Don’t take advantage of people, Minister Balakrishnan tells WP

Don’t take advantage of people, Minister Balakrishnan tells WP
Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan. TODAY File Photo
Spat with Workers’ Party not about clean hawker centres but clean politics, MEWR Minister says
Published: 4:35 PM, July 9, 2013
Updated: 9:34 AM, July 11, 2013

SINGAPORE — The crux of the spat between the Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan with the Workers’ Party was not over the cleaning of the hawker centres in Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council, but rather, clean politics, said Dr Balakrishnan in Parliament this afternoon.

In a protracted debate between the Minister and AHPETC Chairman Sylvia Lim, Dr Balakrishnan charged that the issue of integrity has been obscured the whole episode, while accusing both Ms Lim and Mr Pritam Singh — AHPETC’s Vice-Chairman — of being untruthful and lying that their contractor had included separate payment for both the scaffolding and cleaning of the high areas in the hawker centres located in Blocks 511 and 538 in Bedok North.

In response, Ms Lim said that Dr Balakrishnan “made very serious allegations” against herself and Mr Pritam. She pointed out that the misunderstanding arose over confusion whether the cleaning of high areas is supposed to be conducted once or four times a year.

She also said that the issue started through a series of misleading emails exchanged between AHPETC staff and an National Environment Agency official over who was in charge of the erection and dismantling of scaffolding used during the cleaning.

In reply to Dr Balakrishnan’s repeated questions on whether the property manager of AHPETC, Mr Tai Vie Shun, had asked hawkers to pay extra for annual cleaning, Ms Lim said: “As far as our investigations go, Mr Tai, at no point of time, asked for extra money to be paid to the town council for high area cleaning.”

Dr Balakrishan then distributed a dossier containing evidence, before specifically pointing out documents showing that Ms Lim had been untruthful.

Speaking to WP Chief Low Thia Kiang, he said: “Politics is a contest for power, but the key principle when you have power is, don’t take advantage of people under your charge, and always be honest and upfront with them. All of us will make mistakes. 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 not about cleanliness of the ceiling, it is about clean politics, and I appeal to you because I know you to be an honourable man. I appeal to you, go back, do a thorough investigation of what’s gone wrong in your TC and put it right, set it right. I have confidence that you will do so, Mr Low.”

The heated debate also led to Mr Low rising at one point to seek clarifications. Mr Low explained that it was the contractor — and not AHPETC — who issued the quotation to the hawkers, while adding that the whole episode arose from a misunderstanding over the terms spring cleaning and annual cleaning.

He said: “From my understanding, the Town Council is well aware of their obligations to clean the high areas ... What I gather from the whole episode is arising from a misunderstanding between annual cleaning and spring cleaning.”