Speech by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment - Building back Stronger, Towards a Liveable and Endearing Home
04 MAR 2021
Speech by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment at MSE's COS Debates 2021, 4 Mar 2021
Building back Stronger, Towards a Liveable and Endearing Home
1 Chairman, I will now talk about building a liveable and endearing home by safeguarding public health and sustaining our hawker culture.
Shoring up our Public Health Defences
2 I will start with public health.
3 COVID-19 has underscored the importance of personal and public hygiene.
4 Last year, we launched the SG Clean movement to urgently shore up our public health defences. Practices like hand washing have become the norm. Over 30,000 premiseshave achieved the "SG Clean" Quality Mark. We passed the Environmental Public Health (Amendment) Bill to introduce mandatory baseline environmental sanitation standards.
5 But the battle is far from over.
6 Gastroenteritis incidents affected more than 1,200 persons in 2018 and 2019. Such cases persist.
7 Satisfaction levels of public cleanliness at premises like markets, hawker centres and coffeeshops remain low. On average, only 30% of patrons return their trays. Birds, which are attracted by food remnants, continue to be a nuisance, with about 90 feedback cases on this every month.
8 We need to do more. But it is not prudent to rely solely on scarce public resources, whether for cleaning, surveillance or enforcement. A lasting solution requires everyone to play their part.
9 For example, on littering, which Mr Lim Biow Chuan raised, we have increased fines, deployed camera surveillance and reviewed the Corrective Work Order (CWO)regime. We can continue stepping up enforcement, including by sending every litterbug for CWO, but this is not sustainable for the long-term.
10 Instead, we will work with three main stakeholder groups to build and sustain a clean Singapore:
a. With premises owners to uphold high public health standards;
b. With the environmental services industry to transform the sector; and
c. With individuals to engender greater social responsibility to keep Singapore clean.
Raise Public Health Standards with Premises Owners
11 First, working with premises.
12 We will continue to promote the adoption of good hygiene practices with the "SG Clean" Quality Mark and waive certification costs this year.
13 We will implement the Environmental Sanitation (or ES) regime, as planned. Under this, premises managers must meet new mandatory baseline ES standards and proactively clean their premises. For the initial phase, we target to cover more than 2,000 preschools, schools, youth and eldercare facilities, hawker centres and coffeeshops by end Fiscal Year 2021.
14 The ES Technical Committee has completed the technical guide which sets out the national baseline ES guidelines like daily cleaning frequencies for high-touch surfaces and toilets, and prescribed periodic cleaning for hard-to-reach areas. The guide can be customised to develop sector-specific ES standards, such as for eldercare facilities, which will be ready from mid-2021.
15 Training of over 2,000 Environmental Control Co-ordinators (ECCs) appointed to assist premises managers in developing an ES programme, will start from this month. Eligible participants will receive up to 90% in course fee subsidy.
16 Clean public toilets are critical to public health. Even with mandatory baseline standards, ageing infrastructure at some hawker centre and coffeeshop toilets remains an impediment to maintaining cleanliness.
17 This is why we introduced the Toilet Improvement Programme (TIP), which Mr Pritam Singh asked about.
18 This is a one-off grant, where we co-fund hawker centres and coffeeshop operators to install better fittings and adopt productivity measures. Our priority is to make toilets easier to clean and maintain. That's why we mandated features like toilet pedestals with anti-stain technology and a vortex flushing system that saves water, in the same spirit as our Green Plan.
20 Cleaners will also be helped to work more efficiently. Feedback systems will allow more targeted cleaning. Similarly, ammonia detection systems will send alerts when cleaning is needed.
21 Mr Singh suggested to pilot the TIP at a hawker centre with heavy footfall. In fact, the mandatory components of the TIP have already been tested at NEA-managed hawker centres. They were effective and practical. NEA has consulted, and will continue to consult, the Town Councils on the TIP. We will consider their suggestions, including to extend the implementation timeline of the TIP.
