Speech by SMS Sim Ann at the Committee of Supply Debate on 8 March 2022

Mar 8, 2022

1. Mdm Deputy Chair, I thank Mr Henry Kwek for highlighting the challenges facing MSO, our partner agencies and Town Councils. Feedback on municipal issues has indeed significantly increased with the onset of COVID-19 as Singaporeans spend more time at home. This has spurred us to find new ways to work, and to forge stronger partnerships with the public on issues which Government alone cannot fully resolve. 

2. MSO will work with our partners to make progress in three areas: 

a. Increasing productivity of municipal services;

b. Improving processes for better user experience; and 

c. Forging stronger community partnerships to holistically address complex neighbourhood issues.  

Increasing Productivity in Municipal Service Delivery

3. Our key goal is to deliver resident-centric services in an efficient and seamless manner.

4. The OneService app has been a useful platform to achieve this. It is, today, a one-stop neighbourhood platform with many functions, beyond reporting feedback. 

5. Since its launch in 2015, our user base has increased ten-fold to more than 430,000 users. This is the result of MSO constantly enhancing the OneService app to meet residents’ evolving needs. For instance, to help residents plan around potential dis-amenities and inconveniences, residents can now refer to the “Happenings” feature for information on HDB-approved renovation works at their blocks, and will soon be able to check the crowd levels at public libraries should they wish to find alternative locations to study or to work. Residents can also access the “Book Facilities” feature to perform end-to-end contactless booking and payment for the use of common areas and facilities such as multi-purpose halls and void decks in their estates. 

6. We are also finding ways to deliver better services with the pilot of integrated municipal operations in Tampines town, and have commenced ground operations last month. 

Improving Processes for Better User Experience

7. Next, I will speak about improving user experience as mentioned by Ms Cheryl Chan and Mr Yip Hon Weng. 

8. Every day, agencies and Town Councils receive over 4,000 cases of feedback on municipal issues. Most are straightforward cases that can be resolved within a week, but some complex cases can be long-drawn, especially where investigation or neighbours’ cooperation are required. 

9. Case owner agencies currently have the flexibility to decide how to close cases, be they straightforward or complex. MSO is working with our partners to improve the handling of municipal feedback, in terms of how they should close the feedback loop for the different types of cases. For straightforward cases that involve only one agency and where concrete actions can be taken to fully resolve the case, agencies should close the feedback loop only upon complete resolution of the case. For complex cases, agencies should close the feedback loop only after explaining to the feedback provider the action(s) taken or the intended action plan, as well as provide an estimated timeline. 

10. We have implemented two corresponding changes in the OneService app. First, photo evidence is provided upon resolution for straightforward cases. This initiative has been implemented since 2020 for feedback concerning public cleanliness, and has since expanded to include other straightforward issues such as the maintenance of common property in HDB estates, HDB car parks and commercial property, and lights along covered walkways and footpaths. Second, we have differentiated the status of cases since May 2021. Where previously all cases were labelled as ‘Closed’ once the agency had responded to the feedback, now they are labelled as either ‘Resolved’ or ‘Replied’. With differentiated case status, residents have a more accurate understanding on the status of their case and can be assured that unresolved cases continue to be worked on. 

11. We will also continue to make our OneService e-services more accessible by introducing them on more digital platforms. In the second half of the year, residents will be able to submit feedback using the LifeSG app, in addition to the OneService app. In time, more of our digital offerings will be available on LifeSG so residents who are currently not users of the OneService app can also enjoy our e-services.

12. Together, we hope that tighter collaboration in the delivery of municipal services will bring greater convenience and satisfaction to residents. 

13. Mr Dennis Tan asked for an update on new technical methods to lower the costs of the Lift Upgrading Programme, or LUP, for HDB flats without direct lift access. Over the years, HDB has adopted innovative technical solutions such as machine-room-less elevators and bubble lifts to provide direct lift access for such flats. More than 5,000 HDB blocks have thus benefited from the LUP. There remains about 150 blocks where it is not possible to implement LUP due to prohibitive costs or existing technical and site constraints. We will continue to explore how to bring down LUP costs, as well as alternatives to LUP, such as powered stair climbers for wheelchair users. The Lift access Housing Grant is also available to help residents with urgent mobility or medical needs to move to another flat with direct lift access.

