BB BE: Who cares who pays for what upgrade? Do you?

Apr 29, 2016 08.45PM |

by Bertha Henson

A COUPLE of months ago, my mother attended a talk on the Home Improvement Programme (HIP). This is the one where the basic plan includes getting pipes replaced and spalling concrete fixed in the flat. Her block had been included in the Housing Board (HDB) scheme which required three-quarters of the residents to get the green light.

There is an enhanced version as well, which has grab bars and non-slip floor tiles in toilets. What would happen if most of the residents didn’t vote for this more expensive version? Could she still get them installed, she wanted to know?

It’s a pity that an elderly gentleman was dominating the floor which left the others no time for questions for the Member of Parliament (MP) and the HDB officers. So she didn’t get to ask about whether she could pay her share in instalments. (My mother belongs to a generation which likes to keep as much money in the bank for as long as possible, never mind the near-zero interest rate.)

I was thinking about how lucky HDB residents are, to have access to such upgrades with the G footing 95 per cent of the cost. That amounts to residents paying only between $125 and $313, depending of flat type, for the Enhancement for Active Seniors (Ease) programme that my mother is eyeing.

Over the years, I’ve witnessed so many infrastructural changes in her neighbourhood that I wonder if someone was being too cavalier with money. Old playgrounds get replaced and suddenly there are ramps for the wheelchair-bound. Void decks have a new flooring of cement and covered porches pop up for drivers to pick up and drop off passengers.

Somehow, these things just seem to happen automatically. For a few days or several weeks, hoardings will go up and foreign workers will be within them with their wheelbarrows. Then the hoardings come down and…voila!

Like magic.

In my private estate, there would be endless tangles about adding to the sinking fund and so forth, and how much each household will have to pay.

Frankly, I don’t think HDB residents think much about the amenities that sprout up in their neighbourhood… They just happen.

It says much about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into the running of a housing estate. But whether it’s the HDB, the town council, or the grassroots groups that were behind the improvements, people probably don’t know – and don’t care.

Where is the money coming from? The G? The town council? The grassroots groups? The mysterious Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC)? Who proposes and who disposes? Who approves? Then again, who cares anyway but politicians, especially opposition politicians? Do residents care?

Just think about what happened in the case of the Workers’ Party’s Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC). After more than a year of the G (and the PAP) trashing its accounts and threatening to withhold grants, as well as rumblings about illegal activities, all seems to have been forgiven or at least settled amicably. The AHTC got its grants and the G got an accountant in to look at its books. So much time (including parliamentary and court time), money, and energy has been spent on an outcome that is a damp squib. And residents didn’t care enough to kick up a fuss in the meantime.

What most HDB residents know enough of, however, is to call the town council when things go wrong – like a void deck that hasn’t been swept for two days or a common corridor which hasn’t been hosed over by cleaners in a week. They sort of know that an MP is behind most of the developments because it has been drummed into them that they must elect a candidate who is able to run a housing estate. Besides this basic understanding, the nitty gritty is beyond them.

So I have been thinking about Bukit Batok and how the two candidates are going on and on about the upgrading projects. Whether residents have been consulted or whether it was a carry-over project or whether they were already “a given”. As for the money, it seems to have been set aside already from last election. So it’s $1.9 million for the town council to spend.

Will residents care? Methinks people will only care if they have to foot the bill in some kind of co-payment like the HIP scheme.

The Neighbourhood Renewal Project (NRP) in Bukit Batok is fully government-funded. So the PAP’s tentative opening lines about how the project might not go through if the PAP is not elected has no practical effect. It’s a question of who can get the projects like sheltered walkways and other amenities off the ground more effectively.

I was thinking that it was a bad move by the PAP to talk about the NRP, especially since the plan had been in the works since before the last General Election under former MP David Ong. While it’s nice to announce a ready inheritance, it sure looks like a windfall for the SDP, with some money already committed and at the disposal of whoever gets elected.

It might have been better for the PAP to trot out its grassroots network, which can apply for the use of CIPC money from the Ministry of National Development (MND). The ministry pays out 90 per cent for minor town improvement projects such as fitness corners and drop-off points. The town council picks up the rest of the tab. Then again, PAP probably thinks this would be imprudent as it only highlights the power of a constituency’s grassroots adviser, a role not open to elected opposition MPs.

It was interesting, however, to witness the verbal gymnastics about the role of town councils. The PAP denigrated SDP’s assumption that the NRP is a URA project – but that’s about it really.

The SDP tried to make an issue of the NRP being part of a $24 million plan that is already in the works – and that’s about it really.

So the issue is… what then? That the SDP knows nothing about how town councils work, and the PAP hasn’t been upfront?

Ah well. Not my problem. It’s for Bukit Batok residents to figure out.


Featured image P3230122 by Flickr user stufffroggyCC BY-ND 2.0. 

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