22 Mr Singh asked why we provide additional subsidies to hawker centres which remove their smoking corners. Protecting patrons from second-hand smoke and providing patrons with clean toilets are both important public health priorities. All new hawker centres built after 2011 are smoke-free. We have been encouraging the remaining 27 centres with smoking corners to remove them. A higher TIP co-funding amount can help accelerate this shift.
23 Future-proofing the Environmental Services Industry
24 Second, we will work with the environmental services industry to transform the sector, which has experienced increased demand in the current pandemic.
25 With your permission, Chairman, may I display slides on the LCD screens. Since we launched the Environmental Services Industry Transformation Map (or ESITM) in 2017, the industry has made great strides to transform itself. For instance, 800 Super has secured better contracts locally and successfully ventured overseas. It achieved this through digitalisation and building capabilities such as GPS fleet management systems. Now, it offers integrated environmental solutions and boasts an Integrated Energy and Resource Recovery facility that powers industrial laundry services and animal feed processing.
26 As suggested by Dr Lim Wee Kiak, we will support the industry to futureproof their businesses beyond COVID-19. I will highlight some key areas.
27 One, we will move away from headcount-based contracts. The Government has taken the lead by requiring outcome-based contracting for our new cleaning contracts from May 2020. This ensures clear outcomes for service buyers and encourages cleaning companies to innovate and be more productive, which in turn creates better jobs and address manpower constraints. To date, more than 110 public and private sector organisations have adopted outcome-based contracting.
28 NEA will roll out a refreshed outcome-based contracting guide for the cleaning industry this month, which will encourage better service delivery through technology adoption and process improvements.
29 It includes an easier method to measure service outcomes and sample contract clauses to cater for contingencies such as COVID-19. Service buyers and cleaning companies can agree on deploying more resources to meet additional cleaning requirements, based on the prices that cleaning companies have quoted upfront. This offers flexibility to adapt to changing requirements.
30 Two, we have extended the Productivity Solutions Grant until Sep 2021 to support companies to adopt automation.
31 Three, the Progressive Wage Model will be extended to waste management workers. The Tripartite Cluster for Waste Management will develop job ladders, training requirements and wage benchmarks.
32 We also have initiatives for the pest management sector, which Ms Rachel Ong spoke about.
33 We are encouraging premises and pest management companies to jointly pilot customised digital solutions through the INCUBATE programme. For example, NEA and Enterprise Singapore (ESG) recently closed a joint grant call with INCUBATE partners to seek solutions for a digital platform that integrates cleaning, waste and pest data.
34 We will also work with the sector to develop outcome-based contracting guidelines for pest management contracts, targeted to be ready by end 2021.
35 We will grow the talent pool of pest management professionals. NEA is working with IHLs and the industry to revise Continuing Education & Training and Pre-Employment Training courses, such as the joint ITE-NEA certification courses for pest management. Lest members have the wrong impression, pest management goes beyond catching rats, killing cockroaches and controlling the mosquito population! It takes serious science to deal with these pests and prevent their multiplication!
Foster Individual and Social Responsibility around Public Hygiene
36 The third prong in our strategy is to foster individual responsibility around public hygiene as Mr Gan Thiam Poh mentioned. This involves behavioural change which is very challenging. But it is the only sustainable way forward.
37 Recently, I launched the Clean Tables Campaign at hawker centres, coffeeshops and food courts. As Ms Ong asked, we are adopting new ways to spread the word.
38 It is an uphill task to get individuals to clear their tables – old habits die hard – but it can be done. For example, at Bukit Merah Central Food Centre, the Hawkers' Association customised trays with educational messages, and worked with hawkers and table cleaners to encourage patrons to return trays. They have achieved an exemplary tray return rate of more than 70%.I urge other hawker centres to follow their lead.
