11 July 2013

Balakrishnan vs. AHPETC — Cleaning of High Areas at Food Centres Part III

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan ignored the advice of "many well-intended people" not to pursue the matter of the alleged additional cost of cleaning of high areas at two food centres in Bedok.

It was too mundane, and people wanted to move on.  But he felt a duty to bring up the matter yet again, because it meant more than clean ceilings to him.

Mr Balakrishnan said that the rules for town councils to pay for the annual cleaning of food centres had been established for a decade.

Who Should Pay?
It is reasonable to expect that the cost of the annual cleaning of food centres is, or should have been, taken into account when determining the quantum of monthly conservancy fees that the stall holders operating at the food centres should pay.

It is reasonable for the stall holders to expect that they would not have to pay any additional charge for the annual cleaning.

If, however, the monthly conservancy fees paid by the stall holders do not adequately cover the cost of maintaining the food centres, including but not limited to the cost of the annual cleaning, the monthly conservancy fees must be raised.

Mr Balakrishnan's assertion that the town council must pay for annual cleaning of food centres is populist.

It ignores the reality that a town council is not some vague, nebulous entity that exists somewhere out there, which will absorb any and all costs that no one wants to pay, and will do so in a way that will not affect anyone else.  But we know this is not possible.

The funds of Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council ("AHPE" and "AHPETC") belong to the residents of AHPE town.

As the fiduciary of AHPE's funds, AHPETC has the responsibility of charging, and must charge, the direct beneficiaries of any service (e.g., annual cleaning) with all the direct cost and a fair measure of the indirect cost of that service.

If the cost of any service provided by AHPETC to the stall holders is not properly recovered from the them, AHPETC — that is, the residents of AHPE town — ends up with the shortfall.

Mr Balakrishnan, National Environment Agency and the representatives of the stall holders at Blk 538 Bedok North Street 3 have not explained to the residents of AHPE town why they (the residents), and not the stall holders, should bear any part of any cost of cleaning the food centres.

That is, assuming there was an additional cost to be borne by the stall holders.

But, was there?

Additional Cost — Yes or No?
Mr Balakrishnan, National Environment Agency and the stall owners of the food centres seem to say that there was.

AHPETC seems to say there wasn't.

Mr Balakrishnan said that the stall holders did not invite ATL Maintenance Pte Ltd to submit a quotation for cleaning the high areas at Blk 538 Bedok North Street 3, which quotation ATL Maintenance did submit to 538 Market Association on 19 February 2013.

AHPETC said it didn't.

Who did?

Why hasn't anyone asked ATL Maintenance since the furore erupted more than a month ago?  Unfortunately for ATL Maintenance, it is now caught in what seems to be a no-win crossfire.

Don't Cover Up
Mr Balakrishnan was right when he said “When a mistake is made, just come clean and say so.  But don't cover up.  That's why I have not let this go, because... it is about clean politics and I appeal to [The Workers' Party Secretary-General and MP Low Thia Khiang] do a thorough investigation of what's gone on and what's gone wrong in your town council and put it right, set it right."

Mr Balakrishnan's advice to do a thorough investigation of what had gone wrong, not to cover up and to put things right applies to all parties — AHPETC, NEA and Blk 538 Bedok North Street 3 Market Association.  Mr Balakrishnan, too.

Perhaps, instead of the various parties issuing carefully worded statements, an independent party — a genuinely independent party — should ask each of Mr Balakrishnan, NEA, Blk 538 Bedok North Street 3 Market Association, AHPETC and ATL Maintenance a set of questions to which the answers can only be yes or no.

Then, there will be more transparency, more clarity.  And, hopefully, the truth.

Not only in connection with cleaning of high areas in food centres, but with all matters in the past and the future.

Being Honest and Upfront
Finally, every politician and aspiring politician should heed Mr Balakrishnan's advice not to take advantage of the people under his or her charge, and to be always honest and upfront with them.

I couldn't have said it better.

But how many can truly say that they meet the standard?  Who will they be, I wonder?

This article was updated on 11 July 2013 11:55 pm

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