Ministry of National Development Committee of Supply 2017 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered In Parliament On 7 March 2017)

Rental Flats and Non-citizen Spouses – Pritam Singh

Chairman, HDB rental flats can be a life-saver for many vulnerable families. They also represent an important safety net for the children of rental lessees and their next generation. I wish to take this opportunity to acknowledge the flexibility granted by the HDB and compassion extended to rental flat applicants from my Meet-the-People session cases who narrowly miss the qualification criteria – single mothers and divorced spouses in particular.

In this context, I have noted a small group of new rental flat applicants coming to my Meet-the-People sessions with increasing frequency. These are foreigners who were either married to Singaporeans in the past and who have Singaporean children and separately, low-wage earning Singaporeans married to foreign spouses. As the rules stand today, neither group qualifies to apply for rental units and many are told of this when they visit the HDB branch offices.

More generally, the Government has reported a rise in the number of citizens marrying non-citizens. While I recognise the limited number of rental units available for needy Singaporean families, the non-citizen spouses I spoke of earlier have a very close connection to Singapore by way of their children’s place of birth or by way marriage to a Singaporean. Would the HDB allow such individuals to apply for rental flats? There is some policy justification in favour of this by virtue of the non-citizen spouse scheme which recognises that Singaporeans married to foreigners can buy HDB flats. I hope the HDB will allow foreign spouses and ex-spouses to rent directly from the HDB so as to allow the individuals concerned and their families get back on their feet.


Upgrading/BTO Design and Maintenance – Png Eng Huat


The Senior Minister of State for National Development had said that HDB adopts a comprehensive management system to track construction process of all BTO projects. In an answer to a PQ in January 2016, the SMS outlined 10 stages of checks and monitoring to ensure BTO projects are properly supervised, building materials and equipment are of acceptable standard, and potential design, safety, and maintenance issues are identified. In addition, this House was also informed that HDB conducts regular audits at different stages of construction to ensure compliance and quality control.

While it may be good to know that HDB takes a no-nonsense approach to ensure build quality of its projects, the reality on the ground can be a big letdown at times.

Some of the designs and quality of BTO flats and upgrading projects I have encountered in Hougang are not acceptable. At Hougang Dewcourt, a mixed development of 4-room flats and studio apartments, the design is not even elderly friendly. The lift lobby lacks natural lighting in the daytime, which is a safety concern for senior citizens living there. Were these potential design, safety, and maintenance issues identified early as mentioned by the Minister? Does HDB expect town council to turn on the light 24 hours a day at such lobby to address a design issue?

The town council also found undulating corridors due to poor workmanship, garden areas that do not have adequate sunlight, and designs that do not make sense. One such design is the sheltered link way connecting Dewcourt to the older part of the estate. The overhang of the shelter falls so short of the apron drain that when it rains, the water hit the walkway directly and turns it into a flowing river. Instead of protecting residents from the rain, a few senior residents had fallen navigating that link way as a result.

The Lift Upgrading Programme is another project with diverse designs and quality issues. Some are well designed while some are just plain bewildering. We have lift lobby shelters that are too small to be effective, and shelters that are not consistently applied across the estate i.e. some blocks have them and some don’t for no apparent reasons.

Madam, in some of the new lift shafts, we found water on top of the lift car, at the bottom of the lift pit, in the controller panel, and in places you never thought water could get in. Yet some lift shafts are so well built that town council has very little issue maintaining them. So where and when do the assurance in quality and control come in?

To further compound the issue, the town council has to take over a project whenever the HDB says so. Is the town council expected to do a thorough check for defects when it has neither control over the design nor oversight on the work progress and workmanship? Is it even proper for HDB to hand over an incomplete project to town council to maintain in the first place?

While some of the issues I mentioned earlier are being rectified at this moment, either by the contractors or town council, why are these issues not picked up during the regular audits at the different stages of construction as highlighted by the Minister? A lot of time and effort were wasted trying to chase down contractors to make good the defects and design anomalies. I have residents who asked me how did their BTO flats pass the BCA in the first place?

Madam, wear and tear does not happen within a year or two upon completion of project. It certainly has something to do with the design, inferior material used, or ineffective quality control on the ground. The comprehensive management system implemented by HDB to oversee its projects is all good but it must translate into acceptable results and quality on the ground consistently.