39 In the coming months, we will roll out the campaign at all hawker centres, coffeeshops and foodcourts. NEA will install around 75 tray return racks at hawker centres on top of the 900 today. At coffeeshops, 10% have tray return infrastructure and SFA will work with the remaining operators to implement localised solutions. NEA will monitor the campaign outcome and conduct another survey on public attitudes towards tray return. We will also consider if we need to move beyond education to some form of regulation, as some members of the public have suggested.
Safeguarding our Hawker Culture and Transforming the Hawker Industry
40 I will now speak on sustaining hawker culture.
41 Restrictions on dine-in during Circuit Breaker undoubtedly affected some hawkers, but they continued to work tirelessly to supply Singaporeans with affordable food. Many pivoted to food delivery services.
42 To support our frontline hawker heroes, we provided five months of rental waivers and subsidies for table-cleaning and centralised dishwashing services. More than $50mil in waivers and subsidies was provided to over 13,000 hawkers. Over 1,300 hawkers have also taken up the $500 grant to adopt food delivery services. Under IMDA's Hawkers Go Digital Programme, over 5,000 hawkers received an e-payment bonus up to $1,500 each.
43 Despite the challenges, 2020 ended on a bright note. Hawker Culture was successfully inscribed on the UNESCO List. This is a proud moment for Singapore.
44 I will speak on two areas – supporting hawkers and future-proofing hawker centres. Both are essential parts of our hawker culture.
Sustaining the hawker trade and supporting our hawkers
45 First, supporting our hawkers and sustaining the trade. There is no hawker culture without our hawkers, whose average age is about 60 years old. We need to act urgently, as Mr Louis Ng and Mr Leong Mun Wai said, to ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy our hawker culture.
46 Life as a hawker is not easy. I have spoken to many new hawkerpreneurs. Some do it for passion, some with ambition to eventually expand, and others to continue family legacies.
47 For example, Mr Fabian Tan of Skirt & Dirt at Tiong Bahru Market, a 32-year-old culinary school graduate and former senior sous chef, joined the hawker trade through NEA's Incubation Stall Programme. Fabian's goal is to eventually open his own café or restaurant.
48 To aspiring hawkers: We will continue to do what we can to help you start on a good footing.
49 Last year, the Workgroup on Sustaining the Hawker Trademade recommendations which we accepted. Implementation is underway.
50 First, we introduced the Hawkers Development Programme to equip aspiring hawkers with the skills to run a successful business. The programme comprises classroom training, apprenticeship with veteran hawkers, and an incubation stage with mentorship support and training allowances.
51 I thank the veteran hawkers who have stepped forward as mentors. One example is Workgroup member Ms Sandy Tan Puay Puay, who owns Kueh Ho Jiak at Blk 6 Tanjong Pagar Plaza.
52 Second, we enhanced the Incubation Stall Programme. In 2019, we extended the rental rebates to a total of 15 months. We are also increasing the number of incubation stalls.
53 Third, we introduced the Hawkers Succession Scheme. As Mr Gan highlighted, a critical factor in sustaining the trade is the transmission of culinary skills across generations. This scheme will also facilitate the transfer of hawker stalls and recipes, by matching veteran hawkers to aspiring successors. Mr Leong suggested that we focus on preserving hawker recipes. These schemes go beyond that, to ensure that the recipes live on so that we can continue to savour the delicious food.
54 We will convene an independent advisory panel comprising members of the hawker community, to help engage potential veteran hawkers and assess the successors' readiness to take over.
55 Mr Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap asked about reviving the hardship scheme.
56 As he noted, we discontinued this in 1990 as job opportunities had increased, even for the unskilled. The scheme also had limited effectiveness with low take-up rate, as most hardship cases preferred to wait for a vacant stall in more popular centres.
57 Today, we have many schemes to help the needy upskill and find good jobs, while providing financial assistance and other support.
58 More importantly, subsidising rentals alone will not guarantee success. Rentals are not the biggest cost for our hawkers. It is raw materials and manpower costs that make up about three-quarters of hawkers' operating costs, based on NEA's survey of our hawker centres. Sustaining a hawker stall requires entrepreneurship and passion, no different from any business. Nonetheless, we do want to support the needy who are genuinely passionate to enter the trade.
