Friday, June 11, 2010

It's official: HDB estates are clean but...

Town councils don't fare so well in terms of maintenance: Report

HDB residents can now gauge how well their town councils are doing their job, following the release of the first report card on the performance of the 16 councils in Singapore.

The two best performers are Ang Mo Kio-Yio Chu Kang led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and Tanjong Pagar headed by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, according to the government's Town Council Management Report.

The two worst performers are run by the opposition: Hougang, by the Workers' Party's Low Thia Khiang, and Potong Pasir by the Singapore People's Party's Chiam See Tong.

Their low grades are due mainly to the bigger proportion of homes failing to pay their service and conservancy charges (S&CC) for at least three months.

But take away the level of arrears, and the gap between the performance levels of the councils run by the People's Action Party (PAP) and the opposition narrows significantly.

In releasing the report yesterday, the National Development Ministry stressed that the objective is not to compare one against the other but to see how each is doing over time. The report will be issued every six months.

'The more appropriate use of the results is for monitoring the performance of town councils over time,' said a spokesman for the ministry, which oversees public housing in Singapore.

Residents would also be better informed, so that they can continue to play a part in shaping their estates, added the ministry.

Ranking the councils, however, was out of the question, it pointed out.

'It is not appropriate to make simplistic comparisons,' said the spokesman, citing how the profiles of the residents and property of the 16 town councils are far from identical.

For instance, some estates, like Queenstown, have more older blocks of flats which require greater maintenance than newer ones.

Of the 16 councils, 14 are run by the PAP and two by the opposition. Together, they manage about 900,000 flats.

Their performance is based on six indicators, involving cleanliness, maintenance, lift performance and how councils deal with arrears in S&CC, which fund the cost of maintaining the estates.

In each category, they are graded on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the worst.

Assessed between last October and this March, most did well for cleanliness and lift performance, getting either 1 or 2.

But in maintaining the estates, they did not fare as well: most got a 3.

Analysts contacted yesterday generally applauded the report, saying it was a good start in guiding town councils on the areas in which they need to improve.

Said Dr Lim Lan Yuan from the National University of Singapore's department of real estate: 'It is a good benchmark for all town councils. They need to make sure that for the next report, they maintain or score better.'

As for the higher proportion of S&CC arrears in Hougang and Potong Pasir, Dr Lim said: 'They may not be chasing residents as much as the others because when you chase too much, residents may not be happy.'

Both single-seat constituencies got a 5 for arrears management. They also did poorly in estate maintenance, with Hougang getting a 4 and Potong Pasir, 5.

Their MPs, however, are not perturbed by the results. Said Mr Chiam, without elaborating: 'They want to thump Potong Pasir down.'

Political analyst Gillian Koh, of the Institute of Policy Studies, believes some Singaporeans would find the report wanting in one area: how councils invest their funds.

The issue caused uproar in 2008, when several PAP councils were found to have invested $16million in toxic financial products. It led to calls for greater transparency in how councils are run, and prompted the Government to introduce the report card.

MP Teo Ho Pin, chairman of the 14 PAP councils, said they were able to do well because 'we share our best practices at meetings every two months'.

Many of the 30 residents interviewed were underwhelmed by the results, with some saying the glowing scores on cleanliness and maintenance do not reflect the reality in their neighbourhood.

Said shopowner Oh Gek Heok, 57, who lives in Jurong, which got a 1 for lift performance: 'I was expecting the scores for my town council to be quite bad. Sometimes people urinate in the lift and it's not cleaned even after one or two days.'

However, graphic designer Lini Chew, 27, who lives in Tanjong Pagar, finds her estate in Mei Ling Street very well-kept. 'There are no piles of rubbish. But we have pests like cockroaches.'

Source: Straits Times, 11 Jun 2010

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