Pointing out that Bukit Batok MP Murali Pillai has not expressed opposition to the high ministerial salaries his ruling party colleagues earn, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan has asked why the MP “suddenly becomes very cost conscious” when asked to build a simple footpath to ensure the safety of his constituents.
The lack of footpath in the vicinity of Block 190 Bukit Batok West Ave 6 is the cause of the latest disagreement between Dr Chee and Mr Murali. Earlier this month, Dr Chee said that the lack of a walkway in the area poses a danger to pedestrians since they are forced to walk on the road alongside traffic.
He added that Jurong-Clementi Town Council (JRTC) received a Bukit Batok resident’s complaint about this issue nearly a year ago but has not taken any action or given him an update on what it intends to do until now.
The opposition leader, who contested Bukit Batok SMC in the 2016 by-election and the 2020 general election, also shared that he observed several instances of cars driving dangerously close to pedestrians when he visited the area on 6 Sept.
Revealing that several residents he spoke to wanted a footpath to be constructed, Dr Chee said that a resident brought the matter up to Mr Murali but was told that this is not possible since people would also want a shelter if a walkway was constructed. He called on the authorities to build a footpath immediately to better protect pedestrians.
The very next day, on 7 Sept, Mr Murali responded that it is “simply wrong” for Dr Chee to say that there is a lack of footpaths or viable routes since residents can walk through the void decks and disputed the insinuation that residents are forced to walk on the road or on the grass patch.
Calling on his constituents to walk through the void decks, Mr Pillai implied that the facts were not accurately presented in Dr Chee’s post and that people could have been misled by the suggestions about the lack of footpath.
JRTC also published a Facebook post addressing the matter. Confirming that it received a suggestion to provide a footpath in the area, the town council implied that it would not be constructing one at this time since residents can walk through the void decks of blocks in the vicinity.
On 9 Sept, Dr Chee said that residents should not use the building apron routes that Mr Murali suggested they should use given the problem of killer litter and added that it may not always be feasible for pedestrians to use void decks, which are often rendered inaccessible.
He added that the best argument for a footpath is the fact that the authorities already built a tiny one along part of the road, that extends for just a few metres before and after the carpark gantry. Pointing out that it is obvious that the authorities built the tiny pavement for the use of pedestrians, Dr Chee asked why the pavement cannot be extended.
Dr Chee asked Mr Murali and JRTC to stop giving “excuses” and build a walkway for the safety of residents before something untoward occurs.
Despite his call, the authorities seem hesitant to construct the footpath that residents have apparently asked for.
Dr Chee brought up the issue again on social media this week after a resident invited him and Mr Murali for a meeting on Wednesday (16 Sept) to discuss the need for a footpath. While Dr Chee showed up to meet with the resident, Mr Ong, Mr Murali was absent.
In a Facebook post published on Thursday (17 Sept), Dr Chee said that Mr Ong told him that Mr Murali contacted him to inform him that cost was a factor against the construction of the pavement and that a sheltered walkway is too expensive to construct and maintain.
Responding to the explanation Mr Murali gave Mr Ong, Dr Chee pointed out that Bukit Batok residents are asking for a simple concrete sidewalk – not a sheltered footpath. Claiming that Mr Murali has no qualms about the cost for other structures that seem to have little use in the ward, Dr Chee wrote wrote:
“If Mr Murali had spoken to the residents, he would know that they are not asking for a sheltered walkway but simply a concrete pavement to be built so that they don’t have to walk on the road or in mud on the grass patch. The shelter argument is a strawman one.
“Why do I say this? A landscaped mini-park was constructed right next to the road. In it, there is a lookout point over a canal which hardly anyone uses and an “amphitheatre” with seats facing a patch of overgrown grass built in the middle of nowhere that no one asked for and nobody uses. These are expensive structures that serve no apparent purpose.”
He added: “This is the kind of top-down approach to town planning where residents are not consulted that result in enormous waste of resources. But that’s another matter for discussion on another day.”
Dr Chee also took Mr Pillai to task for citing cost as a factor when he remains silent about the high pay the ministers in his party earn and other expenses that could have been financed more frugally. He said:
“It is interesting that Mr Murali cites cost as a factor for building a pavement. When it comes to paying nearly $1m for a rubbish dump or spending $40m for a National Day parade or ministers lavishing themselves with million-dollar salaries, we don’t hear much from Mr Murali.
“But when it comes to a footpath in BB, he suddenly becomes very cost conscious.”
Reiterating his earlier point that the pre-existing routes Mr Murali asked residents to use are not always accessible or safe, Dr Chee said that numerous residents have told him that they don’t use the void decks because they are much longer and more inconvenient.
Asking whether Bukit Batok residents are being spoilt and unreasonable by requesting a simple footpath, the SDP chief pointed out that the authorities at Toa Payoh built a walkway for the use of residents even though a building corridor runs parallel to the walkway.
He questioned: “If the authorities can build an additional walkway right next to an existing one in TP, why can’t they do it in BB?”
Dr Chee also addressed the point that it would be difficult to build a footpath since a part of the road slopes down leaving little room for a sidewalk. He said, “This is a minor obstacle as far as engineering is concerned. If humans can build pyramids (and that was 5,000 years ago), surely we can erect a humble concrete footpath on a slope in BB.”
Asserting that the Bukit Batok residents are not fooled by the “strawman excuses” offered up by the authorities, Dr Chee repeated his call for Mr Murali to build a concrete pavement without delay. He said:
“BB residents, and Singaporeans for that matter, are not unreasonable or unintelligent. They know the difference between valid reasons and strawman excuses.
“I hope Mr Murali will not offer up any more excuses and build a concrete pavement in the area without further delay. Ultimately, I repeat, it is the safety of the residents that is most important. The residents and I await his favourable response.”
I was at BB Blk 190 again yesterday afternoon on the invitation of a resident, Mr Ong. Mr Ong had also invited Mr Murali…