59 We now have schemes which are open to all, including ex-offenders. Our Hawkers Development Programme and Incubation Stall Programme offer aspiring hawkers subsidised skills training, training allowances, rental subsidies and a fitted-out stall, including at hawker centres run by socially-conscious enterprises (SEHCs), to let them test their mettle at lower start-up costs.
60 They can also bid for a stall through NEA's monthly tender exercise, where no minimum bids are required. As a result, the median rental of cooked food stalls in hawker centres today, including SEHCs, is much lower than the rentals in coffeeshops or food courts. This is part of our effort to keep operating costs low, and reduce the barriers of entry for new hawkers. Coupled with the earlier-mentioned schemes, we hope this improves the viability of the trade to attract a new generation of hawkers.
Future-proofing our hawker centres
61 I will now speak on hawker centres–an important component of our hawker culture. Mr Leong said hawker centres have been declining in popularity. This is not true. An NEA survey found that close to 80% of Singaporeans patronise hawker centres at least once a week.
62 Hence, it is opportune to consider how we can future-proof our hawker centres as Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin suggested.
63 During the recent SG HawkerFest, more than 7,700 participants shared what infrastructure and features they hoped to see in future hawker centres. We received many suggestions, from improving ventilation, to providing live updates on crowd levels at hawker centres.
64 Building on the suggestions gathered, we will develop a Hawker Centres Transformation Programme (HTP) over the next few years with our stakeholders. The HTP will incorporate lessons from COVID-19, and sustain our hawker culture.
65 The programme will focus on ensuring a clean and safe environment at hawker centres. For example, aisles and tables will be better spaced to minimise crowding. We will create a more conducive environment for patrons, hawkers and cleaners. We will also enhance the use of technology and support digitalisation efforts. For example, we will work towards deploying sensors for crowd monitoring and to facilitate maintenance.
66 Sustainability will also be a priority, as part of our effort to bring sustainability to the community under GreenGov.SG. The new Senja Hawker Centre will have features like food waste digestion, rainwater harvesting and solar panels.
67 We will progressively implement the HTP at new hawker centres, and centres which undergo redevelopment.
68 We will also conduct engagements with stakeholders at a few existing hawker centres to co-create centre-level solutions for these centres, to address infrastructure gaps based on COVID-19 lessons. We hope to learn from these "test" centres and continue to refine the HTP.
76 Mr Gan asked about our new hawker centres. Construction of Bukit Canberra Hawker Centre and Fernvale Hawker Centre & Market was delayed by COVID-19. However, we have made good progress since, and they are estimated to open in 4Q 2021. Senja Hawker Centre is also scheduled to open early next year.
77 To Mr Gan and Ms Ong's questions, we will appoint socially-conscious enterprises to manage all new hawker centres. The SEHC model has allowed hawkers in these centres to better compete in a tough F&B landscape. SEHC operators curate the food options and organise events to attract more footfall. We will continue to work closely with hawkers, operators and other stakeholders to refine the model.
78 As is our MSE tradition, I have arranged to serve Skirt & Dirt's sliders and Kueh Ho Jiak's kueh. Min jiang kueh from Munchi Delights and epok-epok from Kalsom Kuih Muih Curry Puff, both at Yishun Park Hawker Centre, are also back by popular demand. Also, in the same tradition, I will share a zero-waste tip with Members. Today, I am wearing a necklace fashioned from old t-shirts, turning it into NewCloth, just like NEWater, NewSand, NewOil and NewFeed!
79 Chairman, in conclusion, the past year has focused our attention on the importance of sustaining a liveable and endearing home – cleanliness and hygiene as our first line of defence, and safeguarding our hawker culture.
80 My Ministry will continue to work hard on these fronts. But to succeed, we need everyone's support.