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All land clearance projects to undergo checks after erroneous Kranji clearing, review underway to prevent repeat: Chan Chun Sing

SINGAPORE — All land clearance projects will undergo an immediate check on work processes so as to “avoid any repeat of the mistakes” that resulted in the erroneous tree clearing in Kranji, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said on Monday (Feb 22).

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing (left) and National Development Minister Desmond Lee at a press conference on Feb 22, 2021.

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing (left) and National Development Minister Desmond Lee at a press conference on Feb 22, 2021.

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  • The Government announced that all land clearance projects will undergo an immediate check on work processes
  • This follows the erroneous clearing of a forested area by contractors in Kranji that came to light last Tuesday
  • Permanent Secretary of Defence Development at the Defence Ministry Joseph Leong has been appointed to review what lessons can be learnt from the incident
  • Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said the Government “takes a very serious view” of the incident
  • Mr Leong’s investigation will take about three months

 

SINGAPORE — All land clearance projects will undergo an immediate check on work processes so as to “avoid any repeat of the mistakes” that resulted in the erroneous tree clearing in Kranji, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said on Monday (Feb 22).

He added that Permanent Secretary of Defence Development at the Defence Ministry Joseph Leong has been appointed to review what lessons can be learnt from the error.

“We take a very serious view of this incident. 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,” Mr Chan said at a virtual press conference on Monday.

He added that the management at similar worksites have to make sure that their project supervision and implementation processes were in order in the wake of the incident.

“The public service will learn from this and improve. We thank the public for your feedback and continued support for the public service to serve Singapore and Singaporeans better,” said Mr Chan, who is minister-in-charge of the Public Service.

The Kranji incident came to light last Tuesday after widely shared social media posts of before-and-after pictures showed that the forested site around Kranji Road had been cleared of greenery.

The revelations prompted JTC Corporation to reveal that the site clearing was an error that was discovered on Jan 13 and that a stern warning has been issued towards its contractor Huationg.

The area was set aside for the development of the 25ha Agri-Food Innovation Park, which is part of the Sungei Kadut Eco-District.

Mr Chan was joined at the press conference by National Development Minister Desmond Lee, JTC Corporation chief executive Tan Boon Khai and Dr Leong Chee Chiew, commissioner of parks and recreation at the National Parks Board (NParks).

Mr Chan gave more details as to how a contractor had carried out logging of a 4.5ha area — the size of more than eight football fields — before environmental studies could be completed.

When asked whether the Government was aware of comments that JTC was pushing the blame to contractors, Mr Chan said it was key for people to understand that there were multiple parties and processes involved in contract management, such as the roles of development and management firm CPG Consultants, as well as the roles of “qualified persons”, engineers and supervisors who are on-site.

Mr Lee also called for the public to allow the investigations to run their courses.

“It is regrettable and is deeply concerning that this has happened. This session that we’re conducting is to explain what has happened, and to share how we will be addressing this incident in our next steps going forward,” he said.

“Let us all refrain from speculating what may have happened. The facts are clear, but large scale development projects such as this will have its fair share of complexities.”

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On Monday, JTC revealed its own detailed chronology of how the project has panned out since 2019, when the developer engaged CPG to carry out works in the area. JTC emphasised that it stopped all clearance works with immediate effect when it discovered the error on Jan 13.

The timeline shows how most of the land clearing works were legitimate — approvals had been sought and processes were followed. However, the errors occurred mainly involving the 4.5ha stretch some time between December 2020 and January 2021.

The review by Mr Leong, who is also the second Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Communications and Information, is designed to identify the steps needed for government agencies to improve future processes related to land-clearing.

Mr Chan said Mr Leong was appointed as he was not directly involved in the Kranji project. The investigation will take around three months, he added.

Mr Leong’s review comes on top of existing investigations by JTC and NParks as to whether current processes were being followed for the Kranji worksite.

In particular, NParks’ investigation will cover whether there were any breaches under the Parks and Trees Act and the Wildlife Act, which includes the possibility of imprisonment, said NParks’ Dr Leong.

The results of these studies will be made public when ready.

Said Dr Leong: “This (incident) is serious. I will not make any assumptions at this point in time — we do not and we shouldn't.

“But we will reference whatever material is available and whatever information is available. And we will do our own study of all the documentation, we will talk to various people, and we will make our own investigations as thorough as possible.”

JTC’s Mr Tan said that as the site developer for the project, JTC bears overall responsibility.

“We do not run away from this responsibility. We will not, nor do we intend to,” said Mr Tan.

He added that it was JTC's own staff who had discovered the errors, though he did not say who they were, or what led to the site being cleared erroneously as these were matters under investigation.

Speaking in general, Mr Tan said there is a regulatory process that requires submissions by the qualified persons — hired by CPG in this case — to regulatory agencies before any commencement of works can occur.

“That's the current process that is established and that is the current process that is followed when things are as it should be. In this case, we are now looking into whether any of those may or may not have been complied with,” said Mr Tan.

Mr Lee added that a thorough investigation will be conducted and that his ministry will continue to strengthen its environmental impact assessment framework.

“We will not hesitate to take the necessary action should any party be responsible,” he said.

Related topics

Kranji contractor JTC NParks land clearing mistake

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