The shocking revelation that a huge part of the Kranji woodland was cleared “by mistake” raises serious questions.
This revelation comes in the midst of widespread public outcry over the persistent gazetting of various forested areas in Bukit Batok, Clementi and Dover for development.
Even while the Minister for National Development Desmond Lee fends off criticism over such moves, it is now revealed that a swathe of the Kranji forest has been razed.
The JTC responded that the forest was “mistakenly” cleared. It added that this took place even as the authorities were in the midst of conducting a biodiversity impact study.
It is hardly believable that the clearance was entirely due to a mistake. The cutting down of a forest is a massive operation requiring coordination across government departments and even ministries. Tenders need to be called, contracts approved, costs assessed, payments made, commencement dates determined, etc.
Given such an elaborate exercise, only a child will believe that a mere mistake was the cause. Such a glib response to such a serious matter is unacceptable.
The PAP has been severely criticised for its plans to continue to inflate the population size in Singapore to unsustainable levels by simply bringing in more foreigners. One way that it can do this is to keep clearing the little greenery that is left on this island for housing.
Not only will such mindless development leave behind a ravaged environment for our younger generations and add to the climate crisis at hand, it will also lead to an even more stressful lifestyle for Singaporeans in an already overcrowded city.
Given the situation, this horrendous development deserves intense scrutiny. A thorough and, more importantly, independent investigation must be held. For a start, the Minister for National Development must come forward and answer the following questions. This includes Mr Lawrence Wong who was Mr Desmond Lee’s predecessor in 2020:
1. Why was the development masterplan for the area launched before the environmental impact assessment carried out?
According to JTC’s website, “Minister of Trade & Industry, Chan Chun Sing, launched the Sungei Kadut Eco-District (SKED) Masterplan Exhibition at the URA Centre today.” (6 February 2020).
SKED is part of the Agri-Food Innovation Park to be built on the plot of the greenery.
But the Straits Times reported yesterday that JTC “had engaged an environmental specialist to conduct a biodiversity baseline study in December.”
Why did the government announce the SKED masterplan in February last year and commission the environmental study only 10 months later? Does this not signal that plans to clear the forest were already pre-determined and well under execution regardless of the findings of the study?
2. Where is the contract for the clearance?
The tender for the such an extensive project had to be called with contractors invited to submit their bids. When was this done and who authorised it?
The PAP must produce the contract to show when it was approved, how much the project cost, when it would begin and end, and who authorised it. There has to be accountability for those responsible for administering the contract rather than simply blaming the contractor and administering a “severe warning”.
When even chopping down a single tree without permission draws heavy penalty, it beggars belief that clearing an entire forest receives only a warning.
3. Was the contractor paid?
Such an operation costs huge amounts of public funds. The cutting down of a single tree costs thousands of dollars, what more an entire forest.
When was the initial instalment paid to the contractor? If such payment was made, presumably by the Ministry of Finance, it would be added indication of the government’s intention to clear the forest and put to rest the weak excuse that the clearance was due to a mistake.
4. Where is the communications record leading up to the operation?
The exercise would have entailed lengthy deliberations and discussions that would give a clear indication who was involved in the process and who, ultimately, gave the go-ahead. MND must produce records of such communications in the interest of complete transparency.
In light of the seriousness of the matter, Ministers Desmond Lee and Lawrence Wong must answer these questions and produce the necessary documents. As ministers, they would be privy to all the information.
What the government cannot do is push the blame to JTC or the contractor, Huationg with just a warning. The government must be accountable and provide real answers.