelines, and so took the initiative to have these arrangements done. Normally, AHPETC would be the one making such arrangements”

      AHPETC should be taking charge of matters and find out, make decisions, communicate to the hawkers whether this is a minor or major cleaning. Not the other way round. I agree, PAP seized this chance to blow things up and make AHPETC look bad but I think AHPETC have themselves to blame for giving them that chance.

  22. 33 CC 14 June 2013 at 13:41

    Agree with Alex. The denial by Ng Kok Khim is not believable at all.
    Ng said so himself that 5 quotations were asked for, and one of the contractors got the job. At this point, it appeared they have not solicited ATL for the job, let alone giving ATL the job. Therefore, the original (or intended) cleaning up part has been decided upon which should be straight forward, according to Mr Ng. So how did ATL “quotation” later landed as an “invoice” for NEA to be used as proof that AHPETC is asking for additional charge? What has happened in between this 2 parties?

    Is the “minor spring cleaning’ decided by the hawkers association & its appointed contractors only, and the ‘major spring cleaning’ involves the additional work where AHPETC is required, thus causing the ‘misunderstanding’? Was ATL being “misquoted” out of context here?
    And did NEA jump the gun or did they fail to truly understand the matter at hand?
    Too many mysteries left unanswered by NEA & the hawker associations (whatever their role is, I’m still perplexed) which led most of us to assume it is plain politicking of a small saga.

  23. 34 tak 14 June 2013 at 19:54

    By deliberating and debating on this saga, we have fallen into the trap which was to divert attention from the AIM issue.

  24. 35 skponggol 15 June 2013 at 00:02

    This is a major cleaning and everybody knows that as can be seen in the correspondence email between NEA and AHPeTC:

    Both NEA and AHPeTC had understood and agreed back in Dec 2012 that the cleaning will take place 4/3/2013 (Mon) to 8/3/2013 (Fri) as proposed by the hawkers themselves.

    This cleaning will take 5 days so it must be a major cleaning as minor cleaning take only 2 days.

    Moreover, everybody has understood that scaffolding will be used so it must be a major cleaning. Who would waste time and money erecting scaffolding just for minor cleaning which involves only cleaning tables and floor but not the ceiling.

    Besides, why should the hawkers each pay $140 to cover their stalls with canvas if it’s a minor cleaning which involves only cleaning floor and tables.

    • 36 Curious 17 June 2013 at 01:34

      I think this was where all the hell broke loose. To AHPETC, they can clean the high areas without shutting down for 5 days. The 2 day/5 day thingy is a “PAP-TC” thingy. My guess is, AHPETC is going to just a normal low-area clean…but some smart hawker-chief may felt for some reason to extend the low-area clean to include high-area. Thus, the Hawker Association went to get their “own quotation” for high area cleaning including the scarfoldding (be it for covering or for reaching high up).

      And to do that (i.e., overriding AHPETC’s original plan for a low area clean), some well-connected hawkers may approach NEA to co-ordinate. Hence the email between NEA and AHPETC in Dec 2012, informing AHPETC that they had decided the dates (the 5 days the hawkers decided to close shop, a decision made in consultation with well-connected hawker chief).

      Then, of course, since AHPETC did not prepare to do the high-area, AHPETC asked back NEA – what about the scarfolding ? As we now see in the email. NEA blur until don’t know how to answer (because it was not originally their job also, roped in by well-connected hawker chief as a go-between).

      This is why the Hawker Associations were responsible for the high area.

      Now, what I am concerned with is: as Jasmine pointed out on 14/6 at 00:00, the hawkers each said they paid $140 ($140 x 40 stalls = $5600 !). But the work did not seems to have done. So, ATL did not get paid.

      Where is the $5600 now ?

      Did anyone ask this question ?

      If I am organisation a small party, say for gathering of my old secondary school friends, I would normally get 3 quotations or 5 quotations. Then, I work out a budget based on the quotations, and I start to collect money from my old friends. This is one of the purposes of quotations.

      So, where is the money that the hawkers claimed that they had paid up ?

      • 37 yawningbread 17 June 2013 at 12:23

        There was a separate report that said they paid another contractor to put up the canvas covering, after getting about 5 quotations. ATL’s was not among these five quotations, because theirs referred to scaffolding, not canvas.

  25. 38 skponggol 15 June 2013 at 00:29

    Instead of discussing the root of the dispute which is muddy, it may be more useful discussing crisis management skill of AHPeTC which is simple and clear.

    When the ATL contractors saw that no scaffolding was provided, they refuse to clean the ceiling and walked off. This is very childish, petty and unprofessional. Although they did not see any scaffolding, they must have seen the canvas that had been set up by the hawkers to cover their stall, having each paid $140. The hawkers also have to close their stall for 5 days, suffering losses of income.

    Instead of assigning blame and seeking excuse, a responsible and customer-oriented contractor will try to find a solution or Plan B instead of walking off. The contractor could have arrange the scaffolding themselves and claim from AHPeTC later or they could have use long poles to clean the ceiling as AHPeTC had arranged for the Kovan market.

    For the ATL contractor to walk off without cleaning the ceiling means that the hawkers’ $140 each as well as their income losses due to stall closure has but for nothing. This is irresponsible and inexcusable.

    Worse, the contractor did not even bother to inform the hawkers that they were walking off, as the hawkers had to find out that the ceiling was not cleaned only after they came back to re-open their stall 5 days later.

    Did the contractor inform AHPeTC that they were walking off? If they did, then why didn’t AHPeTC tried to resolve with the contractor? Why didn’t AHPeTC inform the hawkers and discuss with the hawkers for a Plan B, eg change another contractor or pay the scaffolding, so that their canvas and stall closure were not wasted.

