Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources Committee of Supply 2017 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered In Parliament On 8 March 2017)


Curbing Roadside Pollution – Daniel Goh

In September 2016, a research scientist from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (Smart) found that commuters who wait at bus stops could suffer more from the pollution of the toxic ultrafine particles emitted by vehicles. His research showed that a two-way bus journey five days a week could lead to a commuter inhaling about 3.5 times more tiny pollutant particles than at ambient level.

The Singapore Air Quality Data, provided by the NEA, only measures up to PM2.5. However, the particles found in vehicle emissions are 100 times smaller, and thus are not currently captured in our air quality indices. In many cities around the world, curbside pollution along main trunk routes are included in air quality indices. We should develop our own roadside index as part of our slew of air quality indices. Other than the informational function, the roadside air quality index will serve an educational purpose and as a progress tracking instrument in our fight against this specific pollution.

Vehicular emission control is the ultimate solution to this problem. But even as we make progress on this front, would the Ministry work with the relevant agencies to promote technological and design innovations to mitigate the effects of curbside pollution on bus commuters? Recently, the experimental next generation bus stop in Jurong made the news. Equipped with a swing, rooftop garden, artwork, library books and broadcast screens, the bus stop makes waiting productive and may even encourage more waiting. But this is actually a dangerous proposition given curbside pollution. I hope such experimental bus stops would also test technologies and designs to mitigate curbside pollution.


Littering and Tray Return Initiatives – Png Eng Huat

Madam, when the tray return initiative was introduced in 2012, it was briefly touted as a success in the early days but with a caveat – the high return rates came only when volunteers were around to encourage patrons to return trays. Back then, NEA acknowledged that the tray return initiative had still some way to go before the practice takes root.

It has been more than 4 years since the return tray initiative was launched. I am not sure if my experience and observation at the hawkers centre is an outlier, but the practice has not taken root, and the initiative does not seem to be achieving its objective. Tables at hawker centres and food outlets continue to be cluttered with leftover food, dishes and trays, regardless of peak or off-peak hours.

I seek an update from the minister on the progress of the rollout of the return tray facilities in all hawker centres, and the effort NEA intends to take to make this initiative work. Without a sustained effort to promote these facilities, which cost an average of $11,000 per hawker centre, it will not be money well spent.

Next, I wish seek an update from NEA on its anti-littering campaigns. The 2010 campaign, “Do the Right Thing. Let’s Bin it”, was rather mouthful and forgettable as the message was not sustained as well. Littering remains a problem in our city state despite the many years of effort to educate the public on this anti social behaviour. As a first world country, we are certainly not living like one in the area of cleanliness.

Madam, the success of the tray return initiative and anti-littering campaign is an important part of the equation in our effort to keep bird nuisance and rodent infestation at bay. I urge the ministry not to let up in its effort to imbue the public with social responsibility for the good of the country.

Fair Rentals for Hawkers – Daniel Goh

It has been three years since the social enterprise model for managing hawker centres was piloted. Recently in December 2016, NEA announced that it was moving forward with the next phase with two components.

The first component is the call for social enterprises to tender for the management of two new hawker centres at Yishun and Jurong West. The second component is the appointment of NTUC Foodfare to manage what NEA calls a “pilot group” of two new hawker centres in Woodlands and Pasir Ris, and five existing hawker centres in Toa Payoh, Old Airport Road, Whampoa, and Chong Pang. NEA believes this would offer NTUC Foodfare economies of scale and greater flexibility to experiment with new ideas and operational processes.

I have several questions. Concerning the “pilot group”, given the geographical spread of the hawker centres, how are economies of scale achieved? Why is there a need in the first place for economies of scale? Is the operator under cost pressures and what are these? Have rental rates at the Bedok Interchange hawker centre gone up in the last three years? Similarly, have the prices of the food there gone up in the last three years? For the two new hawker centres in the group, will there be a mix of subsidized and non-subsidized stallholder paying market rentals?

The same question applies to the two new hawker centres being tendered out for social enterprise management. Also, would NTUC Foodfare be excluded in the interest of allowing for a diversity of operators to experiment with new ideas and operational processes and to develop expertise? If NTUC Foodfare requires economies of scale, then what about the new operators?