Estate Privatisation Planning – Png Eng Huat


The last of the HUDC estates has been privatized but for many HDB residents living in the vicinity of the privatized estates, they have to grapple with safety issues and unexpected challenges they never thought existed.

HUDC estates are an integral part of HDB towns. Many common areas, facilities, footpaths, and road access are shared by residents living in both estates. More thoughts have to be put into estate planning post privatization, else such issues will surface. Let me highlight some of the problems faced by residents after the privatisation of the HUDC estates in Hougang.

For the estate at Hougang Ave 2, HDB residents living at one block flats suddenly find themselves cut off from the road that is listed as their legal address on their NRIC, after the privatisation of the HUDC cluster. There is no way to access Blk 712 Hougang Ave 2 from Hougang Ave 2. Calling a taxi, ordering a delivery, or having friends over for a party requires precise direction to be given now.

Over at Hougang Ave 7, a whole new set of issues surfaced after the fencing of the privatised HUDC estate went up. Residents living in the surrounding HDB estates no longer have a safe passage to the main road. The original footpath used by all all residents for over 3 decades is now sitting inside the private estate. Residents are forced to walk on the fringe of the fencing or on the service road to to get to Hougang Ave 7. It gets more challenging for residents on wheelchair or with baby pram as they will have to navigate a narrow and zigzag, 2-way traffic road. At times, vehicles will have to stop to allow these residents to pass safely.

The Town Council and HDB could not even cut the shrubs and lay some concrete slabs to create a simple footpath at the fringe of the private estate for residents to walk safely, as the turf is now sitting on private land as well.

Three lamp posts lighting that service road had their power supply cut off a couple of times as these lights were tapping electricity from the private estate. The Town Council had to re-patch the power supply from one of the nearest HDB blocks in the estate else residents, especially school children, will have to walk in the dark every morning to the bus stop at Hougang Ave 7.

Sir, in the privatization of HUDC estates island-wide, were there any planning done to ensure HDB residents will not be inconvenient in anyway with the redrawing of the boundaries caused by the privatization process? And who is responsible to maintain the HDB car park service road now that it is made to serve both public and private estates after privatisation. Were there any consideration given to replace footpaths for residents due to safety concerns? What should residents do when the road address on their NRIC no longer means what it says?

This government prides itself on planning ahead. I certainly feel that there were not enough planning done or consideration given to the surrounding estates affected by the privatization of HUDC estates. I urge the ministry to look into this and address the safety issues as soon as possible.


Design of Lift Shaft – Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap

I have been receiving feedback from a number of my Kaki Bukit residents mentioning that their block’s newly built lifts constructed under the Lift Upgrading Program (LUP) is warm and stuffy, especially during hot days. Aljunied-Hougang Town Council (AHTC) has also been receiving similar feedback from residents living in other parts of the town. The Town Council had conducted checks on the in-car fan system for these respective lifts and found that everything is good and running well.

After much observations, it was suspected that the metal lift shaft might be the main contributing factor. AHTC had highlighted the matter to HDB twice, informing that the warm air might be due to the metal lift shaft which resulted in conductions of heat, hence causing the air inside the lift to be warm. I’m quite confident that this could be the reason because for Kaki Bukit ward, the affected residents who feedback on this issue stay in blocks where the lift shaft are exposed to direct afternoon sun.

During my recent house visits to one of the affected blocks, a resident expressed concern over this matter. He cited an example of a mantrap situation during a hot day, the trapped passenger, especially one who is an elderly or an individual who has medical conditions, may experience heat related complications such as dehydration, respiratory problem and in a worst case scenario a heat stroke due to the condition of the lift.

I do hope HDB could address this issue so as to avoid any unwanted incidences.


HDB Tree Replacement Guidelines – Pritam Singh

Chairman, trees and greenery are an unmistakable part of the Singapore story since independence. Many HDB flats built in the 1970s and 1980s host trees today that have grown very large and are an indelible part of the community. However, a percentage of these trees – while aesthetically pleasing and growing healthily – have started to host overgrown roots, damaging common property and increasing maintenance costs significantly, and also pose a safety hazard in some cases, especially for the elderly and infirm. However removing a tree is probably one of the hardest things to do for any Town Council. My understanding is that HDB and NParks officers tend to err on the side of caution and would prefer to leave a tree in its place, and take the position that a mature tree should not be cut down if that outcome can be avoided and I can understand this position.

