Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): Mdm Chair, the NEA’s newly-launched Toilet Improvement Programme (TIP) extends grants to Town Councils at an amount capped between $60,000 and $90,000. The grant seeks to raise the hygiene and cleaning standards of public toilets. A corollary aim of the TIP is to encourage the removal of smoking corners. For the grant to be disbursed, Town Councils have to ensure the renovation works to their toilets – provided they are approved for innovation – are completed by 31 March 2022.
Madam, I seek clarity on the policy reasons behind tying the upgrading of toilets with the removal of smoking corners at hawker centres. While the grant can be tapped upon should a smoking corner not be removed in a hawker centre, the quantum of the grant is quite significantly reduced.
In designing the grant parameters, what impact does NEA foresee in the event of the removal of smoking corners from hawker centres with existing smoking corners? Specifically, what is the assessment of the displacement effect of smokers from hawker centres out into the community?
While I appreciate NEA and the medical advice would lean on the very reasonable hope that some smokers would quit the habit as a result of the removal of smoking corners, there is a greater likelihood, at least in the immediate term, of smokers migrating from hawker centres to other areas in the community. This includes smoking in the comfort of their own homes, potentially leading to more nuisance complaints from their fellow neighbours.
To this end, what is the policy connection between toilet upgrading and the removal of smoking corners? Quite simply, the TIP grant and its objectives, while independently commendable, will create the prospect of new disamenities in other Town Council-managed areas and, possibly, between HDB flat dwellers. Town Councils may well have to create new smoking areas somewhere else close to the hawker centres shortly after the grant is given to the Town Council, or even reinstate a smoking corner in the market after the grant has been disbursed. Would it not be a better policy for NEA to tie the TIP grant with specific compulsory criteria related to the renovation of toilets that are energy-saving, green and come with lower life-cycle costs, in line with the Government’s Green Plan and targets?
To this end, some of the recommended features in the TIP include the toilet feedback management system – something I believe is akin to those found in shopping centres and/or the airport where users rate toilet cleanliness. Other additions NEA has recommended include the installation of toilet pedestal mounted bidets.
Sir, public toilets at hawker centres are heavily utilised. It is open to question whether some of these recommended features under the TIP are practical in the long term. It is difficult to imagine how much care must be taken by a cleaner to hygienically clean a toilet pedestal mounted bidet and, separately, how easily such a feature can be damaged in a heavy-use setting. I would like to make two suggestions to the scheme, along with some other questions.
Firstly, extend the programme beyond March 2022, by when toilets are expected to be completed to qualify for the grant.
Secondly, NEA should conduct a pilot scheme at a very heavily-utilised public toilet in a busy hawker centre to field trial and assess the viability of the recommended TIP features. It would be important to study the steady state condition of the pilot toilet at this hawker centre, which should be perceptible after a few months of use, allowing for a better perspective on the effectiveness of the measures proposed. With hawker culture recently added to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, it would be important to get this done right so that a broadly consistent toilet hygiene standard is consistent across all hawker centres in Singapore.
Thirdly, the TIP also envisages an enhanced maintenance regime, the details of which have not been communicated to Town Councils. Does NEA envision an increase in manpower to achieve the cleanliness standards required?
Finally, can I also check whether market associations or committees were spoken to, along with Town Councils that manage NEA markets, for their feedback before the TIP scheme was considered? And in light of the tiered nature of the grant, how many hawker centres in Singapore currrently do not have smoking areas and, out of these, how many are newly constructed hawker centres and how many are legacy hawker centres?
Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment
4 March 2021