Fiery debate over hawker centre cleaning

File Photo: Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan.

At the centre of a heated debate in Parliament yesterday was the question of whether an Aljunied GRC property manager had asked hawkers at two markets to pay extra charges for the cleaning of high areas.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan asked Workers' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim at least four times to give "a simple 'yes' or 'no'" answer to whether the manager, Mr Tai Vie Shun, did so.

He also accused Ms Lim and Mr Pritam Singh, two of the five MPs for Aljunied GRC, of making "false and untruthful denials".

He said he had evidence and witness accounts to prove Mr Tai had denied that it was the town council's responsibility to clean the high areas.

He said that Mr Tai had asked hawkers at the two Bedok hawker centres to pay extra charges on at least three occasions, and distributed to Members of Parliament a 22-page dossier comprising e-mail messages and meeting minutes to back up his case.

The fiery exchange, which lasted almost 40 minutes, is the latest in a long-running dispute over the cleaning of hawker centres in Aljunied GRC, which emerged early last month.

Ms Lim denied the allegation, reiterating that the issue was a misunderstanding over whether the cleaning works were annual ones - which involved high areas - or quarterly ones.

She also said that confusion arose as a result of a misleading e-mail message from the National Environment Agency.

She stressed that Mr Tai "at no point in time asked for extra money to be paid to the town council for high-area cleaning", and that the minutes did not prove the Minister's allegation.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "You cannot say that your staff are confused...that all this is a misunderstanding. I'm afraid it is not. The evidence is incontrovertible."

Turning to WP chief Low Thia Khiang, he said: "I have known you as an honourable man for 12 years. I would humbly suggest you conduct careful internal investigations, including perusing the e-mail trail...before the town council makes a pronouncement which is wrong in fact."