5 MPs from both the PAP and WP fielded 10 questions during Parliament today on lift breakdowns.

We highlight 5 takeaways from the discussion below, what we think Minister Lawrence is really saying and our humble opinions:

Lifts are generally safe to use

Minister Lawrence: “Lifts in Singapore are checked regularly and safe to operate. But like any other machinery, they can malfunction from time to time. Nevertheless, any serious lift incident is one too many. Furthermore, as our lifts get older and are subject to more wear and tear, they will face higher risks of faults. This is why BCA has recently announced measures to tighten maintenance standards for lifts.”

What he means: I can’t promise that lifts will never break down in Singapore. They are safe, but they are also old. But we are taking steps to address it.

Our take: We would agree with the Minister’s view that lifts are safe to use. Statistically, a Singaporean has higher chances of dying from heart disease, suicide and road traffic accidents than a lift breakdown.

Lift breakdowns have actually seen an improvement, compared to two years ago

Minister Lawrence: “Despite public perception that there has been a sudden surge in lift incidents, actual real-time monitoring of data of HDB lifts show about 20 breakdowns per 1,000 lifts a month in 2015 and thus far in 2016. This is lower than average breakdowns of 30 breakdowns per 1,000 lifts in 2013 and 2014.”

What he means: Contrary to popular belief, we are actually getting better – and we will do better.

Our take: The Minister said himself that there are 24,000 lifts in public housing estates. Do the math – it is still about 480 lifts that break down every month in HDB estates alone. That’s still not a great statistic, so we wish MND, BCA, Town Councils, lift engineers all the best in improving their report cards.

More audits, greater enforcement, more competition

Minister Lawrence: “BCA will also step up its audit checks to ensure that lift contractors achieve these standards, and to take enforcement action against non-compliance. It is also important for lift companies to build up their capabilities and have competent technicians and engineers doing the work. Third, we should continue to effectively harness competitive forces in the industry to bring about benefits to residents. BCA is therefore working with the industry to set clearer requirements on the scope and level of training for all lift personnel.  It is also developing a sectoral plan which will take into account the manpower demand in relevant fields of expertise, as well as the need for better defined career development pathways to attract and retain more skilled professionals in this sector.”

What he means: We aren’t just blowing smoke. We’ve introduced new, stricter lift regulations, and made maintenance requirements more specific. Lift contractors will also kena audit and penalised if they aren’t doing their jobs. We are also checking in with the industry to study what manpower needs and skills we will need down the road.

Our take: Spelling out the details of maintenance requirements simply means that lift contractors cannot act blur. E.g. Last time, the lift brake had “to be maintained”. Now, the lift brake “cannot be contaminated, or be at risk of being contained by oil or grease”.

Let’s also be real – engineering is seen as the dumpling ground amongst many local universities, compared to your medicine, law, business or social science courses. The truth is that Singapore needs more and better engineers in the long run¸ or else, we will have to outsource from others. We predict that engineering will become the next big thing, after data scientists and white hackers in Singapore.

While it took an unfortunate series of lift mishaps to make the government sit up and take notice, we can say that they were honest in acknowledging gaps, and were open to listening to public concerns about lift breakdowns. And they’re also looking at long-term solutions for both residents and the industry.

Town Councils need to step it up

Minister Lawrence: “It is also important for Town Councils, as lift owners, to take responsibility and carry out pro-active maintenance and cyclical replacement of lifts.  For example, Town Councils can analyse the lift fault data from the Tele-Monitoring System and their records of residents’ feedback to identify lifts in their estates which may require more attention. Town Councils should also have qualified personnel within their management teams who can supervise the contractors, and work with them to put in place an effective maintenance regime.

“Town Councils are likely to draw more on their Sinking Funds to replace worn out lift parts or to carry out a complete replacement of older lifts. Town Councils must project and plan ahead, and ensure sufficient savings for long-term financial sustainability. So MND intends to require all Town Councils to set aside a higher proportion of their S&CC collections into their Sinking Funds and ring-fence a part of the Sinking Fund specifically for lift replacement.” 

 What he means: TCs must step up and wake up their idea. As lift owners, they should maintain lifts in their estate, whether it is to replace lift parts, or completely replace lifts. In the long run, they need to set aside the necessary funds in their resource planning – data, people and money.

Our take: Town Councils are required by law to set aside a portion of the service and conservancy charges they collect from residents like you and me, and the Government grants they get for cyclical works. These are basically a series of repairs, repainting and replacement works to keep your estate in good condition. Minister Wong also added that Town Councils can impose tighter requirements on their contractors. By outlining the role of BCA as regulator, and Town Councils as HDB estate managers, Minister Lawrence made it clear that Town Councils must do more to keep their house in order.

We guess PAP and WP MPs don’t get a monthly allowance of $15,000 for nothing.

Finally, did WP lose its claws?

Stricter lift maintenance equals more expenditure for Town Councils. Minister Lawrence Wong and WP Pritam Singh had a brief, polite exchange about a Town Council’s budget planning – and when MND could give an idea of how much Town Councils should set aside.

Fair enough, but still. Yawn.

Gotta say it was disappointing that WP was so mild in today’s Parliament sitting. We had expected sharper, more pointed questions. You would’ve thought that a heartland issue like lift breakdowns would be a great opportunity to score political points.

Or maybe Pritam Singh’s high horse was slightly punctured, since a WP-run estate had also suffered lift breakdowns last week….sighhh..