Speech by SMS Sim Ann at the Committee of Supply Debate 2021 – Well-Maintained, Connected, and Caring Neighbourhoods
Mar 4, 2021
Introduction: A Vision for our Neighbourhoods
Chairman, COVID-19 has changed the way we live. We now spend more time in our homes and are more keenly aware of the state of our living environment and neighbourhood.
All of us want to live in a well-maintained estate with convenient access to services, and enjoy good and friendly relations with our neighbours. The Municipal Services Office (MSO) sees opportunities to help more Singaporeans achieve this vision.
In its first phase, MSO has worked closely with 10 agencies and now 17 Town Councils to improve our feedback response time and resolve complex issues more effectively. The one-stop OneService community app has also grown to over 340,000 users, up from fewer than 200,000 in 2019.
In its next phase, MSO will work with these partners to deliver high-quality, resident-centric services; pre-empt issues where possible; and partner like-minded residents to build a better neighbourhood together.
High-quality, prompt and pre-emptive municipal services
Ms Cheryl Chan asked about the impact of COVID-19 on the delivery of municipal services, and what MSO would do to address these challenges. Indeed, at the height of Circuit Breaker, many municipal tasks had to be de-prioritised due to the lack of available manpower. As we emerge stronger from these disruptions, we need to move away from a heavy reliance on manpower.
One way to do that, as rightly pointed out by Ms Tin Pei Ling, is to leverage technology for predictive maintenance work. MSO and our partners are doubling down on such efforts, to spot issues – and resolve them – before they become a problem for residents.
For instance, HDB is working with Town Councils to progressively install the Smart Lighting System in all estates, which monitors common area lighting points in real time, and automatically adjusts them in response to human motion. This, like other predictive capabilities undertaken by NParks in the management of greenery and parks, enables us to better predict potential faults, and undertake pre-emptive rectifications. We look forward to the trial outcomes, and to supporting their scale-up.
We also need to address structural barriers that prevent us from providing better services. One such barrier is the delivery of municipal services along agency lines.
That is why we are piloting a new model of municipal service delivery in Tampines town later this year. This model integrates municipal services that are already outsourced by Government agencies today around residents’ needs at the township level, rather than by agency and land boundaries.
This has several benefits. First, we can more swiftly resolve municipal issues within the same town, such as connectivity-related infrastructure. Second, we can provide services more efficiently, by streamlining operational processes and training workers to be multi-skilled, so that they can be flexibly deployed across job functions. For example, workers inspecting for municipal infrastructure defects could also be trained to spot pest issues. Over time, more higher-skilled municipal jobs will be created for locals.
Finally, by integrating multiple services, there will be economies of scale for service providers, which incentivises them to invest in better operations-technology capabilities, to deliver improved services at lower cost.
This integration of services, alongside our harnessing of tech and data insights, will lead to better maintained neighbourhoods for our residents.
Connected neighbourhoods through inclusive digitalisation
Nonetheless, residents will still encounter some issues at times. Ms Cheryl Chan asked how MSO was using technology to make providing feedback easier and more inclusive, and Mr Yip Hon Weng asked on the progress of the OneService Chatbot. To that, let me share two updates.
First, we piloted the OneService Lite QR code reporting in Jurong-Clementi and Aljunied-Hougang Town Councils last year, so that residents can report issues without downloading an app.
This year, we will expand it to more estates in Holland-Bukit Panjang and Sembawang Town Councils. In addition, in our trial in Yuhua last year, some seniors shared that QR codes were more convenient than phone calls, as they did not need to wait to speak to the phone operator. They asked if feedback reporting could be done in vernacular languages, which they are more familiar with. We have taken in the feedback and will be starting a trial for OneService Lite reporting in Chinese, and later in Malay and Tamil as well.
Second, we have made progress in developing the OneService Chatbot. Residents can look forward to reporting cases on-the-go, via WhatsApp and Telegram in the second half of this year. The Chatbot is supported by Artificial Intelligence, which currently predicts with 80% accuracy, the case type and agency-in-charge based on residents' submitted feedback. This is expected to improve as public trials continue. This conversational reporting format complements the OneService App’s more structured reporting format.
Ms Cheryl Chan commented on closing the loop on municipal feedback. Some complex cases require extensive investigation or repair works, and we agree that cases should not be marked as “closed” when agencies have undertaken to handle them but have not completed their actions. In the coming months, we will implement changes to the interface to provide residents a clearer understanding on the status of actions undertaken by agencies.
Together, providing feedback will be even more convenient, inclusive, and integrated with our everyday lives.
Caring neighbourhoods through partnership with passionate residents
Mr Lim Biow Chuan, Ms Nadia Samdin and Mr Baey Yam Keng asked about MSO’s effort to encourage greater neighbourliness, so that residents could live harmoniously alongside each other.
In October last year, MSO hosted an Emerging Stronger Conversation focusing on this exact topic. Many participants hoped for neighbourhoods where neighbours know and talk to each other, are considerate and tolerant, and are able to work issues out amongst themselves, rather than just complain to the authorities.
In the spirit of SG Together, we want to support residents in translating these and other worthy goals into action.
First, we will enhance the OneService App so that residents can look out for one another, especially those in need. In partnership with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC), we will introduce a new “Help Neighbour” feature in the second half of this year, which residents can use to alert agencies to persons in need of assistance. This is especially important during the pandemic, where residents may find themselves having fewer interactions with their usual social networks.
