In Parliament today (29 Jan), National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan revealed that until the recent case in Sengkang, the Government had never awarded a place-of-worship site to a company that was not affiliated to a religious organisation.
“We now understand that the winning tenderer for this site, Eternal Pure Land, is actually a private company without any religious affiliation,” he said.
“From what we know, the plan of the company is to run a commercial columbarium on the site. This is not in line with our plan for the place-of-worship site.”
Mr Khaw said that HDB had awarded the land tender to Eternal Pure Land under the impression that the company was a vehicle for a religious organisation to build and own a Chinese temple.
He said that his ministry will “ensure that the land is restored to the original plan of a Chinese temple”, and that it is in discussion with Eternal Pure Land on how that can be achieved.
‘I’ll find a way to try to unwind this’
“Having reached such a situation, I’ll find a way to try to unwind this. The key point is for that Sengkang site we want the Chinese temple and we will deliver that,” he explained to Parliament.
“For that Sengkang site we do not want a commercial columbarium and we won’t have one,” he emphasized.
He also said that the Government will review the land tender process for places of worship and tighten eligibility requirements for tenderers.
“The Sengkang temple case has highlighted the necessity for such a review. I will provide more information when the review is completed,” he stated.
The current tender process actually does allow for religious organisations and companies to participate. This is because some of the religious organisations form companies to enable and facilitate their ownership and development of such sites, Mr Khaw explained.
“This has been the practice since 1991 when State Lands were put up for tenders for Places of Worship use. The assumption is that only companies affiliated to religious organisations would participate in such tenders,” he added. Since 1991, seven sites have been won by companies, all affiliated to religious organisations.
Mr Khaw said that many temples provide an incidental columbarium service for their members and devotees, and whether the eventual temple in Sengkang will provide such a service is a decision for the temple trustees to make.
News of a proposed columbarium and Chinese temple in Sengkang Fernvale Lea caught residents by surprise. Many were angry that the marketing brochures of the HDB BTO project did not indicate clearly that there could be a columbarium hosted inside the temple.
The information on the brochure made reference to URA regulations, which allow for up to 20% of the space in places of worship to host a columbarium. However, residents need to visit URA or go online to find out more about this.
Some were also unhappy that a profit-driven organisation won the tender. Eternal Pure Land, which is owned by Australian company Life Corporation, won the tender with a bid of $5.2 million.
Others are asking HDB for a refund.
Dr Lam Pin Min, MP for Sengkang West SMC, posted a message on his Facebook page thanking MND and relevant govt agencies for looking into the matter:
“Minister Khaw has shared in parliament that as the plan of the company (EPL) is not in line with the original intent of the land for a place of worship, MND will ensure that the land is restored to its original intent for a Chinese Temple development. I would like to thank MND and all relevant agencies for looking into this issue and addressing the concerns of residents. I would also like to thank Fernvale residents for your patience and understanding, as we continue to work together to improve your living environment.”