Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources Committee of Supply 2019 – Cuts by WP MPs and NCMPs

(Delivered on 7 Mar 2019)

Rebooting the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) – Daniel Goh

Chairman, it is great to hear that the Zero Waste Masterplan will be launched towards the end of this year, and will specifically target the problem areas of food waste, e-waste and packaging waste. I believe the focus will be on upstream solutions. The Minister of Finance has exhorted Singaporeans, as individuals, to change our way of life and practise the 3Rs, to reduce consumption, recycle and reuse.

But I would like to warn against neglecting what may be seen as downstream issues. The 3Rs are not simply linked to individual ways of life that could be easily changed. Ways of life are bound up with social norms, cultural beliefs and urban systems. Change must come about through collective action.

On recycling, our domestic recycling rate has been stuck at 21 per cent. The blue bins at each block of flats have hit a green ceiling. Public education is still relevant. Single-use plastics remains a major problem. A survey by the Singapore Environment Council found that we use at least 1.76 billion plastic items a year, of which less than 20 per cent is recycled. SEC also reported that 7 in 10 people do not know what plastics to recycle. We need to double-down on green education.

On reducing, we have to tackle head-on the rise of new patterns of retail and consumption. The rise of home delivery and online shopping means packaging waste will only get higher. On this front, MEWR will have to work closely with online retailers to minimise packaging and may well have to legislate or impose a packaging tax to compel reduction.

On reusing, many countries are now promoting the reusing of waste for building and construction. Is MEWR working with BCA on this front to promote the reusing of waste by our construction companies for their projects?

Accountability of Errant Contractor – Dennis Tan

In November 2018, I filed an oral PQ for the Minister for Environment and Water Resources in respect of the supply of 8,600 quartz niches, instead of marble ones, when the niches were relocated from Mount Vernon Columbarium.

Specifically I had asked (1) whether NEA had verified that all contractual requirements have been fulfilled by the contractors during delivery and installation; (2) what punitive action will be taken against the contractors; and (3) whether the contractors are required to provide refunds or compensation where affected families do not accept a marble replacement.

The minister has told me in his PQ answer that the contractor will bear the costs required to make good on what should have been delivered, that NEA has withheld payments to the contractor, and NEA will also be claiming against the contractor for any difference in price between the quartz and marble plaques.

However, to date, we have not yet been told any explanation given by the contractor for their supply of the 8600 quartz plaques, more than one third of the contracted quantity. Can the minister clarify what was the explanation given by the contractor?

Was it a deliberate attempt? Was it an attempt to deceive?

There was no mention of police report or police investigation in the PQ answer.

I would like to know whether NEA has made any police report, and if no police report was made, why did NEA not do so.

If a police report was made, when was it made and whether any investigation was carried out or is being carried out by the police or CAD. What is the outcome of the investigation?

Finally I would like to know whether any further action will be taken by NEA in this connection besides what was stated in the PQ reply and whether the supplier will be blacklisted from future contracts.

Inland Ash Scattering – Low Thia Khiang

Chairman Sir, it was announced last year that Singaporeans will have three new after-death facilities in the near future to meaningfully send off their loved ones. A new facility for the scattering of ashes at sea without having to travel by boat is being built at Tanah Merah. It was reported that there would be four pavilions accommodating seven people each and a shelter for 28 people.

I would like to ask when will this facility be ready and whether the facility is big enough to accommodate big family groups wanting to send off their loved ones?

I have similar questions for the in-land ash scattering facilities at Choa Chu Kang Cemetery Complex and the Mandai Crematorium and Columbarium Complex. It was reported that these would be ready in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

Is the construction of the facilities on track for completion in the next two years?

We have been given some general information about the facilities being open to all faiths and set in a beautiful, tranquil and respectful environment. But there are very few details about the facilities. Will the Minister please share what the public can expect from the facilities?

Unlike the keeping of ashes in an urn in the Columbarium, the scattering of ashes is the last ceremony for family members to pay their respects to the remains of their loved ones. As such, it is important that the design of the facilities should be properly thought out and the facilities planning takes into account the comfort and privacy of grieving family members as well as accommodating ritual requirement of different faith.

I hope the ministry will share more information on the planned facilities and perhaps conduct a public consultation?