SINGAPORE: The Government has given directions for "immediate follow-up", after parts of a Kranji woodland site were erroneously cleared, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on Monday (Feb 22).
“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,” he told reporters during a media briefing.
Last week, JTC Corp said that plots of land earmarked for the development of the Agri-Food Innovation Park in Kranji were “erroneously” cleared ahead of the conclusion of a commissioned study. A “stern warning” has been issued to the contractor involved.
“Upon this discovery, JTC instructed the contractor to stop all clearing works immediately. Since then, no further clearing has taken place on site and the contractor has been issued a stern warning,” it said last week.
The Agri-Food Innovation Park is part of the Sungei Kadut Eco-District. About 18 hectares of land has been set aside for the first phase of development for the Agri-Food Innovation Park in the district.
READ: JTC accepts ‘supervisory responsibilities’ for Kranji woodland site; about 4.5ha cleared by mistake
The Government has issued three sets of directions for immediate follow-up, said Mr Chan on Monday.
The relevant agencies – JTC Corp and the National Parks Board (NParks) – will conduct investigations into the clearance of the site. JTC will also conduct an internal review to check if public officers and private contractors have followed their current processes and look at how it can “better supervise” agencies and Qualified Personnel (QPs) as they implement the project.
QPs are people involved in managing and coordinating a construction project.
Meanwhile, NParks will identify breaches, if any, of the Parks and Trees Act and Wildlife Act. However, the Government will not make further comments on the ongoing investigations to avoid prejudicing the outcome, he said.
The minister added that Permanent Secretary (Defence Development) Joseph Leong, who was not directly involved with the site clearance, will be appointed to lead a review to identify “learning points” for project management, supervision, execution and inter-agency coordination.
In the course of his review, Mr Leong will have access to views from the public, private and people sectors, Mr Chan said.
READ: Nature advocates call for mitigation measures after error in clearing parts of Kranji woodland area
Mr Chan, who is also Minister-in-charge of the Public Service, has also instructed all relevant agencies involved in land clearance projects to conduct an “immediate” check to make sure that their project supervision and implementation processes are in order, to “avoid any repeat of the mistakes made”.
“The public service will learn from this and improve,” he said.
JTC said on Monday in a factsheet that the site is not close to any “sensitive nature areas”.
“Most of the site then comprised of disused scrubland, with a few scattered large trees (mostly Albizia). It is now dominated by non-native Albizia regrowth,” it said.
STRENGTHENING THE EIA PROCESS
The Ministry of National Development will continue efforts to strengthen the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) framework, said National Development Minister Desmond Lee at Monday’s briefing.
EIAs are used to assess the potential environmental impacts of any proposed development.
The Government enhanced the EIA framework in October last year, said Mr Lee, after “close consultation” with the nature community and partner agencies, and has been working to “operationalise these changes”.
The enhancements include increasing the rigour of its environmental studies through the biodiversity impact assessment guidelines, stronger enforcement under the amended Wildlife Act, building up local expertise on ecological matters and making all environmental study reports publicly available except in cases with security considerations.
In its engagement with the nature community last year, the Government had also identified and discussed with them other ways to strengthen the EIA process, said Mr Lee.
This includes developing a “more comprehensive picture” of the islandwide ecosystem and connectivity, to “better consider” how specific sites connect to nature cores, buffers and corridors. It will also conduct baseline studies for specific sites “to understand their ecological profile and their role in ecological connectivity”.
“In terms of conducting environmental studies, we’re reviewing whether it is better to centralise the management of EIA consultants, instead of having individual developers manage their own,” Mr Lee said.
“I would like to reiterate that we take this incident very seriously,” he added. “The situation is concerning and it is regrettable and is deeply concerning that this has happened.”