Saturday, 28 April 2007

Questions for Oral Answer: 10 April 2007

A while back, I wrote about an article in TODAY about the woes suffered by one-room rental flat tenants during an upgrading exercise. I felt it was outrageous and unacceptable.

In this past month's sitting, I filed an OPQ about it. The response presented a very different side of the story. I just wonder why the HDB did not respond to the media reports, to clarify what had happened.

I also filed an OPQ on the Administrative Service. The reply shows that there has been no increase in the number of resignations from the Administrative Service. In the event, since the Administrative Service SR9 benchmark was not being revised, I left it at that.

Someone had, after reading my post on the OPQ, suggested some follow-up questions for additional information which I thought were excellent ideas. But Minister Teo's response showed that follow-up questions for additional information would not have been entertained.

But that also brings me to how PQs are phrased. Even on the most innocuous and least politically-charged topics, sometimes answers are not directly on point. So some MPs, myself included, have taken to asking multi-part questions. For me at least, this is not designed to squeeze as many questions as possible into one.

Instead, it is to ensure that the various aspects of an issue are ventilated properly and to give the Ministry a chance to prepare responses to these aspects that we intend to touch on, instead of having to rely on supplementary questions or running the risk of getting the reply that Minister Teo gave.

It's not easy, crafting a PQ to tease out all the information that an MP thinks ought to be provided. And the Ministries do not help by preparing answers that are sometimes less than complete, even when presented with very pointed, very direct multi-part questions.

OPQ #1

Mr Siew Kum Hong asked the Prime Minister and Minister for Finance for each of the years from 2004 to 2006 (a) how many officers resigned from the Administrative Service and what resignation rate did that represent; (b) of these resignations, how many Administrative Officers cited higher pay in a new job as the main reason or one of the main reasons; and (c) how many Administrative Officers were asked to resign for reasons related to non-performance.

The Minister for Defence (Mr Teo Chee Hean) (for the Prime Minister and Minister for Finance): Mr Speaker, Sir, the number of Administrative Officers who resigned from the Administrative Service in 2004, 2005 and 2006 were four, 10 and seven respectively. This corresponds to the resignation rates of 2%, 4% and 3% respectively. If we include Management Associates, who are the officers being tested for suitability for the Administrative Service, the resignation numbers are larger, but of course the base is larger as well. The total number of Administrative Officers and Management Associates who resigned in 2004, 2005 and 2006 were four, 14 and 12 respectively. This corresponds to resignation rates of 1%, 4% and 3% respectively.

Administrative Officers leave the Service for various reasons, and we may often not be able to ascertain exactly the real reasons for their departure. Some indicated that they would like to further their studies while others want to have a change of career. Some of those who leave for jobs in the private sector enjoy a pay increase in their new jobs.

The Administrative Service has very stringent retention standards. Officers are appraised annually and are expected to have the potential to hold at least Deputy Secretary or CEO level jobs. Those who do not meet the mark are asked to leave the Service but they could remain in other schemes in the Civil Service if they wish and if there are suitable jobs for them. Over the last three years, a total of 13 Administrative Officers left the Service on such grounds, ie, they were managed out of the Service. Of these, eight officers left the Public Service. The other five transferred to join other schemes within the Public Service where they continue to contribute to the public service.

Mr Siew Kum Hong (Nominated Member): Mr Speaker, Sir, I would just like to ask the Minister how many Administrative Officers are there in grades MR4 and above between SR9 and MR4 and on Timescales.

Mr Teo Chee Hean: Sir, I do not carry the numbers in my head. If the Member could submit a Question, I would be happy to answer it.

OPQ #2
(Temporary units for tenants)

Mr Siew Kum Hong asked the Minister for National Development in view of the situation of some tenants of one-room flats having to sleep in corridors and common areas when their flats are being upgraded (a) what are the HDB’s reasons for not permitting vacant units to be used on a temporary basis; (b) whether this situation has been encountered in previous upgradings; and (c) what measures will be taken to prevent a recurrence in future upgrading projects.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for National Development (Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman) (for the Minister for National Development): Mr Speaker, Sir, I would like to thank the Member for this opportunity to clarify media reports in mid-March that the ongoing upgrading of a block of rental flats in Toa Payoh had inconvenienced some residents.

The particular rental block is being upgraded under Project LIFE. LIFE stands for Lift Improvement and Facilities Enhancement. This is a programme implemented by HDB for one-room rental blocks where there is a high concentration of elderly residents. It seeks to improve the physical living conditions of the elderly tenants through lift upgrading and the installation of elder-friendly features, such as support handbars and the Alert Alarm System. It is fully paid for by the Government.

When these upgrading works are going on in a rental block, HDB implements a host of measures to reduce inconvenience to residents. The contractors can work inside the flat only from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm during weekdays. They have to ensure that the flat is cleared up at the end of each day. There is an air-conditioned area for affected residents to rest during these working hours. Temporary toilets and storage space are also made available. And the upgrading is done in batches so that these communal facilities are sufficient for the affected residents’ use.

Sir, since 1993, HDB has upgraded 38 rental blocks under Project LIFE and, in all these projects, no tenant has been forced to sleep in the corridors as a result of the upgrading works. One of the newspaper articles showed a picture of a man sleeping at the common corridor of his rental block. HDB investigated and found that he was sleeping outside on his own accord. The upgrading works at his unit has not even started. We have informed the newspaper that they had inadvertently misled their readers by using the picture in the wrong context.

HDB does exercise flexibility in cases of residents with serious medical or mobility problems and will arrange for such households to be shifted to a vacant unit. However, in the recent case, the resident who complained to the press did not fall into this category. He had asked for a vacant unit to store his belongings. He was not happy that he had to store it in the allocated storage space provided. HDB could not accede to his request, so he complained to the press.

No comments: