Singapore Town Councils

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Town Councils and Sinking Funds and Upgrading


It is with much concern I read about the obstacles Hougang MP went through in dealing with the HDB regarding his ward's lift upgrading program ( see below - Straits Times, 30 March 2006, "WP chief: HDB blocked lift upgrading in Hougang").

Correct me if I am wrong, but the facts are:

1. Both Opposition wards of Hougang and Potong Pasir DID NOT increase their S & C fees when the other PAP-controlled town councils did some 2 years ago (see my letter to the Ministry of National Development below, "PAP Town Councils must justify S & C fee increases when Opposition town councils did not");

2. Both Opposition wards were able to complete the lift upgrading program (LUP) without the need for the residents to co-pay (as they were all funded fully from the sinking funds) while the other PAP town councils required residents' co-payment;

3. However, "last August, the law was changed. The Town Councils Act now allows up to 10 per cent of a council's sinking funds to be used for lift upgrading if the cost for each home that gained from it did not exceed $5,000." This effectively means any future LUP will require co-payment from residents with limits imposed on how much that can be drawn from the sinking funds.

Is this an attempt to frustrate the Opposition's ability to provide the LUP for free to the residents which the PAP could not offer?

With the above, does it also mean the PAP town councils are less efficient in managing their estates?

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March 30, 2006

WP chief: HDB blocked lift upgrading in Hougang
By Zakir Hussain

WORKERS' Party chief Low Thia Khiang yesterday revealed the obstacles that he faced in trying to upgrade lifts in his constituency, Hougang.
His comments come in the wake of the Housing Board disputing another opposition MP's account of his difficulty with lift upgrading.
The HDB said it was because of a law that Mr Chiam See Tong could not use his town council's sinking fund to provide lifts that stop on every floor for some blocks in his Potong Pasir constituency.
Last August, the law was changed. The Town Councils Act now allows up to 10 per cent of a council's sinking funds to be used for lift upgrading if the cost for each home that gained from it did not exceed $5,000.
In his press statement, Mr Low, however, pointed out that the Act does not disallow town councils from introducing lifts that stop on every floor. In 2000, the HDB approved such upgrading and the Hougang Town Council paid the entire bill. But in 2002, similar lift upgrading works were not approved by the HDB, he said.
Giving details, Mr Low said HDB gave its nod in August 2000 to the upgrading of 16 lifts in six blocks in Hougang Avenue 3 and 7. The work was completed in October 2001.
But in December 2002, the HDB did not allow the same to be done to 58 lifts in Blocks 301 to 334 in Hougang Avenue 5 and 7. The town council later replaced the lifts as they were old, he said.
But the lifts could not stop on every floor because landowner HDB had refused to approve it, Mr Low said, adding: 'The law was not the reason.'
HDB's reason for saying 'no' was not given in his statement yesterday but the subject was reported in the Hougang Town Council's annual report ending March 31 last year.
It said: 'According to the HDB, the town council would not be fair to all residents as the additional landings created would not serve all the residents of the blocks.'
It also said: 'The fact that the town council would progressively work towards providing this by first upgrading the existing lifts was not acceptable either to the HDB.'
In Potong Pasir's case, Mr Chiam had blamed HDB for thwarting his plans to upgrade the lifts in six point blocks in Toa Payoh Lorong 8.
Responding, HDB pointed out that despite the change in the Town Councils Act, Mr Chiam had not made any application to use the council's sinking fund for lift upgrading.
Mr Chiam replied that by the time the law was changed, the lift upgrading works had been completed.
Lift upgrading looks set to be key in the People's Action Party's quest to recapture the two opposition-held wards in the coming General Election.



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PAP Town Councils must justify S & C fee increases when Opposition town councils did not

I refer to the recent media report that currently, there are some 580,000 work permit holders in Singapore, some 285,000 of whom are neither domestic workers nor working in the construction industry. (BT, 2 Mar 2006, “Foreigner-to-local worker ratio easing: Ng Eng Hen”).

Without any further details mentioned on the make up of this substantial group, I can only assume cleaners make up a fair bit of the 285,000.

While there have been questions about the hiring of foreign workers over locals, it must be pointed out that many of such jobs (such as cleaners) are shunned by locals. However, a better way of weighing the merits of hiring foreign workers vs locals (besides the consideration that some jobs may be shunned by locals) is to do a cost-and-benefit analysis of such policies.

