Chan Chun Sing: 3 immediate follow-ups issued to govt agencies after Kranji woodland clearance

Investigations are ongoing.

Ashley Tan | February 22, 2021, 05:09 PM

The recent debacle surrounding the clearance of Kranji woodland led to an outcry from nature lovers who bemoaned the loss of wildlife's habitat and a buffer for the neighbouring Rail Corridor.

In a press briefing on Feb. 22, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing and Minister for National Development Desmond Lee stepped forward to outline the follow-up steps being taken following the incident.

Three steps

Both ministers reiterated that they take a "serious" view of the incident and they were briefed on the preliminary investigations last week.

Lee said it was "regrettable" and "deeply concerning" that such a thing had occurred while Chan acknowledged that there were gaps in the way the project was managed and supervised.

"It is clear to us that there were gaps in the way that the project was managed and supervised and that we must do better."

Chan also listed out three sets of directions for "immediate follow-up".

1. NParks and JTC to conduct investigations

Both JTC and the National Parks Board (NParks) will conduct their respective investigations into the clearance, Chan said.

JTC will conduct an internal review to check if their current processes are being followed by public officers and private contractors.

It will also check how it can better supervise the various agencies and qualified personnel involved during the project's implementation.

Meanwhile, NParks will be conducting their own investigation under the Parks and Trees Act and the Wildlife Act to check if any breaches took place.

2. Independent party chosen to review what has happened

Secondly, Chan said that an independent party, Permanent Secretary Joseph Leong, had been appointed to "lead a review of the lessons arising from this development at Kranji", and to identify any learning points for project management, supervision, and execution, and interagency coordination.

Leong is not directly involved in this matter, Chan added.

During the review, Leong will have access to views from the public, private and people's sectors.

3. All relevant agencies to conduct checks

Thirdly, Chan revealed that as the minister in charge of the public service, he had instructed all agencies involved in land clearance projects to conduct immediate checks to ensure their project supervision and implementation processes are in order.

This is to avoid any repeat of such a mistake.

Chan thanked the public for its feedback, and added that "the public service will learn from this and improve."

Strengthening EIA frameworks

Lee added that in the meantime, MND would be strengthening its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) framework.

Previously, several enhancements proposed after consultation with the nature community include:

  • Increasing the rigour of environmental studies through the biodiversity impact assessment guidelines.
  • Strengthening enforcement through the amended Wildlife Act.
  • Building local expertise on ecological matters.
  • Making all environmental study reports publicly available, unless there are security considerations involved.

These enhancements are currently in the midst of being operationalised, Lee said.

Aside from these enhancements, Lee added that the government will be developing a more comprehensive picture of Singapore's islandwide ecosystem and connectivity.

This, along with baseline studies conducted at the sites, will help agencies assess how each site's ecological connectivity to core nature areas, buffers or corridors.

Findings from these studies will contribute to NParks' existing data and connectivity models, which will help guide longer-term planning.

Additionally, Lee revealed that the government is currently considering whether to centralise the management of EIA consultants — currently, consultants are managed by individual developers.

Avoid speculation

While investigations are being carried out, Lee urged everyone to refrain from speculating about what happened "until the facts are clearer".

However, Lee addressed the fact that a large-scale development like the one at Kranji woodlands would have "its fair share of complexities".

"There are many parties involved — the project management teams, the qualified person, and the various consultants. There are also many technical agencies involved weighing in on various aspects during the planning and consultation process."

Lee said that a thorough investigation will be conducted and the findings will be made public when ready.

"We will not hesitate to take the necessary actions should any party be responsible," he assured.

Lee also added:

"We will learn from this incident and the discussions that have resulted. I hope that everyone including our nature community will continue to partner and support us in our efforts as we continually work to improve."

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Top photo by Hor Teng Teng