10 thoughts on hawker centre cleaning saga


The man who can’t be moved

If you, like Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, haven’t moved on from this whole hawker centre cleaning saga, here are ten thoughts that may interest you. For background reading, please refer to the “dossier” and this email chain between AHPETC and NEA. All observations below are on the assumption that everything in the dossier is true.

1. The NEA officer, Ms Chin Peiyun, clearly misled AHPETC in the email on 7 Feb 2013 by writing “pl note 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 for the above food centre (538)”. In all likelihood this could be unintentional, but NEA should acknowledge this miscommunication instead of insisting that it was referring to “the scaffolding and canvas covers for the individual stalls”. Nowhere was “canvas covers” mentioned in the email.

2. I am guessing that, after Ms Chin’s email, someone from AHPETC informed ATL Maintenance that the Hawkers Association (HA) will be responsible for the erection of the scaffolding, which led to ATL delivering the quotation to the HA without its asking.

3. Vivian B urged for clean politics and for mistakes to be owned up, which is what everyone wants. But by refusing to admit (1), it makes his grand speech sound a bit rich. The fact that Ms Chin’s email was mentioned but not included in the dossier in full suggests selective choice of “evidence”.

4. A representative from HA claimed that ATL workers only came down on only one day (7 Mar) to clean, even though the hawker centre was closed for 5 days. This was after HA had rejected the quotation from ATL which was for 4 working days. My guess is that Mr Tai Vie Shun, AHPETC’s property manager,  could be thinking: “NEA has already said the hawkers are responsible for the scaffolding. If they don’t want to pay, fine, we will just do the normal one day cleaning without scaffolding”.

5. There’s a small argument over whether MP Faisal Manap’s writing of an appeal letter to AHPETC on behalf of the hawkers implies that he was/was not aware that the hawkers shouldn’t be liable for additional charges. I find this moot and irrelevant. On the other hand, it is odd that Mr Manap as an elected MP of Aljunied GRC had to write a formal appeal letter to his own town council (albeit a joint TC between 3 wards), instead of speaking to it directly. This leads me to think that he is not very involved in the running of the town council.

6. We can blame Block 538’s botched cleaning on the misunderstanding over the email from NEA, but it is inexplicable why Mr Tai continued to insist that the hawkers have to pay in subsequent meetings with NEA officers present. There couldn’t possibly be any more misunderstanding on whether it should be an annual or quarterly cleaning. And in May, after several meetings, Mr Tai became very uncooperative to both HA and NEA by insisting that the two parties liaise with each other directly and not involve him.

7. Some online commentators said that WP’s refusal to take up Vivian B’s challenge to sue him or Mr Low’s refusal to further investigate imply they have something to hide. But there could be other factors. For example, they may know something that will lead to questions on the integrity of NEA officers or the hawkers, but that would be a politically suicidal battle that they won’t want to go into.

8. Related to the previous point, it was a sly tactic by Vivian B to use the “hawkers can’t be lying, so you must be” line of argument, knowing that nobody would dare suggest such a thing on these folks.

9. I tweeted back in June that the only way to know the whole truth is if the Hawkers Association and ATL come out to clarify publicly (Mr Ng Kok Khim of the HA has subsequently asserted he never asked for the quotation). We must add Mr Tai to that list. Else even after all the parliamentary drama we are still none the wiser.

10. The biggest question — and this is the one Vivian B wants us to focus on — is why does WP not admit that Mr Tai had on more than one occasion insisted payment from the hawkers? It looks like Mr Tai is a root cause of the entire dispute, so why is WP still defending him?