For example, in hiring cleaners, the "cost" of doing so would be displacement of locals (assuming there are locals prepared to do the job). However, if the total salary package of the foreign workers so hired is lower than the locals, resulting in savings which are then passed on to the end-user (for example, the town council hiring these foreign workers and ultimately passing the savings to the HDB residents paying their Service & Conservancy (S & C) fees), then there may be grounds for justifying the hiring of foreign workers as there are "benefits" that can be accrued in doing so. However, what is not acceptable is the double whammy of many HDB residents having lost jobs to these cheap foreign labour and at the same time, being subjected to increases in S & C fees, which is exactly what has happened in many town councils.

Let me give the readers a comparison between the Pasir-Ris Town Council and the condominium where I live. Before the present MCST took over the running the condo some 3 years ago, we used to have a Singaporean cleaner who was paid about $1,500 per month whose responsibility was merely to do daily cleaning of the 20,000 sq ft premises of the 23-unit condo. However, after the MCST was formed and subsequent review of the vendors, a new cleaner contractor who offered to do the job for an equivalent of about $750 per month (or half the previous vendor) was subsequently hired to do the same job. How could he do it? Well, hiring foreign worker, of course.

The search for cost savings at the condo is still ongoing, and when substantial savings can be realized, the MCST has plans to pass the savings back to the residents with a reduction in their monthly maintenance fees.

Therefore, from the above condo experience, while a Singaporean lost his job to the foreign worker (a necessary "cost" in the pursuit of cost savings as a result), the residents will benefit at the end of the day if the savings are passed back to them.

What I find perplexing is the decision by town councils (probably with the exception of the 2 opposition wards of Potong Pasir and Hougang) to raise the S & C fees about 2 years ago (roughly about the time when the my condo decided to hire the cheaper cleaner) when they are supposed to have better bargaining power through economies of scale and hence, the ability to hire such foreign workers at much reduced cost? (Again, I can only assume that many of the 285,000 foreign workers mentioned in Minister Ng Eng Hen’s article are cleaners employed at town councils). Why then are they not passing back the savings to the residents, but instead, raising their fees, as in the case of the Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council? ("....Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council's...cleaning bill has risen 9 per cent since 2002..." - ST, 27 July 2004, "Town council explains new charges")

If I use the example of my condo to do a cost comparison, about $32.60 of each condo resident's monthly maintenance fees go towards the cleaner's fees (cleaner’s salary of $750 divided by 23 units = $32.60). Do Pasir Ris-Punggol residents know how much of the monthly $73.50 S & C fees ("...I am very surprised that I am paying $73.50 to the Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council for my five-room flat..." - ST, 28 July 2004, "Five room, different charges") paid by them go towards the cleaners, after setting aside some 30 to 35% for sinking fund (simple estimates can be made by dividing cleaners’ salaries with the number of flats in the block)?

Do these cleaners just concentrate on cleaning their blocks on a daily basis? Or are they paying for the same cleaners who also double or triple up as cleaners for other public areas (like drains, parks, etc. around these HDB blocks) which should be funded from government funds instead of residents’ funds (I find it puzzling that the Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council hardly receives any government grants for "...The constituency is especially squeezed for funds because it gets the least government funding of all the PAP town councils as most of the flats there are five-room units....,(as) five-roomers and bigger ones get nothing (in government funding)" - ST, 27 July 2004, "Town council explains new charges"). Why should residents' S & C fees be used to pay for the cleaning of public areas?

What about car parks – is the maintenance taken care of by this same group of cleaners (which is inappropriate) or rightfully by a new set of cleaners whose salaries should be funded from car park fees collected?

It is noted that in some town councils, cost saving measures are in place by having cleaners clean the HDB blocks "once every six weeks now" (ST, 27 July 2004, "Town council explains new charges"). Only once every 6 weeks? Cleaners in condos clean their blocks every day (except Sundays and public holidays).

How then can HDB residents justify paying $73.50 for cleaning done once every 6 weeks when condo residents pay only $32.60 for cleaning done daily? Is this the reason why "..During the dengue fever outbreak, it was reported that 49 per cent of the breeding grounds found were in Town Council-maintained areas" (Today, 5 Jan 2006, "Service please, Town Council").

