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JTC officers gave 'inaccurate information' about Kranji woodland clearance; case referred to AGC: Chan Chun Sing

JTC officers gave 'inaccurate information' about Kranji woodland clearance; case referred to AGC: Chan Chun Sing

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

SINGAPORE: Two officers from JTC Corporation provided "inaccurate information" to their superiors about parcels of land in Kranji that were cleared by mistake, resulting in inaccuracies being made in a parliamentary statement in February last year.

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing, who was Minister for Trade and Industry at the time of the incident, provided this update in Parliament on Thursday (Mar 10), correcting parts of a previous statement he had made in the House, saying that it was based on information provided by the officers.

The case has since been referred to the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) to consider if any charges should be brought.

Mr Chan in February 2021 had provided a timeline of how tracts of woodland in Kranji along the Rail Corridor came to be cleared ahead of an environmental impact assessment.

The land was part of 18ha set aside for the first phase of development for the Agri-Food Innovation Park, and had been mistakenly cleared by Huationg, a contractor of JTC Corp.

Mr Chan said in his update on Thursday that police investigations into the matter had just concluded, and their conclusions were presented to the relevant ministers earlier this week.

The investigations found that the two JTC officers - the project manager and his deputy director - gave "inaccurate information" to their superiors last year.

"The inaccurate information had then been conveyed to MTI and subsequently incorporated into the answers I gave to the parliamentary and supplementary questions in February 2021," said Mr Chan.

"Some of the information I presented to Parliament, based on what they had said was therefore inaccurate," he added.

On Thursday, Mr Chan corrected parts of his previous statement.

Last year, he said that the unauthorised clearance on 4.5ha of the site was carried out between end-December 2020 and Jan 13, 2021.

Investigations have since found that the land clearance started before December 2020. It has also been found that other areas of at least 2.8ha had been cleared without approval from the National Parks' Board (NParks).

Mr Chan had also said earlier that the unauthorised land clearance was discovered by the JTC project manager on Jan 13, 2021. But investigations found that the project manager and his deputy director knew of the clearance before January 2021.

"It appears that they misrepresented the facts and gave inaccurate information to their superiors," said Mr Chan.

Mr Chan also corrected an earlier statement that the contractor had not been paid. Some payment had been made for the felling of trees in the unauthorised areas, but the department in JTC that processed the payments did not realise that approval had not been given.

There was no intent by JTC staff to mislead in this, Mr Chan said.

Mr Chan emphasised to Members of Parliament that his statements on Thursday were based on police findings.

"After discussing with AGC, I was satisfied that I could update Parliament now on what the police have found, but I emphasise to members that the above is the police views of the facts and the matter could go to court".

He added: "There is a natural follow-up question: 'Why did the officers do this?'"

Mr Chan said that had procedures been followed, approval would likely have been given to clear the land "subject to necessary conditions being met".

"However, regardless whether approvals would have been forthcoming, the JTC officers had the duty to give the correct information to their supervisors and MTI. Failure to do so is wrong and cannot be excused," said Mr Chan, who is also the Minister-in-charge of the Public Service.

The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau was also asked to investigate and has concluded that there was no corruption, said Mr Chan.

Mr Chan said that besides possible court proceedings, the officers also face disciplinary action.

JTC said in a statement on Thursday that  the JTC Board of Directors will convene a disciplinary panel to consider appropriate disciplinary actions against the officers involved, as well as their senior supervisors if they had been in breach of their duties.

"This is a serious incident and JTC acknowledges the lapses. JTC will remedy our shortcomings and improve our processes," said JTC chairman Tan Chong Meng.

"We will tighten the execution of projects and compliance with rules, and ensure that JTC officers uphold the highest standards of integrity and governance in carrying out their duties.

"The Board will look into whether those involved may have breached their duties, and hold them accountable with appropriate disciplinary actions.”

In a separate statement, MTI said that it takes a "very stern and serious view of this incident". 

"We do not condone such misconduct," the ministry added.

Source: CNA/hm

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