In 1991, when the Workers’ Party (WP) took over the management of the Hougang Town Council (HGTC), the first challenge it faced was to manage the common property in a fair and transparent manner by balancing the interests of all parties concerned.
In response to complaints of noise pollution and other disturbances by the residents, HGTC had to formulate a policy on the use of common areas under its management.
HGTC in implementing the policy was guided by the need for consistency across the board, regardless of who the applicant was or which organization was applying, including the Workers’ Party grassroots committee in Hougang. The policy applied to all interested parties who want to use the venue for functions or activities. This includes individual residents, religious groups, and other organizations.
The fact remains that over the years, Residents’ Committees (RCs) in Hougang had made use of common areas to organize activities regardless of whether approval had been given by HGTC or not. In the last 21 years, the various RC zones in Hougang Constituency had never ceased holding their functions at common areas. If the HGTC had curbed their functions or had made it difficult for them to access the sites, they would not have been able to hold any of their functions.
Besides RC centres at each zone, which are usually strategically located and convenient to the residents, they are now saying that it is unsatisfactory to just organize activities at these centres and the community club or state land; they want to have control over common property to increase their visibility and have wider outreach to promote PAP candidates who lost at the last election but are re-emerging as “advisors”.
In attempting to sidetrack the issue of what is the “real” role of the People’s Association (PA) funded by taxpayers’ money and to conceal the political motivation behind this unprecedented policy of excluding such common property from Town Council management, they now issue a long list of untrue accusations that I shall rebut point by point.
Untrue Claims about Rejection of GROs’ Applications to Use Common Areas
1. PA claimed that “in 2001, under the current Constituency Director (Hougang), the GROs made fresh attempts to apply for the use of common property under the HGTC. Their requests were again mostly rejected.” The reasons given for rejection were noise pollution and prohibition of certain activities like washing and cooking at the void decks. On many occasions, no reasons were furnished.
Response: I would appreciate it if PA can show how many applications were rejected instead of making general and vague statements.
We have gone through all rejected applications. The above cited reasons were not found in any. HGTC too has records of all applications since 1993 that were approved.
2. It was stated that “in 2004, the HGTC issued a letter to Hougang Constituency Office (CO) that they “have ceased the issuance of permits for the holding of functions in front of the Hougang Zone ‘1’ RC Centre at Block 2 Hougang Avenue 3 since 2002”. Again, no reason was given by the HGTC. “
Response: Mr Desmond Choo probably referred to the HGTC’s response to the RC’s attempt to apply for permit to hold Hari Raya/Christmas function in Dec 2004. He failed to highlight the fact that this applied only to the open space fronting Blk 2 Hougang Avenue 3 and that the HGTC had in 2002 notified the RC Chairman then, one Mr Derrick Ong of this policy. HGTC too had explained to Mr Derrick Ong the rationale behind this decision and that the policy applied to all applications for use of the said space including for religious functions.
Despite having been notified of the policy, Mr Derrick Ong proceeded to put up the tentage in Dec 2004 but it was dismantled after he referred the matter to the Police who supported the dismantling of the tentage after speaking to both the HGTC and the RC Chairman. HGTC however did not stop the Hari Raya/Christmas function by the RC which continued at the void deck of Block 2 Hougang Avenue 3.
3. PA complaint that “in 2001, Hougang Zone ‘1’ RC organised a Constituency Martial Arts at the basketball court behind Blk 2 Hougang Ave 3 at 9pm with about 800 participants when the lights were suddenly switched off. The event was supposed to finish at 10pm but had to be terminated prematurely.”
Response: I thought PA claimed that for the past 20 years, most grassroots activities have been confined to within the Community Club (CC), Residents’ Committee (RC) Centres and on state land?
This is evidence that RC was able to organize activity at hard courts even though the basketball court was managed by HGTC and no permit was applied for to HGTC for the use. With them holding such big functions on common properties managed by the Town Council and using electricity from the Town Council, it is more likely it was overloading that caused the trip.
4. Claim that “Hougang GROs subsequently stopped making applications to the HGTC and kept the activities within either the CC or the RC Centres. Many residents are not keen to participate in activities at the RC centres as these centres are small and stuffy. The air-conditioning systems are not strong enough to cope with large numbers of people. For larger scale events, Hougang GROs usually apply for state land to hold their functions. They have to incur much higher cost for the use of state land due to the requirement to erect tentages, stage and provide planking. Most of the state lands are located away from residents’ homes so, to attract their participation, usually two-way transport is expected, adding to the cost of organising the events.”
Response: This is untrue. The RC continued to hold functions at hard courts, void decks and open space over the years for many occasions and the TC has never stopped these activities even when some of these caused noise nuisance to the residents of the blocks eg Blk 332 Hougang Ave 5 National Day event at the basketball court.
Untrue Claims for Lack of Responsiveness by HGTC
5. Claim that “In 2006, Hougang CO wrote to HGTC to open the void deck storeroom and riser rooms for a bomb sweep for then Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong’s visit. The request was made a few days before the visit. There was no response from HTC despite reminders until a few hours before the actual bomb sweep.”
Response: HGTC responded to CO to advise that it was important to conduct the bomb sweep nearer to the time of visit to ensure that there was no opportunity for anyone to plant bombs in the last minutes prior to SM’s visit. It is shocking that the natural concern of the HGTC for SM’s safety is now politicized by the PA.