The mystery can only be solved if town councils are more transparent in how residents’ fees so collected are spent – how much goes towards cleaners, sinking funds, lift maintenance, admin and utility charges, etc..

With condominium MCSTs, residents as stakeholders can question the council how each dollar contributed goes into what and where, but does the resident in the area managed by town councils have access to such information? That is the big difference - do the residents know how each dollar collected by the town councils is spent?

Perhaps in the coming election (even if this happens but once every 5 years), it will be good if such information be made available so that the residents know how well the town council has been managing their estates before casting their votes. While the residents welcome the government's providence to PAP-run town councils with billion-dollar budgets to upgrade their towns every election year, what is equally important is the council's prudential management of residents' funds with decision to increase further S & C fees to be taken only after exhausting all possible cost-saving alternatives.

Feedback On Drains and Road - St Michael's Road



Sent to NEA;

See the big styrofoam box in the drain outside st michael's lodge.

The almost 100% covered-up drop-inlet-chambers and the dirty drain near richmond condo.

These debris will eventually flow into kallang river and end up in Marina Barrage and it will become a dumping ground instead of water-sport centre or reservoir.

CBD area - Anson Road

















Sent to NEA:

See our business and commericial district. BTW, the drop-inlet-chambers are still not clean.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Feedback On Drains and Road - Yung Sheng Road/Taman Jurong CC

















There is a flood of contributions (with photos) today, 29 Mar 2006. The following was sent to the NEA today:
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See the mess outside taman jurong cc and your officer can report the place as clean.
Remind me of Johore.

Hopefully when Minister Tharman visit the CC in Apr, the area will be sparkling clean!

Feedback On Drains and Road - Boon Lay Way


Sent to the NEA CEO on 29 Mar 2006:

In your email below, you claimed that the drains were"satisfactorily maintained".

See yesterday, your cleaners managed to sweep 20-30 bags of dirt!

Also the cleaners should clear the rubbish immediately instead of leaving it overnight. What happen if this is a road side bomb left behind by terrorist?

Police pls commend and enforce.

The last time I saw such thorough cleaning was during the dengue outbreak in Oct/Nov. Since then, NEA has slacken again. NEA need to review your standard! Hope we do not need another dengue outbreak then we start to clean up again.

Garden City ?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

MM Lee's GRC: Dirty drain off Anson Road - in front of Tanjong Pagar Complex

Following sent to NEA on 28 Mar 2006:

See dirty drain off Anson Road in front Tanjong Pagar Complex.

Coincidentally, this is also in MM Lee's GRC.

Filthy area near Newton Road/Thomson Road junction at the bend towards Revenue House


To: Mr Simon Koh - General Manager, Tg Pagar Town Council
cc: Messrs Lee Kuan Yew/CW Chong - Tg Pagar Town Council
cc: Feedback Unit - S'pore Govt


28 Mar 2006

Further to my email yesterday, 27 Mar, I note the subject area is still filthy as the rubbish has still not been cleared today (photo taken earlier this morning attached).

Is this another of the "tai-chi" thing - this is not the responsibility of town councils but the NEA? Or NParks (since it's on greenery)? Or LTA (road side)? Or Revenue House (near them)? etc...

(Note to Feedback Unit - How often does each of these entities clean their areas of responsibility? Is this the reason why it hasn't been cleaned for 3 days because town councils clean every day (correct me if I am wrong), another agency cleans once a week, and yet another cleans once every 6 weeks?)

It's crazy - sometimes, I have to go through so many stat boards or govt agencies before nailing down who is
responsible.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Filthy area near Newton Road/Thomson Road junction at the bend towards Revenue House



These 2 photographs were taken yesterday and today (26 and 27 Mar), showing rubbish strewn all over - what a sight! Is this under Tanjong Pagar town council jurisdiction or again under the NEA?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Town Council cleaning - Filthy area/drain at Wallich Road near Wallich Bldg / ST (24 Mar 06) - "Sadly, Singapore is not as clean as it is said to be"

Reply from Tg Pagar Town Council, 25 Mar 2006:

I refer to your e-mail about the filthy drain at Wallich Road near Wallich Building.

We have referred the matter to the National Environment Agency( NEA ) as the drain is maintained by them. We will also checked with them next week to confirm that they have cleared the drain.

