RELIGIOUS GROUPS UNHAPPY OVER LOSS OF SENGKANG BID
In the recent Sengkang columbarium saga, it was revealed that Eternal Pure Land Pte Ltd (EPL), a subsidiary of an Australian “for-profit” public listed company, had won the HDB land tender last year.
With its financial muscles supported by the parent public company, EPL managed to outbid the other 2 non-profit religious entities – Taoist Peng Hong Association and Xing Guang Maitreya Society (a Buddhist organization).
It was reported in the media today (23 Feb) that both religious organizations were unhappy about losing the land tender to EPL, which had put in a $5.2 million bid.
Taoist Peng Hong Association had bid $4 million – a figure it thought would secure the space, said its chairman Tan Aik Hock. There were plans to build a $7 million temple which would also provide free medical consultations to the public, he said.
The association currently has about 800 members and they now uses a cramped two-storey terrace house in Geylang Lorong 3 for their religious meetings.
It is busiest on the first and 15th day of each month, said Mr Tan. At times, it has to resort to erecting tents on the road outside its building to cater to the crowds. This can be an inconvenience to others, he said.
Xing Guang Maitreya Society, on the other hand, has been using a two-storey bungalow in Telok Kurau illegally. It put in a bid of $1.8 million for the Sengkang land last year.
Xing Guang Maitreya Society, also wants its own permanent and legal worship space.
Govt admits making a mistake to award tender to EPL
Last month in Parliament, the government has admitted that it was a mistake to award the tender to a for-profit company such as EPL. National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan promised Parliament that he would “unwind the situation”. He said, “It never crossed the minds of the (HDB) officials evaluating the tender. But never mind, having ascertained the situation now, it is not too late to unwind the situation.” (‘Khaw: We thought company was affiliated with religious organisation‘).
Mr Khaw also said the government would review the tender process to plug the loophole where commercial firms can muscle into places of worship.
MP Lam: I didn’t take sides
Meanwhile, it has been reported that Sengkang West MP Lam Pin Min said he did not take sides at the Sengkang columbarium dialogue which was held last month (‘Dr Lam: I did not take sides at columbarium dialogue‘).
He said he didn’t understand why the seating arrangement at the dialogue session had become an issue for him.
At the session, Dr Lam was perceived to be defending EPL and the authorities, rather than siding with his constituents. Some people pointed out that he was sitting at the same table as representatives from Life Corporation, the parent firm of EPL.
“My purpose there was first to facilitate the dialogue session, to clarify the misinformation of what was posted online, and to allow residents to raise their concerns to me and the relevant agencies,” he said. “Usually for a dialogue session, this is how it’s done.”
However, before the dialogue, Dr Lam had earlier praised EPL’s modern columbarium service on his Facebook page:
This new Chinese Temple will be the first Chinese Temple in Singapore and in the region (outside Japan) with a modern automated Columbarium where niches are kept behind four walls and retrieved to eye level in private viewing booths to maintain privacy and solemn dignity during visitations. Visitation times will be done through E-booking to minimise crowds congregation (which is a common challenge in many traditional Columbarium).
I have also been reassured by the developer that there will NOT be crematorium or funeral parlour services at the new temple. In addition, there will be provision of free parking spaces in the temple premise as well.
When asked about the tender won by a for-profit company, he replied that he was not aware of the rules and was not involved in the tender process.
But he said that the authorities had assured him that commercial firms could bid for land earmarked for religious purposes. That is why he defended the tender at the dialogue session.
“I… asked HDB and URA whether a commercial entity is allowed to participate in a tender process for a place of worship, and I was informed that it had been done before,” he said.
However, in previous land tenders for places for worship, the companies involved have religious affiliation, and are set up for a non-profit purpose. EPL and Life Corp are obviously not.
“EPL told us that they were in the process of discussing with some religious organisation to work out some of the temple-related activities,” Dr Lam added.
In any case, Dr Lam said he was happy with the outcome.
“I’m just happy that a decision has been made… to not have a commercial columbarium there,” he said. “I’m also just happy that many of the residents who are concerned can have their fears allayed because, at the end of the day, this is a positive outcome for many of the residents.”