According to the Auditor-General’s Office’s recent audit report, the National Environment Agency (NEA) was cited for failing to take action on 115 rats holes found outside its jurisdiction during the period from September 2013 to January 2014. As a result, after spending $4.19 million of its budget, rodent problems in some areas actually escalated.

The report stated that in 7 locations, within 2 to 6 months, the number of rat holes increased from 17 to 32. Also, rodents were still present in 16 rat holes in 9 other locations after 2 to 4 months.

NEA said in response to media query, “We will spell out more clearly the scope of work in our contracts.”

It added that a review of its procedures will be conducted to improve coordination with landowners and other government agencies, to ensure that pest control work is carried out more effectively by all stakeholders.

In its monitoring plan, NEA will provide information on rodent problems outside its jurisdiction to the respective organisations for their follow-up.

AGO said that after the rat holes were found, NEA did not actively follow up with the other organisations, to ensure that the necessary steps were taken to eradicate the pests.

Lee Bee Wah, Chairwoman of the GPC for National Development and Environment, said that she is very disappointed with such a clear demarcation of duties among the agencies.

She said that the Municipal Services Office should look into reviewing NEA’s interpretation of its responsibilities.

Lim Biow Chuan also reprimands NEA

Member of the GPC for National Development and Environment, Lim Biow Chuan agreed with his Chairwoman. He felt that diseases have no boundaries. Where the food is, rodents will follow.

He gave an example. When the Sports Hub was being constructed, Mountbatten Road needed to be widened. As a result, the rodents in the underground rat holes ran over to the HDB blocks in his constituency. In the end, they had to spend a lot of money to eradicate the pests. He felt that pest control should be something that cuts across organisations, in terms of coordination and cooperation. The rat problem has to be resolved with a holistic approach, he said.

Government Parliament Committees (GPC) are set up based on an idea mooted by then DPM Goh Chok Tong in 1987. Each committee is assigned a ministry and its membership is limited to MPs from the governing party. The objectives are to monitor closely the policies of its assigned ministries and serve as a feedback mechanism to fine-tune and plug blind spots in government policies and programs. These committees are assisted by resource panels consisting of experts and appointed persons.

Back in the 80s (and even today), there were complaints from the public that parliamentary debates were one-sided and did not reflect the people’s sentiments adequately. GPCs were therefore created to add that “alternative” voice to parliamentary proceedings. Indeed, Mr Goh said that the committees would only be credible if they did not appear to collude with the government, the People’s Action Party or the civil service. The GPCs were told to look at issues “objectively and independently”.

Although the government never did admit it openly, many believe (and still do) that the GPCs were meant to be some sort of de-facto parliamentary opposition, providing critiques of government policies.

Critics, however, charged that GPCs were a political tool to assuage the public’s desire for “genuine” alternative voices which, critics say, only opposition MPs can provide. If PAP MPs, through the GPCs, can do the job properly, perhaps Singaporeans would not see the need for opposition MPs.

Then in the 1991 GE, PAP lost 4 seats and its vote share dropped by 2.2%, prompting him to say that perhaps GPCs should be removed since they were not seen to be doing its job.

At a post-election press conference, Mr Goh, who was leading his party for the first time as Prime Minister, “said that GPCs would be removed”.

“With the increase in opposition MPs, there was no necessity for government MPs to raise issues from the platforms of GPCs,” he then said. He added that “GPCs would be abolished and PAP MPs would close ranks in the new Parliament.”

Several weeks later, for reasons unknown, Mr Goh made a u-turn and said GPCs would in fact stay — but PAP MPs would no longer adopt an “adversarial” stance that “would pit PAP backbenchers against their own front bench.” [Link]

Indeed it is ironic that the biggest public critic of NEA’s deficiencies is the chairwoman of GPC for National Development and Environment, Lee Bee Wah, whose responsibility is supposed to monitor environment policies and address blind spots. Isn’t it reasonable to expect Ms Lee and her committee members to identify the deficiencies and shortcomings before the problems get out of hand and alarm the public?

Certainly, it appears that GPCs’ objective to act as quasi oppositions to scrutinize and monitor the government ministries and agencies have failed miserably.

So, given a choice, do we need more GPCs or real oppositions in Parliament?

What do you think?

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