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Cleaner estates? Consider paying more, says minister

Andrew Loh

The penny has finally dropped.

The Senior Minister of State for National Development says if residents wanted “more frequent washings” to keep their estates cleaner, “residents may have to consider the trade-off of paying more in fees.” (Channelnewsasia)

Speaking at a community event on Sunday, Ms Grace Fu gave her views about the recent Town Council Management Report (TCMR) which was conducted by the Housing and Development Board. The 16 town councils in Singapore were assessed in six areas of competence.

The report ranked opposition-run town councils in Potong Pasir and Hougang at the bottom, while those in Tanjong Pagar GRC and Ang Mo Kio GRC were the best-managed. Town councils run by the People’s Action Party all fared better than the two in the opposition wards.

Ms Fu, however, reiterated the point she had made last year – that the report is not a ranking exercise. She explained that it instead “should act as talking points between residents and the management.”

She gave as an example the cleanliness report. If residents were satisfied with the ranking in this area, then nothing further needed to be done by the town councils. However, if residents were not satisfied, and wanted more washings to be done, they would have to consider paying more for this.

Referring to questions raised about the objectivity of the report, she said the “six-month assessment was carried out objectively and data collected for half of the indicators (lift performance and S&CC arrears management) came from the town councils themselves.” (Channelnewsasia)

To Mr Gerald Giam, however, the TCMR report failed on several counts. “Does the TCMR reflect residents’ concerns about the way their TCs are managed?” he asked on his blog. “Were they even consulted on the report? Apparently not. Why not judge the TCs on how low their S&CC charges are and their value for money? Why were TC investments dropped from the evaluation criteria at the eleventh hour?”

As a member of the Workers’ Party who has participated in his party's walkabouts the last several months, Mr Giam related the concerns which residents, including those in PAP wards, he met have voiced to him. These include "concerns over rising S&CC, broken promises and delays in lift upgrading, poorly designed covered walkways and footpaths, and the squandering of sinking funds due to ill-advised investments."

He also questioned the necessity and motivation of the report. “If they [residents] feel that their MPs are not performing,’ he said, “they would have voted them out long ago. But the two opposition MPs have been returned to office again and again for the last 18 to 25 years–longer than any other PAP MPs save one.”

On 28 February 2008, the PAP town councils announced that they would not be raising Service and Conservancy charges (S&CC). Three months later, on 5 May, PAP-run Aljunied GRC Town Council said it “will consider raising the conservancy charges for the dirtiest precincts to cover the extra work that goes into maintaining them.” But five days after this was reported by the media, it changed its mind and said it would not be raising charges after criticisms were raised on the Internet.

Ms Cynthia Phua, an MP for the area, had proposed introducing an index which would tie the S&CC to the cleanliness of the estate. “I mentioned that the litter index and conservancy charges can be linked in terms of dollar amount because there will be an increased cost to cleaning dirtier estates,” she told the Straits Times. “However, that does not mean that the Aljunied Town Council intends to link them.”

She added that her town council had never had the intention of “punishing the residents with higher conservancy charges”.

However, her “town council would tie conservancy charges to the index only if it found an objective measure of cleanliness.”

This would be in line with what Ms Fu said with regards to the TCMR report – that if residents were dissatisfied with the level of cleanliness, they would have to consider paying higher maintenance fees, namely S&C charges.

As I asked in an earlier article, is one of the objectives of the TCMR to help PAP-run town councils justify charging residents higher S&CC, which Aljunied GRC tried to do in 2008 but failed to?

After all, Ms Phua had wanted to introduce an index which would link S&C fees to cleanliness of the estate, and Ms Fu reiterating the same on Sunday.

And now we have exactly that – a TCMR report which would be used to justify any increase in fees.

The last time PAP town councils raised S&C charges was in 2004, according to this Channelnewsasia report.**

[The 14 PAP town councils have collectively $2 billion in sinking funds, as reported by The Online Citizen in March 2010. See link below.]

** Jurong and Aljunied town councils raised S&C charges in April 2010. See here.

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Read TOC's earlier articles about S&CC charges:

Taking the easy way out?

A confused Aljunied GRC MP?

$2 billion in PAP town councils' sinking funds but need to increase fees?