Thanks,

Regards,

Simon Koh
General Manager Tanjong Pagar Town Council
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To: Feedback Unit - Singapore Government
cc: Tanjong Pagar GRC - Attn: Messrs Lee Kuan Yew/Dr Chong Weng Chiew-Chairman, Town Council
cc: Straits Times
cc: Today

24 Mar 2006

The drain at subject location is filled with filth. Who is responsible for cleaning? Tanjong Pagar Town Council?

FYI, I have started a blog (http://towncouncils.blogspot.com/ ) to highlight the state of cleanliness in various town councils. Residents are encouraged to send emails and photos (preferable as a picture is worth a thousand words) to this blog if they find filthy areas within their estates or in public areas.

Together, we have a part to play in keeping Singapore clean and safe, in view of the dengue outbreak last year and the current bird flu situation.

For your additional information, I am attaching a letter in today's Straits Times, "Sadly, Singapore is not as clean as it is said to be" (ST, 24 Mar) which highlights the present sorry state of Singapore's once-proud claim to being a "clean city".

Rgds
Jeff
http://towncouncils.blogspot.com/

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http://straitstimes.asia1.com.sg/forum/story/0,5562,379937,00.html?

March 24, 2006
Sadly, Singapore is not as clean as it is said to be

I agree with the concerns about the horrendous littering in Singapore. This problem seems never to end.

When I first came from Sri Lanka to Singapore nine years ago I was amazed to see how beautiful and clean Singapore's neibourhoods were. I used to write letters to my friends and even produced newspaper articles about this clean and green tiny city state.

Last year when I was living in West Coast I came across litter more often on our strolls. I consoled myself that the litter was unintentionally thrown. But the problem became worse. Tissue paper, cigarette butts, drink cartons, plastic bags, etc marred the beautiful flower bushes.

When we moved to the Serangoon area four months ago, I saw how things had become worse. Whether it's an HDB estate or private housing development, the situation is the same.

Most of the owners or domestic helpers who bring their dogs out do not clean up after them. Just look at the mess near Nanyang Junior College's new signboard.

Some schools in the area seem to close their eyes to the litter even within their premises.
Spitting is another problem.

Recently we saw two teenage school girls drinking fruit juices in a double decker bus and they left behind the cups where they sat.

I'm sad to hear that a friend who came to the National University of Singapore to do some research say that "Singapore is not as clean as it is said to be." With a heavy heart, I said "It used to be." There's no need to be a Singaporean to love Singapore. When I was young, my parents said "love your country and also love and respect the place where you are living in."

We must not always expect the country to do its part for us. We must do our duty as well.

If the elders are not listening, the young must be educated about it. The authorities can organise mass cleaning drives. If the younger generation is not trained to be responsible and patriotic what will the future be?

Sagarika Rathninde (Mrs)

Monday, March 20, 2006

Perpetually choked drain outside 32/34 Chancery Lane




Sent to NEA on 20 March 2006:

This drain seems to be perpetually choked as I have written in on numerous occasions before - perhaps it is advisable to fix the "real" problem rather than just getting the cleaners to clear the drain.

I have also asked NEA's Mr Chia to investigate the recent complaints by residents of Gilstead Rd/Gentle Rd/Buckley Rd areas (in the vicinity of this drain in Chancery Road) that the mosquitoes are back the last 4 weeks or so.

Uncleaned drains & streets - NEA & Town Councils are found wanting

Following sent to the NEA CEO on 20 Mar 2006:

I wrote to NEA on 20th Feb to highlight that the drains and Drop inlet chamber along Anson Road were dirty.

1 month has past yet no one has clean up these area.

On 28th Feb, again I wrote to highlight other roads that were dirty, same thing, it is still not clean.

Over the weekend, I noticed that drain in front ofTaman Jurong CC was full of rubbish and it stinked. CEO NEA, appreciate your kind attention and if your officers could ensure that the cleaning contractors are cleaning the streets and not paid for doing nothing.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Welcome to the Singapore Town Councils' Blog

This community service is for all residents of Singapore's Town Councils.

If you see any incident that you feel needs highlighting (whether a shortcoming of your town council or a commendation), please feel free to add your comments, or if possible, a photo or two, because "A picture (or photo) is worth a thousand words". Thank you.

Singapore
9 March 2006