    Even to this day, AHPeTC and the MPs are still unable to explain or reply to the hawkers how their $140 canvas is to be resolved, let alone compensating their income losses.

    The hawkers themselves, thru the Chinese paper as the AHPeTC and MP had been ignoring them, had proposed that AHPeTC to cancel the coming October cleaning and postpone it to next year as they are unable to suffer another round of financial losses due to market closure. They had agreed not to seek any compensation for their losses but propose that AHPeTC to pay the canvas set-up for next year cleaning.

    Up to now, it seems that neither WP MP or AHPeTC had got back to the hawkers on their proposal. And they are still waiting anxiously.

    Low Thia Khiang had said, “Let’s Move On.”But, can the hawkers just simply move on without any Transparency and Accountability from WP?

    • 39 Tessa Ong 15 June 2013 at 11:30

      I think NEA is supposed to coordinate the spring cleaning exercise between the TC and hawker centre. They failed their duty to do the coordination properly, leading to the current situation. If they knew it is a major spring cleaning exercise, and that TC is supposed to provide the setup, they shouldn’t have told the TC that the hawkers will do it. Quite clear that the NEA failed to coordinate properly. From what I see, the TC has been refusing to contact the hawkers directly because NEA is supposed to coordinate such things.

  26. 40 Thor 15 June 2013 at 07:58

    VB’s arrogance is unbelievable. I suspect that both Yakult and VB have become political liabilities and may not be fielded in 2016. Indeed, it will be wonderful to see Alex take on VB and see him squirm in dealing with homosexuality as a political issue.

  27. 43 Chanel 15 June 2013 at 09:53

    PAP should be careful of what it does here because it is going to come back to haunt them. If their TCs so much as charges a single cent to hawker centres in their ward for cleaning purpose, the PAP would be brought to the errr cleaners!!

    Vivian Balankrishnan missed a golden opportunity to project a good image of himself by making cheap potshots at WP. His comments show how arrogant and manipulative he is. Instean of dealing with the dengue epidemic, the minister in charge of NEA chose to score cheap political points by wasting his time in a non-issue of hawker centre cleaning AFTER all parties have resolved the issue.

  28. 44 Lum 15 June 2013 at 16:35

    If NEA have given the same energy and newsprint space to the market cleaning saga to Dengue out break, then we may not have 9,000 cases. The locations of the outbreak and locations of the re-current cases should be highlighted in print for information to all. Instead it is placed in some website which only few will access.
    To date, I have not come across any ministerial proposal of how to control the dengue outbreak.
    You see I am more concern with the dengue than with the market cleaning.

  29. 45 dolphin81 16 June 2013 at 16:07

    Ever since town councils were formed from 1989 onwards, PAP MPs themselves have occasionally talked about constituency-level disagreements over certain processes between

    -)PAP Town Councils
    -)Marker-Food Centre Hawkers & Neighbourhood Shop operators
    -)People’s association Community Centres
    -)Individual Residents

    Therefore the Market538 dispute is just one of many that has occurred in SG since 1989. Generally higher-level ministerial authority do not care too much about these disputes issues & almost all of these took place in PAP constituencies.

    Based on the ST reporting, the NEA response & the interest shown by Dr Vivian, it strongly suggests that some pro-PAP persons in Aljunied GRC, PAP & the civil service are mainly interested in trying to use this disgreement to portray AHPETC-WP in a negative manner.

  30. 46 SK Tan 19 June 2013 at 13:29

    “On 7th Feb 2013, NEA wrote to WP’s AHPETC to say that “the Hawkers Association will make the necessary arrangements with their contractors on the scaffold erection/dismantling during the spring cleaning period from 4 – 8 March 2013”. The cleaning here refers to Block 538 Market.
    What NEA could produce was a price quotation for high areas cleaning made by AHPETC’s contractor to one Mr. Ng Kok Khim of Hawker Association for Block 538 Market. (19th Feb 2013)”

    Why was the quotation sent to Mr. Ng Kok Khim?
    Why was the quotation not sent to the Secretary of Hawker Association for Block 538 Market?
    Hawkers Association of Block 511 Market has a Secretary, Mr. Chan Kheng Heng.
    Hawker Association for Block 538 Market should have a Secretary.
    Why called for only one quotation?
    Why “the Hawkers Association will make the necessary arrangements with their contractors on the scaffold erection/dismantling during the spring cleaning period from 4 – 8 March 2013”, when AHPETC has to make the payment?
    If AHPETC has to pay for the cleaning, it is logical for AHPETC to call for the quotation?
    Why did NEA interfere and make a mess?

    “However on 8 May 2013, Mr. Chan Kheng Heng, Secretary of Hawkers Association of Block 511 Market, approached WP MP Faisal for assistance. He alleged to the MP that AHPETC informed him that stallholders had to bear the cost of cleaning areas above 2.5 metres above the ground.”
    Did Mr. Chan Kheng Heng produce a letter from AHPETC on that matter? If he did not produce concrete evidence, I cannot believe what he said is true.
    If AHPETC wanted the hawkers to make extra payment for the cleaning of hawker centre, AHPETC would have to write a letter to them. Did Mr. Chan Kheng Heng demand a letter from AHPETC?

    • 47 yawningbread 19 June 2013 at 17:32

      Re the last part of your comment, (Chan Kheng Heng, etc) now here’s the funny thing:

      When The Online Citizen interviewed the hawkers themselves for its article

      With regards to Block 511, the stall owners interviewed said that they have not been informed that they would need to pay any money for the cleaning of the hawker centre. And with what Workers’ Party has reiterated again and again, they have not asked the hawkers to pay for anything.

      So where’s the truth?

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