6. Claim that “In 2009, Hougang Zone ‘3’ RC sent a letter to HGTC to ask for approval to install a CCTV camera outside the RC centre to enhance the security of the centre in conjunction with the RC’s Cyclical Maintenance Programme. The request was ignored by HTC. Till today, HTC did not respond despite repeated phone calls for a reply. “
Response: HGTC has no record of the request. Please show proof that this was received by HGTC.
7. Claim that “In 2010, Hougang Citizens’ Consultative Committee sent letters of invitation to the HTC to attend briefings by the HDB on HUDC privatisation but HTC turned down the invitations.”
Response: The HDB was advised that since the TC and the MP has no role in the process involved prior to the legal privatization of the HUDC, the presence of the TC was therefore not relevant.
False Allegation of “Subtle Sabotages”
8. Allegation that “In November 2010, Hougang GROs organised a Lift Upgrading Precinct Polling Exercise cum RC Festive Celebrations for Blocks 351 to 352, Blocks 354 to 357, Hougang Avenue 7. The HTC was invited to attend a site visit at Block 352, Hougang Ave 7 as it was the most ideal venue. The HTC did not turn up for the site visit. Instead, many construction materials coincidentally appeared beneath the identified block. Hougang GROs had to change the venue to Block 357 and re-do their publicity materials and tickets at the last minute.”
Response : Works to repair the external canopies of Blk 352 were underway when the HDB decided to hold the polling/exhibition exercise for LUP. The repair works which involved hacking of the mosaic tiles of the canopy was required to be carried out by the HDB as part of their ongoing program to rectify external facades following various incidences of falling façade claddings. The demolished tiles were removed daily from the canopies and deposited at the turf area fronting the block for disposal off site. HDB did not conduct a site inspection of the block until just prior to the day of polling to know that there was debris collected at the site. The Head of Hougang Branch Office had called the TC to request for the clearing of the site and arrangements were made to immediately dispose off the debris. However, there was a platform at site that was used by the contractor to access the high external facades and as this cannot be easily removed, the Head of Hougang Branch Office was advised that it was not possible to do so. Instead, the TC had suggested that the site where the platform was would be cordoned off and the area cleaned up for the polling exercise.
The HDB then decided instead to relocate the exercise to Blk 357 instead.
Therefore, the allegation that HGTC had purposely dumped rubbish at Blk 352 to sabotage the polling exercise is unfounded and is calculated to cast doubt on TC’s integrity.
Unfounded Claim of HGTC Limiting GROs’ Publicity of Activities and Programmes
9. Claim that “The banner poles directly outside Hougang Zone ‘3’ RC Centre facing the basketball court were blocked by tall hedges planted by the HTC. The banners can only be seen by residents at a close range.”
Response: The turf area was badly eroded and soil erosion had caused chokes in drains and breeding of mosquitoes. Planting was carried out not only to this area but along the entire stretch fronting the block. Care was however taken to ensure that there were no blockages to the RC’s signs.
10. Claim that “HGTC also finds excuses to relocate Hougang RCs’ notice boards to less prominent locations. In 2004, HTC wrote to Hougang CO to look for new walls to hang 34 RC notice boards as the original walls were “converted” to “featured walls”. These notice boards, originally placed at the lift lobby, were removed to facilitate painting works at the lift lobby. After the painting, the notice boards were placed at less visible spots, either under poor lighting or away from human traffic flow.”
Response: Letters were given to the RCs to explain the relocation exercise ie the TC in upgrading all the lift lobby walls had decided that there was to be no placements of notice boards on the newly tiled walls for aesthetic purposes. The TC’s notice boards were also affected. However, the RCs were given the first choice to decide on the new location that they prefer to place their notice boards. The better locations were thus all taken by the RC and the TC were left with second choice locations.
All the RC’s did joint inspections with the TC for this relocation exercise willingly and all were conducted smoothly.
False claims that GROs were fined
11 Claim that “Hougang GROs’ efforts in reaching out to residents at common areas managed by HGTC have been inconvenienced by HTC’s un-cooperative behaviours over the years. The GROs have now stopped making applications to HGTC. Occasionally, the RCs spill their activities over to the void decks or erect simple set-up like hanging backdrop on the wall at void decks on the event day to increase their circulation space. HGTC is fast to issue fines on the spot or will not hesitate to confiscate banners/backdrops hung at the walls of void decks.”
Response: Check record and found this to be a baseless claim. There was however one incidence at Blk 316 where the senior citizens corner of the PA had held a function and erected a tentage at the turf area. The tentage was not dismantled after the function. Despite the fact that the TC visited the members of the centre to advise them to dismantle the tentage since it was already several days after the function, the advice of the TC was ignored. A notice of offence was then issued. The tentage was then immediately removed and till today the PA did not pay the fine and the TC had never pursued the matter since the tentage was dismantled.
Both MND and PA are bankrupt on their ideas on how to justify the exclusion of the common property in HDB estates from the management of opposition-managed Aljunied-Hougang TC. This is unprecedented and politically motivated.
Mr Desmond Choo’s statement was thus intended to mislead all that HGTC had stopped issuing permits for all sites which RC intended to use for their functions and to use this as the reason to support their application for exclusive use of various common areas in Hougang Estate.
LOW THIA KHIANG
MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT FOR ALJUNIED
FORMER CHAIRMAN, HOUGANG TOWN COUNCIL