Enabling Support for One Another for a Pleasant Living Environment  

14. Several MPs, Ms Cheryl Chan, Mr Yip Hon Weng and Mr Baey Yam Keng, asked about MSO’s efforts to address neighbourhood dis-amenities that arise due to differences in social norms or behavioural issues, such as the cluttering of common spaces, high-rise littering, bird feeding, and noise from neighbours, given that work-from-home will remain an option for many people in the longer term.  

15. First, we are collaborating with the business community and the public to harness innovative ideas and bring practical solutions to residents. 

16. Switch is one such company. We facilitated the “Switch for Community” initiative by the People’s Association, HDB and Switch, which offers affordably priced and conveniently located Switch work booths for residents whose attempts to study or work from home are affected temporarily by renovation works or other forms of noise. I am happy that residents have found this initiative useful. Since its launch in last December, over 100 individuals have used the work booths located at the Bukit Timah Community Club and Trivelis Residents’ Network in Clementi. Due to demand, the operating hours of the work booths at Trivelis Residents’ Network centre have also been extended to late evenings and the weekends. We will continue to monitor the outcomes of the pilot after a year and consider scaling it up if there is good demand. 

17. In the spirit of Singapore Together, PA and HDB will also be co-leading an Alliance for Action, or AfA, to study practical solutions to better facilitate group buy activities in HDB estates. Group buy activities support small businesses and promote interaction among residents. But when large quantities of goods are delivered to an estate and redistributed to individual buyers, there could be inconveniences such as cluttering of goods at the common corridor and blocking of passageways. We would like to identify win-win solutions so that residents can continue to engage in group buying and support small businesses, while minimising inconvenience to others. Members of the AfA will consist of stakeholders such as group buy hosts, grassroots leaders and potential solution providers from the private sector, to explore better ways of facilitating the delivery, storage and distribution of group buy items, such as making use of the HDB void decks. 

18. Second, we will continue to focus on shaping positive social norms to mitigate neighbourhood dis-amenities due to human behaviour. This is an upstream measure, and one of many that needs to be put in place to holistically address the management of community disputes, as explained by Minister Edwin Tong during MinLaw’s COS.  

19. Ms Joan Pereira and Mr Lim Biow Chuan rightly highlighted that neighbourhood noise is a complex issue to resolve, and can cause significant tension and unhappiness between neighbours. 

20. MSO and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth are exploring various ways to tackle this issue. As part of a holistic response, we intend to set up a Community Advisory Panel on Neighbourhood Noise to look at defining what is deemed as unacceptable noise disturbances, as well as what constitutes good civic norms that residents should observe to reduce noise disturbances to their neighbours. The Community Advisory Panel, or CAP in short, will consist of representatives from the community who have the relevant experience and expertise in managing municipal issues. The ‘community norms’ developed by the CAP will help neighbours to better communicate with one another, as well as serve as a useful ‘benchmark’ and reference for our public advisories, and facilitate mediation and decision-making at the Community Disputes Resolution Tribunal. We hope to establish the CAP soon, and for the panel to submit its recommendations by the end of the year. MSO is also working with MCCY on how agencies would enforce against neighbourhood noise using these ‘community norms’ as a reference, and Minister Edwin Tong will share on this aspect during MCCY’s COS. 

21. Ms Cheryl Chan also asked for an update on the “Help Neighbour” feature in the OneService app since its launch last September. Thus far, “Help Neighbour” has referred 272 cases of seniors in need, rough sleepers, cardboard collectors and tissue sellers to the social agencies for targeted assistance. Of which, about 50% were new cases unknown to the agencies. With this feature, concerned residents can directly connect persons in need to social agencies, without risking over-exposing them on social media. I thus encourage everyone to use “Help Neighbour”.  

Improving the Vibrancy of Heartland Shops 

22. I would now like to address Mr Xie Yao Quan’s query about HDB’s plans to keep our heartland shops vibrant and sustainable, amid the rise in online shopping and changing consumer habits. 

23. Our heartland shops must do well if our neighbourhoods are to remain vibrant and endearing. Beyond serving the day-to-day needs of residents, heartland shops reflect the distinctive character and identity of our neighbourhoods, provide spaces for residents to meet and interact and serve as a social glue for the community. Our heartlands can also be incubators for budding entrepreneurs and exciting new business ideas. 

24. Since 2007, HDB co-funds physical upgrading works and promotional activities through the Revitalisation of Shops scheme to improve the shopping experience for our residents. HDB also partners Enterprise Singapore to encourage our heartland retailers to modernise their operations and embrace digitalisation.  

