Kranji woodland saga: Former HDB deputy CEO says wrong to push responsibility to contractors – The Online Citizen Asia

While the eyes of Singapore were turned to the Clementi and Dover Forests in Central Singapore, nature lovers and Singaporeans alike were shocked to find out that the Kranji woodland up in the northwestern region of the island was being bulldozed for redevelopment.

In light of public criticism, JTC Corporation said it discovered on 13 Jan that its contractor had “erroneously” begun clearing some of these specific plots of land prematurely in December last year.

JTC, a statutory board, said that these plots of land were earmarked for the development of the Agri-Food Innovation Park (AFIP), which is part of the Sungei Kadut Eco-District (SKED).

A stern warning has since been issued to the contractor, as the land was cleared before the completion of the Biodiversity Baseline Study and an Environmental Monitoring and Management Plan (EMMP) for specified plots of land within the area.

JTC’s contractor Huationg said it has complied with JTC’s instruction to stop all clearing works.

“We apologise for the erroneous clearing of land and are working with JTC on ongoing investigations to determine the cause of this lapse, and to prevent future occurrences,” said Huationg.

However, Lianhe Zaobao’s reports on the above spurred on former Housing Development Board CEO, Yao Chee Liew to write to the Chinese daily’s forum to put in a word of fairness for the contractor.

In his letter, Mr Yao stated that almost all projects are publicly bid for and that contractors will bid according to the engineering drawings and contract specifications in the tender.

Under usual circumstances, the tender will be won by the lowest bidding contractor.

According to standard procedure, JTC, the tenderer in this case, would have employed a qualified land surveyor and demarcated the site’s parameters, said Mr Yeo.

He went on to say that if the contractor does not develop the land plots according to JTC’s demarcation, then it would have been the contractor’s fault.

“Of course, JTC could very well say that according to the contract, the responsibility of land surveying is held by the contractor, therefore any error in surveying will be borne by the contractor. This kind of explanation is hardly convincing and also irresponsible,” said Mr Yeo.

Mr Yeo noted that in any project, the tenderer and contractor will have to work together to ensure smooth progress.

In order to achieve the standards indicated in the tender, the tenderer would have to employ a project manager and an engineering supervisor to be deployed at the worksite.

Their main responsibilities are two-fold — the first is to ensure the quality of the project; the second, to help resolve any issues that the contractor may have in the process of completing the project.

Mr Yao said that when he saw the images of the cleared land in Kranji, he could not believe that something like this could have happened in Singapore.

“Such large-scale deforestation is not something that can happen within days. This project would have at least been carried out over a year or so. Where did the project manager or engineering supervisor go?”

“Frankly speaking, if it was not for the COVID situation affecting the speed of the project, the scale of destruction would have been far bigger,” he added.

Mr Yeo believes that both JTC and Huationg would have to be responsible for the incident at a ratio of 6 to 4.

“Most importantly, the responsibility should not be pushed to the contractor once something happens. We ought to appreciate the major contributions that contractors have in the development of Singapore, especially the pioneer generation era of senior contractors,” he said.

Land clearance in Kranji began earliest in March 2020

While JTC has said that the clearance of land was only carried out in December last year, it can be seen from satellite images that work at the Kranji woodland had commenced since March last year.

And as Mr Yao has highlighted in his letter, JTC had named the project manager and engineering supervisor for the project, as seen on the sign at the worksite in Kranji.

While Huationg apologised and said it was working with JTC on investigations “to determine the cause of this lapse, and to prevent future occurrences”, it bears noting that the company won the tender, “Proposed Earthworks and Construction of Infrastructure at Kranji Close and Kranji Road AFIP (Phase 1)” on 25 March last year at a sum close to S$15 million.

Another tender, “Proposed Site Clearance and Earthworks at Kranji Road for Plot 9” was instead awarded to another company, Shuan Huat Tractor Services on 17 Feb 2020 at S$1.49 million.