NEA vs AHPETC: Who to believe?

theonlinecitizen May 30, 2013


By Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the article “NEA says town councils responsible for paying contractors to erect scaffolding” (Channel NewsAsia, May 30).

NEA says town council’s responsibility?

It states that “The National Environment Agency (NEA) said all town councils have always been responsible for paying contractors to erect scaffolding where required to clean walls, fans, lighting exhaust systems, and ceilings of hawker centres as a routine part of spring cleaning.”

AHPETC says NEA said hawkers’ association’s responsibility?

In contrast, the Deputy General Manager of Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council said in its reply “Food centre cleaning: Town council replies” (Straits Times forum, May 29) that “WITH regard to the cleaning exercise at the Block 538 Bedok North market in March, it was the National Environment Agency (NEA), the coordinating agency, that informed us in February that the hawker association would be making the necessary arrangements for the scaffolding to clean the high areas (“Stallholders in row with WP town council“ Sunday)”.

Who to believe?

So, who do we believe – NEA or AHPETC?

Since “it was the National Environment Agency (NEA), the coordinating agency, that informed us in February that the hawker association would be making the necessary arrangements for the scaffolding to clean the high areas”, I would like to suggest that AHPETC provide more information – was it in writing and if so produce the document – if it was oral, who told you? – was it at a meeting, telephone conversation, etc?

As to “NEA said there should be no additional charges as the town councils have already collected Service and Conservancy Charges from the hawkers, what AHPETC said is totally different – “We stress that at no point in time did any of our authorised personnel advise hawkers or anyone that there would be additional charges imposed by the town council on the hawkers for the cleaning”.

So, for the sake of clarity, why not produce the evidence as to who said it (if any since AHPETC said it wasn’t anybody authorised by them) – was it in writing, oral by whom, etc?

In this connection, the Straits Times article “Stallholders in row with WP town council” said “Stallholders said they were informed they had to pay for the scaffolding that is erected for the washing, but said they never had to in the past”.

So, who was the source of the above statement – stallholders’ association, some stallholders, a stallholder – now that AHPETC says that there was no such thing?

Media protocol?

As a matter of protocol and courtesy, the NEA should reply to the AHPETC’s letter through the Straits Times forum, instead of only through the Straits Times article (“Town councils bear scaffolding cost: NEA, May 30) and Channel NewsAsia.

Anyone who reads the Straits Times forum (which is free online) may not read the Straits Times proper (must pay) or  may not read CNA (which is free), and vice versa. That’s why media protocol is as I understand it so well established and practised universally. Otherwise, some readers may be left “hanging in the air” with just “half the story” or arguably just one side of the story.

So, how did the above happen?

One-sided story?

Well, we can only speculate as concerned citizens and if I may add – as a resident of Serangoon Gardens, which is in AHPETC, I must say that I am not very happy because anyone who reads the NEA’s side of the story in CNA without having read AHPETC’s side of the story in the Straits Times forum of 29 May or its subsequent article on 30 May- may get the impression that we (the residents) live in a town council that is “stupid”, “incompetent”, or something. (By the way, these have been the sort of comments that I have been hearing in “coffee shop” talk and national conversation”)

NEA work with town council?

Aren’t Government agencies supposed to work with town councils? Why doesn’t the NEA and AHPETC get together (maybe at the same time with the press) and come out with more meaningful statements, instead of this “tit for tat” quarrel across different channels?

This is akin to 2 boxers throwing punches at each other, but in 2 different boxing rings.

Is such behaviour in the interest of residents and Singaporeans?

How come one-sided story?

This is what puzzles me most and I cannot understand – since the story “Stallholders in row with WP town council” came out in the Straits Times of 26 May, why did the NEA make its subject controversial statement to CNA whose report makes no mention of what AHPETC said (which is totally different from the NEA’s version)?

In other words, the CNA report only carries one side of the story – the NEA one.

Arguably, CNA may have been sloppy and could have done a more thorough news report – unless CNA doesn’t read the Straits Times (granted that they are in a way competitors). Because if it had read AHPETC’s reply to the Straits Times the day before CNA published the NEA’s press statement – why didn’t it say anything at all about what AHPETC had clarified?

Or could it be that the NEA’s press statement to CNA made no mention that it was in response to AHPETC’s reply to the Straits Times forum, or did CNA omit this very important part?

Is this in the interest of readers and Singaporeans who rely on the media to tell us what’s happening around us everyday?

Why we need social media?

Maybe, arguably – that’s why social media may play such an important role, particularly in Singapore which has a press freedom ranking of 149th (which may be stifled by the new MDA licensing rules and the $50,000 performance bond).

In any case, the Straits Times arguably did a much better job at reporting than CNA, because its report did carry the AHPETC’s clarification to what the NEA said.

AIM reporting?

The media reporting of the AIM saga is a good example to note – that good and fair reporting requires both sides of the story to be told – and not have reports that is a repetition of one side of the story without sufficient mention of the other side’s story that has already been clarified earlier.

As analogy, if I say where’s the missing million today and tomorrow the other side explains why there is no missing million, it may not be fair for me to run another story the following day about another person who is asking about the missing million without sufficient mention of the earlier “no missing million” clarification.

Need abundance of media?

The reality may be that a lot of people may just read the headlines and form an impression or perception – that’s why an abundance of media, both mainstream and social media is so important, particularly in Singapore.

May be NEA & AHPETC weren’t speaking the same language (English) in their meetings?  

With regard to “NEA said Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council was reminded of this point at several occasions, including the most recent meeting in April 2013 involving the Town Council, Hawker Association and NEA –  were any minutes taken at these meetings? If so, can the minutes be made public?

Well done! NEA

In respect of “It added that Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council should fulfil its statutory duties in safeguarding the hygiene and health of the patrons of the hawker centres under its charge” – To my living memory, I do not recall the NEA having ever taken any town councils to task over a  ”Town Council should fulfil its statutory duties”. So, well done NEA – you are arguably, finally appearing to be doing a great job, at least from the perspective of historical statistical occurence.

About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.