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No more sleaze, just traffic squeeze

March 31, 2011 - 5:51pm


With the red-light area of Joo Chiat SMC now part of Marine Parade GRC, residents are now focused on municipal issues. This is the sixth in our 12-part series on single-member constituencies

IN THE 2006 General Election, sleaze was a hot issue for the Joo Chiat single-member constituency (SMC).

At a Workers' Party rally in East Coast in May that year, the candidate for Joo Chiat, Dr Tan Bin Seng, said he would "take away" the licences of the bars in Joo Chiat and clean up the sleaze in the area if elected to Parliament.

Incumbent Chan Soo Sen of the People's Action Party (PAP) dismissed the pledge as "just talk" and said it was not clear how Dr Tan was going to deliver on his promise.

Mr Chan said he had formed a watch group and secured a moratorium on new licences for pubs, karaoke lounges and massage parlours.

Although Mr Chan went on to beat Dr Tan, garnering more than 65 per cent of the votes, the proportion was a sharp drop from what he had at the 2001 election.

Then, Mr Chan had won with 83.55 per cent of the votes against independent candidate Ooi Boon Ewe.

So does sleaze remain an issue in the ward?

Following the Electoral Boundaries Report released last month, it shouldn't.

The notorious stretch of Joo Chiat Road which runs from Marine Parade Road to Crane Road is now part of the Marine Parade Group Representation Constituency (GRC).

When The New Paper polled 100 residents of the GRC, which includes Telok Kurau, East Coast Road and Opera Estate, only one raised the issue.

Undergraduate Poh Chen Wei, 23, who lives in the Frankel area, said: "I feel that Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong (Marine Parade GRC) can do a better job with it. The Joo Chiat area will definitely be better off without the sleaze."

Political observer Eugene Tan, a law lecturer from the Singapore Management University (SMU), pins the sleaze problem on the landlords.

He said: "To be fair, the problem can never be totally eradicated unless rents in the area increase such that the pubs and nightclubs there are priced out.

"Until that happens, the MP is expected to ensure that the problem is under control and public safety is not compromised."

Judging by TNP's poll results and a physical count of the area, Mr Chan has resolved the issue.

In 2004, residents banded together to form the Save Joo Chiat Working Group and worked together with Mr Chan and the authorities to clean up the neighbourhood.

At that time, Joo Chiat Road had 44 pubs, 38 massage parlours and eight hotels, reported The Straits Times.

That had dropped to 26 pubs, three massage parlours and six hotels by last October.

The number of women arrested for vice there dropped from about 400 a year in 2007 to just 40 in 2009.

Said Mr Chan: "That's our greater success. We've been able to mobilise the law enforcement agencies and residents to contain the situation.

"It used to be full of karaoke pubs and massage parlours but not any more. There are now offices, restaurants and even property development firms."

But Mr Chan said he regrets losing the area to Marine Parade GRC.

He said: "To me and my grassroot (people), we're sad to let this go because we've solved the problem and we're in the process of eradicating it.

"Just give us one more term. Unfortunately, we won't be there. I am sure we could've scored better than the last GE (general election)."

But is he leaving the ward? Is he stepping down?

Last month, The Straits Times tipped Minister of State for Trade and Industry and for Manpower Lee Yi Shyan to take over from Mr Chan in the Joo Chiat SMC for the upcoming election.

But Mr Chan declined to speculate, adding: "It's not up to me to say; it's up to the party leaders to decide. There are no instructions from the party yet. So, I'll still continue to cover the ground."

Hot issue now

So what's hot now in the Joo Chiat SMC?

From our poll, 65 residents said they would confront election candidates with municipal issues, including indiscriminate parking, the upgrading of roads and parks, and the cleanliness of the estate.

The remaining 35 said national issues were a bigger concern with the cost of living dominating.

Resident Alfred Khoo, 58, who lives in a landed home in the Opera Estate area, said: "The price of everything is going up, especially our electricity bills and petrol bills. And then there are GST and ERP as well.

"I think something should be done to cushion the rising costs for everyone, not just the poor."

Of the parking woes, SMU's Mr Tan said: "There are many good eateries in the area and a shortage of parking space means that indiscriminate parking will remain a persistent issue."

Resident Raymond Roy, 40, who lives with his family in a terrace house near Siglap Centre, is also annoyed at the inconsiderate motorists who cause a congestion when they visit the banks, coffee shops and Siglap Centre.

Said the businessman: "It's okay if they park here, just don't block others. What happens if a fire engine needs to get access through the road? Maybe there should be a sign that says 'only for residents'."

Mr Chan said of the poll results: "A lot of the things we deal with are municipal issues – carpark problems, traffic, clogging of drains and mosquitoes.

"Joo Chiat is a fairly old estate, developed in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. (In) those days, the roads tended to be pretty narrow and there weren't so many cars. And people used to be able to park along the roads."

But today, with more cars on the road and intensified land use due to more condominiums there, the traffic and parking situation has worsened, he added.

Mr Chan said he has to work closely with residents and the Land Transport Authority to tackle the parking problems.

"We just can't stick to law enforcement solutions like yellow lines. That will also penalise people who live there. We have to talk to residents and tell them to live and let live sometimes.

"All of us, from time to time, may have friends visiting. A lot of communication is necessary," he added.

Resident Raymond Roy is unhappy about the indiscriminate parking at Siglap. TNP PICTURE: DESMOND NG

Named after plantation owner Chew Joo Chiat, this constituency is mostly upper-middle class, and almost all the residents live in private housing.

There are only four HDB blocks of two-room flats, which are located opposite Siglap Centre.

The constituency has undergone the Estate Upgrading Programme, which consists of the upgrading of parks, playgrounds and drainage infrastructure.

Joo Chiat recently won Singapore’s first Heritage Town Award, presented by the National Heritage Board last month.

Joo Chiat received $100,000 as funding to develop heritage activities for the year, such as the Peranakan Heritage Month in July and the Eurasian Heritage Month in December.

The Workers' Party and independent candidate Andrew Kuan have declared they will contest the ward.

At an opposition parties' meeting earlier this month, Mr Kuan was escorted out of the room by the building's security guards, The New Paper on Sunday reported on March 6.

PKMS chairman Mohd Nazem Suki said Mr Kuan had to leave the meeting because the other party members' general consensus was not to allow an independent candidate in the meeting.

Mr Chan said of the upcoming contest: "This place was contested by WP in the last GE with fairly credible results. If they (WP) want to come again, I won't be surprised. We have seen some WP activists in that area.

"It'll be very interesting if there's a three-cornered fight. It'll be better because it'll split the opposition votes."

When contacted, Mr Kuan said that although several leaders from various opposition parties have met and invited him to join them to contest at GRC or SMC levels, he'll stand as an independent candidate in Joo Chiat SMC.

He declined to name which parties have approached him.

He said: "We met with the thoughtful understanding that we will remain helpful, amicable and complementing to each other during the coming GE 2011 whether I join their parties or prefer to stand as an independent candidate."

We asked 100 Joo Chiat residents: What is the most important issue you would raise with the candidates when they visit you?

Parking: 20%
Upgrading of roads, estate, parks, lifts: 12%
Public transport infrastructure: 10%
Cleanliness of estate: 10%
Noise: 8%
More amenities such as parks and markets: 5%

Cost of living: 25%
More help for elderly: 4%
Government policies: 3%
Education system: 2%
Widening income gap: 1%

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