25. To ensure our heartland shops stay relevant and vibrant, HDB and Enterprise Singapore are further engaging the public, through the Heartland Shops Study, to understand what Singaporeans value most in the heartlands. Since October last year, we have engaged over 2,400 residents, business owners, and shop employees through surveys, interviews, and focus group discussions.

26. I joined one of these public engagements earlier in February and was excited to hear ideas on how we can shape the heartland retail scene, while preserving its cultural and social value. Together with HDB, we will thus explore ways to better curate the trades at our neighbourhood centres, taking into consideration the attributes that residents and businesses have told us they value, and also better support the digitalisation and business sustainability of these shops.

27. I encourage all Singaporeans to participate in the online survey for the Heartland Shops Study which is available on the REACH website until the end of this month. The findings from the study will help to shape and refine national programmes and plans to support our heartlands merchants. We will follow up on participants’ feedback and partner Enterprise Singapore to rejuvenate our heartland spaces with new experiences as part of ‘Our Heartlands 2025’, a new initiative announced by MOS Low Yen Ling during MTI’s COS.  

Update on LTPR Public Engagement Exercise

28. Finally, I would like to provide an update on our public engagement exercise for the Long-Term Plan Review, or LTPR, as enquired by Ms Cheryl Chan. We embarked on the review last year to refresh our long-term land use plans for the next 50 years and beyond. This is not a new exercise. We have conducted regular reviews of our long-term plans, since the first Concept Plan in 1971. Key infrastructure outcomes of the 1971 Concept Plan include Changi Airport and our current MRT lines.

29. From July to September last year, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, or URA, engaged more than 5,800 Singaporeans through polls and workshops, to better understand Singaporeans’ values, hopes and concerns for the future. We found that Singaporeans aspire towards four key broad outcomes for Singapore:

a. First, a sustainable Singapore. A city where we can grow in an environmentally responsible way, especially in light of climate change. Minister Desmond Lee covered our sustainability efforts extensively earlier.

b. Second, an inclusive Singapore. A city where we can meet the diverse needs of our people and foster social cohesion and harmony. MOS Faishal will share more on how we are supporting our vulnerable citizens and forging community partnerships later.

c. Third, an adaptable and resilient Singapore. A city where we can adapt nimbly to disruptions and seize emerging opportunities. MSE colleagues yesterday provided an update of our efforts to build a more resilient Singapore, such as our coastal protection plans to combat rising sea levels, our development of weather-resilient water sources through desalination, and the transformation of our used water network with the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System. 

d. Fourth, a distinctive and endearing Singapore. A city that we are proud to call our home. Minister Desmond shared earlier about how we will strengthen the character and identity of our city by safeguarding our built heritage.

30. Since October last year, we followed up and facilitated in-depth discussions with more than 1,000 participants. We also tapped on discussion forums and webinars involving more than 7,000 participants. We discussed how we could achieve the four desired outcomes, and how we should balance the trade-offs required. A wide range of ideas were raised. Some of which were quite imaginative, like using our canals and waterways as transport networks, or building floating or underground housing apartments to overcome our land constraints.

31. The public engagement is still ongoing and will culminate in an exhibition in the middle of this year. We encourage Singaporeans to continue contributing their ideas and views. 

32. While not all of them are feasible today, they are harbingers of the future possibilities we need to keep in mind. Given the greater uncertainties we face in the future, key focus areas of the LTPR would be strengthening the resilience, flexibility and inclusiveness of our long-term plans and strategies. 

33. On public housing specifically, Ms Nadia Samdin and Mr Louis Chua asked about expanding public rental housing to cater to more groups of Singaporeans. The Leader of the Opposition and Ms Rachel Ong also asked about housing access for singles and families with non-citizens.

a. Madam, a vibrant rental housing market exists. For the rental housing that HDB offers, our emphasis is on providing highly subsidised rental flats to those who have no other housing options, such as those with financial difficulties, as well as first-timer families who have challenges renting from the market, while waiting for their booked flats to be completed. 

b. To Mr Louis Chua’s suggestion of a “rent-to-buy” model, our government already provides generous grants and subsidies to help most Singaporeans own either a BTO or resale flat directly. “Rent-to-buy” arrangements may serve a purpose in societies where there are significant gaps between home ownership aspirations and affordability. In Singapore, we design our public housing financing policy to minimise this gap. Flat buyers in Singapore generally require little or no cash outlay in servicing the payments for their flats as their mortgage loans can be paid using their CPF contributions, which leaves flexibility for them to pursue other aspirations and goals with their disposable income. Therefore, it is not clear how “rent-to-buy” is better for the aspiring Singaporean homeowner. 

