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JTC officer and former supervisor fined S$30,000 each for causing illegal clearing of Kranji woodland

Neo Jek Lin and his supervisor Chong Pui Chih directed the contractor to cut trees without putting in place wildlife and environmental management measures.

JTC officer and former supervisor fined S$30,000 each for causing illegal clearing of Kranji woodland

Excavators are seen on cleared land in Kranji on Feb 17, 2021. (Photo: CNA/Calvin Oh)

SINGAPORE: A JTC Corporation officer and his then-supervisor were fined by a court on Wednesday (Nov 9) for their roles in causing the illegal clearing of woodland in Kranji.

Former JTC deputy director Chong Pui Chih, 47, and her then-subordinate, 44-year-old Neo Jek Lin, were each fined S$30,000. They said they would pay their fines in full.

The pair had pleaded guilty to various charges last week. Neo was a senior project manager with JTC and is currently suspended.

The pair were in charge of the development of an Agri-Food Innovation Park at a plot of land at Kranji Close and Kranji Road.

The park was to house high-tech farming and research and development activities such as indoor plant factories, insect farms and animal feed production facilities.

The Kranji site is about 18.4 hectares - roughly the size of 26 football fields - divided into 10 plots. The planned development required the felling of existing trees, but approval was required for the felling of any tree with a girth exceeding 1m growing on any vacant land.

However, when the pair learnt that NParks required further measures to be put in place to safeguard wildlife, public safety, public health and ecosystems, they decided to go ahead with the tree felling without first putting in place such measures.

They did so as they knew the project had already been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in works being halted from Apr 7, 2020, to Aug 3, 2020.

As they were worried that the project would be delayed further, Chong and Neo decided to continue the tree felling and site clearance works while efforts were made concurrently to satisfy the requirements.

They instructed the contractor to perform tree felling works at various plots in Kranji, with a total of 362 trees exceeding girths of 1m cut down as a result.

The incident came to public attention when Facebook user Brice Li posted aerial photos showing swathes of cleared land in the area on Feb 14 last year. The illegal clearance of the woodland drew shock and disappointment from nature advocates.

The prosecution had sought a fine of S$34,000 for Neo and S$28,000 for Chong. 

On Wednesday, District Judge Lee Lit Cheng said both Neo and Chong were equally involved in the commission of the offences. 

While they had acted out of a sense of responsibility for the work entrusted to them, Judge Lee said they were "misguided" in failing to show responsibility in terms of complying with the law and protecting the environment.

Chong was Neo's supervisor, so her culpability is higher. However, Neo has one additional charge as he was more "hands-on" in the work, said the judge. She thus sentenced them to the same fine.

Source: CNA/ll(ac/gs)


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