BB BE: Fists up over that $1.9m hand-me-down upgrade
by Bertha Henson and Hamzah Omar Yaacob
SO THE People’s Action Party has come out to say that the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has a “basic misunderstanding” of the role of town councils. It has to do with SDP candidate Chee Soon Juan’s remarks that upgrading projects will be implemented regardless of which MP is in charge.
Said Dr Chee: “They trot out these projects, okay? But our come-back is that, look, URA has got their masterplan in place. They are going to be constructing all these projects regardless of who is the MP and we will, as an MP, I will continue to push for these projects for Bukit Batok residents.”
He said this on Nomination Day in what looks like an attempt to allay residents’ fears that improvement projects announced will be withdrawn if the SDP took over the town council. The SDP had said much the same earlier on in a statement by Dr Paul Thambyah when he referred to a 2013 draft Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) masterplan which had several projects in the pipelines. It pledged to work with the URA to implement the projects.
It’s not clear what projects Dr Chee was referring to because Mr Murali Pillai had announced quite a few other than the NRP project. These included new infrastructure, such as an “innovative sensory park” at Bukit Batok West Avenue 8.
But evidently, the PAP has taken “projects” to mean the $1.9 million Neighbourhood Renewal Programme (NRP) for Blocks 140-149 of Bukit Batok West Avenue 6.
The proposals, unveiled by Mr Murali on Sunday (April 24), include a high-link shelter across the road to link the precinct to the market at Block 150, sheltered linkways, barrier free access, a multi-generation fitness park, recreational areas, fitness route for brisk walkers and joggers, and a children’s playground. According to the Housing Development Board (HDB) website, this NRP was announced on August 8 last year, before the September General Election. Presumably, the details had not yet been filled in then.
The PAP, in a statement yesterday morning, disputed Dr Chee’s claim that it was “the URA that would develop such projects, and the MP and hence Town Council was there only to push for the projects.”
“URA puts together a national Masterplan to guide the overall development of land in Singapore. But it is not the URA or any other Government agency that initiates an NRP or is responsible for its implementation. The Government funds approved NRPs after they are proposed by Town Councils,” said its spokesman Alex Yam.
So the NRP, which is really the old Interim Upgrading Programme but bigger, has to be proposed by the town council and approved by the G, which will fund it fully. It takes between 12 and 18 months to complete. It comes under the HDB, not the URA which takes care of very long-term development strategies.
The ward has a total of five NRPs. Three have been carried out, one is in progress, while the fifth NRP is what Mr Murali was referring to.
Dr Chee, however, saw no contradiction between his statement and the PAP’s position: It was still the URA which drew up plans islandwide and the town council which had to fill in the blanks and execute them for individual constituencies.
Both men met reporters yesterday at separate places – almost simultaneously – in Bukit Batok to field questions.
Outside Bukit Batok MRT station yesterday, Dr Chee repeated his request for an update on the $24 million plan for Bukit Batok, which had included a new childcare centre and hawker centre, announced by former MP David Ong in the last general election.
Said Dr Chee: “One of two things could have happened: Mr Murali either forgot about this or he has jettisoned Mr Ong’s plans.”
At a park near Block 104, Mr Murali, when asked about Dr Chee’s request for an update on Mr David Ong’s plans, said: “I invite the SDP to walk around the estate and to look at the improvements we have made since.” He added that some projects had been “executed”, while others were still “ongoing” or in the “pipelines.” The NRP announced over the weekend was also included in Mr Ong’s proposals, he said.
We asked Dr Chee what he thought of Mr Murali’s assurances that Mr Ong’s plans were being carried out. He said: “Then I say good, right, we’ll push for it, we’ll continue to make sure that it’s completed.”
Again, Mr Murali reiterated the advantage to Bukit Batok residents if the ward stayed in PAP’s hands as it could reap economies of scale by remaining in the newly named Jurong-Clementi Town Council. Just as the SDP is seeking to assure residents of its ability to operate a town council, the PAP is banking on its mega town council’s ability to deliver the goods – with Bukit Batok, a mature estate, getting priority treatment.
So what is the town council’s role in all this?
According to the PAP, as far as NRP is concerned, the town council is responsible for implementing them “from start to finish”. It said: “This means the Town Councils are responsible for prioritising needs within all the estates under their charge, developing detailed plans in consultation with residents, awarding tenders responsibly, overseeing the contractors and finally ensuring maintenance of estate enhancements.”
The PAP’s position is that the NRP is not the knee-jerk response that Dr Chee had described but the result of consultations with residents over the past year.
Since it was a PAP town council initiative, it follows that a change of regime would mean that the NRP might not come through. (The NRP is already listed on the HDB website and is in the “design stage”, according to the town council’s website.)
Will the G pull the plug on Mr Murali’s proposed NRP if the ward goes to SDP?
Workers’ Party’s (WP) Pritam Singh, citing his own experience with an NRP at Eunos Spring in Aljunied GRC, thought it unlikely. He said on a Facebook note that while the town council in Aljunied GRC changed hands when the WP took the constituency in GE2011, the NRP went ahead, to include changes as well.
There’s been plenty of fuss over upgrading projects from the two sides, which actually turns on the ability of the town council in charge to push for them – and to carry them out. No one is alleging that the G agencies would be partisan, not even the SDP. Mr Murali has also said that whoever runs the town council, “will have the responsibility to lead the town council to implement the NRP”.
He added yesterday that the $1.9m in upgrades was “funding neutral”, meaning the funds would be disbursed no matter who got elected.
Other upgrading projects in place are Home Improvement Programme, which includes essential repairs to old flats with spalling concrete problems. Mr Murali wants more residents to take up the “enhanced” portion which has features such as slip-resistant tiles and toilet grab bars for seniors. But this also happens to cost residents more.
The SDP has not put out any infrastructure plans for Bukit Batok, saying that it would take its time to consult residents first before doing so.
What do Bukit Batok residents make of all this sparring? It is unlikely they would get into the nitty gritty details of which agency is in charge of what so long as life goes on as usual. The thing is, they will be forced to make a choice. Let’s see what both parties say to them at their first rallies tonight.
Two rallies are scheduled for tonight. PAP’s rally will be held at Bukit Gombak Stadium, while the SDP rally will be at the field along Bukit Batok Industrial Park A. Both start at 7pm.
Featured image by Najeer Yusof.
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