c. We have also been expanding housing options and grants over the years for households of singles and families with non-citizens. For instance, single buyers have access to housing grants and can buy smaller BTOs units in non-mature estates. While our overall housing policy continues to support families, we nevertheless recognise the home ownership aspirations of singles, and particularly the circumstances of singles who are also caregivers and seniors. We are very mindful of their concerns and will continue to study ways to assist them.

d. With limited land, we will have to consider the trade-offs and resources needed whenever we make policy changes.

e. For instance, whenever we raise income ceiling or liberalise eligibility criteria for public housing, for example by lowering the age limit, demand will go up. And we will need to make sure we have the land and the resources to meet such demand.

f. While our current priority is to catch up on the delays caused by the pandemic, which Minister Desmond has spoken about, we recognise that the needs and aspirations of Singaporeans are changing, including those who are single or have non-citizen spouses, and will continue to study how best to extend more support to them as the situation stabilises.

Leveraging Innovation and Human Ingenuity

34. As we carefully balance trade-offs and hedge against future uncertainties, innovation and human ingenuity offers opportunities for us to overcome our constraints. Minister Desmond earlier spoke about enhancements to our Cities of Tomorrow, or CoT, R&D programme to fulfil our vision of a more sustainable, liveable, and resilient Singapore.

35. The research efforts under the CoT programme also allow us to tap on advancements in big-data analytics and social science research to aid our urban planning and design. In July last year, HDB completed a research project in collaboration with SUTD using data analytics and behavioural studies to look at how to foster the ‘Kampung spirit’ in our heartlands. One of the findings was the importance of visual connectivity and the development of a social hub to promote neighbourly interactions. This led HDB to develop a new model of ‘raised’ multi-storey carparks, where the carpark levels are lifted to introduce a porous space on the ground floor where residents from surrounding blocks can interact and gather for social activities. 

36. Madam Chair, in Mandarin, please. 

37. 在疫情期间, 大部分国人的活动范围局限于住家周围,因此,在这两年内,社区事务署所接获的投诉数量出现上升趋势。其中,人为社区问题,例如邻里噪音,走廊杂物堆积,高楼抛物,喂食鸽子等问题较为棘手。

38. 社区事务署将继续朝两大方向前进, 与其他政府部门, 居民以及公众, 共同解决人为社区问题,维持优质的生活环境。

39. 首先,我们正与商界和公众合作,构想创新点子,为居民带来实际可行的解决方案。

a. 例如,我们已经在武吉知马区展开一项 “邻里办公仓” 的试验计划,以优惠的价格,为受噪音问题困扰的居民提供一个靠近住家、宁静的办公或读书环境。这个试验计划为期一年。 之后,我们将考虑是否要扩展到其他地区。

b. 人民协会和建屋发展局也将成立一个“新加坡群策群力行动联盟”,来探讨如何更好的在组屋区内进行团购活动。团购活动越来越受欢迎, 既可以为小商家打开更多销路,也为邻里生活增添情趣,促进邻居间的交流, 但也给一些居民带来不便与困扰,例如:团购货品堆积在组屋走廊,阻碍通道等。这个行动联盟将邀请购物团主,基层领袖,私人企业及其他利益相关者参加,集思广益,找出更周全的方案。 

40. 第二,我们将继续专注于塑造正确的社会规范,设法从源头解决人为的社区问题。

41. 在这方面,社区事务署与文化,社区及青年部将设立一个 “邻里噪音社区咨询小组”。 

42. 小组成员将包括拥有处理社区事务相关经验和专长的社区代表。我们希望能尽快成立这个咨询小组,并邀请公众参与讨论和制定一套针对噪音等问题的社区规范,比如,明确什么是不合理或没有公德心的行为,并建议居民应采取哪些措施以减少对邻居的噪音干扰。

43. 这会是一套具有参考价值的社区规范,有助于邻里纠纷仲裁庭的调解,并辅助政府部门进行有关减少邻里噪音的宣传教育工作。 

44. 让我们齐心协力共同打造一个更美好的生活环境。 

45. We will continue to work closely with our partners to maintain high service standards. To emerge stronger as a society, we need residents and communities work together towards our shared goal of a better living environment for all.