However, exceptions should be made in selected cases and one occasion is during the HDB’s periodic cyclical car park upgrading exercises. A few years ago, the surface area of the car park at Blk 601 Bedok Reservoir Road was upgraded by the HDB – upgrading that comes by once every 25-odd years. A mere two years later, the Town Council has started to receive feedback about dislodged car park slabs as the surrounding trees continue to grow and their roots expand further encroaching into the car park. Chopping off a part of the root by the Town Council contractors to reinstate the car park slabs and prevent further slabs from popping up holds a high risk of destabilising the tree.

As this problem is more unique to mature HDB estates, a parallel concern is the increasing number of elderly who misjudge the height of curbs damaged by overgrown trees. This problem should be addressed with a holistic assessment that is not encumbered by conservation concerns alone but takes safety considerations and long term maintenance costs to the Town Council in mind as well.

The current HDB requirement to plant three new trees for every one felled would ensure that Singapore remains a city full of trees and greenery.


Handling Fallen Trees – Dennis Tan

Sir, recent incidents relating to fallen trees, especially the fatal incident at Botanic Gardens and two days later, a serious case at Yuan Ching Road, have brought closer scrutiny on the inspection and care of our trees – of which there are about 2 million in Singapore. In a reply to my Parliamentary Question last week, the Minister said that NParks currently employs 200 arborists, and NParks and MND continually review resources to ensure that there are sufficient arborists to handle the work requirements. I am happy to hear that.

I would like to seek a clarification from the Minister. I understand from NParks’ Tree Management Programme published in January 2013, that tree inspection details are recorded and entered into a database. For how long are those records required to be kept in the database?

Further, to complement the work of the arborists, I would like to ask the Government to consider engaging external tree experts to conduct independent investigations in cases where fallen trees have caused significant damage to property or have led to personal injury or death, as I understand, is the practice elsewhere. The process should be a fact-finding exercise, and evidence such as the manner in which inspections were conducted and what was looked for during those inspections should be preserved to ensure the integrity of the fact finding process during investigations. In cases of injury or death, a rigorous investigation into the facts of the case conducted by an independent third party may also better assist affected families to seek closure.


Naming of Public Buildings – Sylvia Lim

A nation is grounded in its history and common frames of reference.  The names we put on public buildings become part of our nation’s consciousness, a collective memory for present and future generations.

Today, we see the commercialisation of facility names all over Singapore.

We have the DBS Singapore Gallery and the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery at the National Gallery Singapore, the Far East Organization Children’s Garden at Gardens by the Bay, the OCBC Arena and the OCBC Aquatic Centre at the Singapore Sports Hub. Had there not been a public outcry over naming rights, the sports hub and facilities flanking our National Stadium might be known as OCBC World today.[1] Our public universities too, are dotted with many examples, like the College of Alice and Peter Tan, and the Mochtar Riady Building. While the generosity of donors should be encouraged and accorded due appreciation, what kind of message are we sending by naming even a children’s playground after a corporate entity?

Some clarity from the government was seen in 2013 when it came to national icons such as the National Stadium and Sports Hub.  Then, Acting MCCY Minister Lawrence Wong, noted in a Parliamentary answer that while OCBC had donated significantly to the project, the names of such national sports icons would not be commercialized.

Apart from sports, what about the naming of other landmark facilities, such as our public hospitals?  We now have the Khoo Teck Puat and Ng Teng Fong General Hospitals.  These hospitals were fully-funded from government grants, with the donors reportedly giving a fraction of that towards various healthcare programmes.  Understandably, naming these hospitals after the two donors has caused controversy, with public chatter that the naming rights were sold relatively cheaply.  Could and should the hospitals have been named in a more meaningful way?

The URA has guidelines for the naming of buildings, which say that names of persons, living or dead, should not be used unless there is significant cause to do so. Persons who are honoured have to be “outstanding persons who have made significant contributions to Singapore.”

Before granting approval of names, how carefully does the government assess the reputation of donors?  What safeguards are there against donors who may be trying to shore up their reputation in the name of philanthropy? The issue is even trickier when the donor is a living person, as his legacy could always turn from good to bad if he gets into personal, financial or legal problems later.

The question is to what extent the names of our public buildings should be sold to the highest bidder.  Should we have loftier aspirations instead, by naming public facilities to reflect ideals rather than wealth?  In comparison, names like the Lim Bo Seng Memorial bring abundantly more to the national consciousness and to future generations.