In addition, residents can soon alert their neighbours in the same block to upcoming renovations with the “Happenings” feature, so that affected neighbours can plan around such inconveniences and find alternative spots to rest and work.
We have also used the “What Say You?” resident survey tool to support Town Councils in polling residents on Neighbourhood Renewal Programmes and Block Paintings. We look forward to collaborating with Mr Baey Yam Keng’s Tampines Town Council team in using this tool to facilitate community decision-making for the residents.
Second, we will provide support and funds for residents to develop community solutions for issues within their neighbourhoods. We are doing this via the Love Our ‘Hood Initiative, with the support of MCCY and the Singapore Kindness Movement.
Over 30 passionate participants in Mountbatten spent the last 2 months tapping on their ground knowledge to develop initiatives to tackle issues such as animal feeding and neighbour noise. Residents in Bukit Gombak and Pioneer can also look forward to participating in Love Our ‘Hood initiatives at their neighbourhoods later this year.
We will also sustain our support of the community through the now-formalised OneService Kakis Network, which comprises over 2,000 members of public and stakeholders we have worked with over the years, and bring these like-minded citizens together to spark off ideas with one another.
Lively and liveable neighbourhoods with citizen co-creation
Finally, as Ms Cheryl Chan highlighted, one of our priorities is to keep our HDB estates both lively and liveable, and to involve residents in this process.
For our upcoming estates, HDB launched the new Designing for Life roadmap last year. This sets out how HDB will plan and design both new and existing areas to provide a high-quality living environment, that can better support residents’ overall health and well-being.
As for our existing estates, we have many upgrading programmes to keep them in good condition, including the Home Improvement Programme at the block-level, the Neighbourhood Renewal Programme at the neighbourhood-level, and the Remaking Our Heartland Programme at the town-level.
Members raised queries on some of our block-level works.
For example, Mr Lim Biow Chuan had concerns about spalling concrete in older blocks. As HDB flats age, there will be some natural wear and tear. When such cases occur, HDB can help to make rectifications, and share half of the repair costs through the Goodwill Repair Assistance Scheme.
We have also announced that all HDB blocks will receive a second round of subsidised upgrading under HIP II when they reach 60 to 70 years old. More details on HIP II will be shared closer to its commencement.
Mr Dennis Tan asked about the Lift Upgrading Programme, or LUP. Over the years, we have provided direct lift access for the vast majority of HDB blocks, including by exercising flexibility for some blocks above the cost cap of $30,000 per household.
However, for blocks where the costs are still too high, it would not be prudent to offer the LUP. In some cases, the LUP cost might be almost the same as that of a new flat. Therefore, while we continue exploring new technical methods to bring down LUP costs, we have also introduced the Lift access Housing Grant or LHG, which helps residents with urgent mobility or medical needs to move to another flat with direct lift access.
Mr Faisal Manap suggested a national programme for façade repairs. The external walls of HDB blocks are common property under Town Councils’ management. There are currently no plans for a new programme for façade repairs, as such issues can be addressed through regular maintenance by the Town Councils.
To ensure that building façades are regularly inspected and promptly repaired, BCA has also introduced the Periodic Façade Inspection regime. Where repairs are required for HDB building facades, the Government will assist Town Councils with 50% of the costs.
Beyond these block-level works, at the wider neighbourhood- and town-level, we will continue to involve residents in revitalising our common spaces, to keep them vibrant and to foster a stronger sense of community.
For instance, residents can help shape the rejuvenation of their towns through the Remaking Our Heartland programme, or ROH. For the latest batch of ROH towns in Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Merah, Choa Chu Kang, and Queenstown, HDB gathered feedback through an online survey, and engaged more than 300 residents and Grassroot Leaders through Zoom focus group discussions.
HDB will now study residents’ suggestions, and work with relevant agencies on preliminary proposals. We will then engage residents again to further develop the proposals.
We will continue to review the design and implementation of our upgrading schemes to meet residents’ evolving needs.
Our rejuvenation efforts extend to our neighbourhood commercial spaces as well. Associate Professor Jamus Lim suggested converting the top floor of HDB’s multi-storey carparks to commercial use. These may not be very suitable for commercial facilities, as retailers usually prefer locations with good pedestrian flow and visibility.
Instead, the top decks of such carparks are typically landscaped and provided with recreational facilities like playgrounds, exercise areas, and community gardens. Some can even be converted into urban farms. Such landscaping also helps to reduce the urban heat island effect. Nonetheless, HDB makes sure to include enough commercial spaces in its estates. Most HDB residents can access commercial facilities within 400m of their homes.
HDB has also been working closely with heartland shops in their revitalisation and digitalisation efforts, which have become even more important amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, HDB launched two new mobile apps, RetailerLink and ShopperLink to enable HDB retailers to connect with shoppers online.
RetailerLink helps HDB retailers manage customer engagement and promotions, and analyse sales data; while ShopperLink allows shoppers to browse and purchase products from heartland shops, attend their events, and even chat with the shop staff.
Together with MTI and MCI, we are also improving the Revitalisation of Shops framework to facilitate upgrading for heartland shops. HDB will continue to partner our heartland shops in their transformation journey.
Through these various platforms and initiatives, residents can look forward to more opportunities to contribute ideas and efforts, as we work together to build a more caring and vibrant neighbourhood.
Chairman, before I conclude, please allow me to say a few words in Mandarin.
COVID-19 may have changed the way we live. But it has also given us the opportunity – and renewed impetus – to build well-maintained, connected and caring neighbourhoods together.