Kranji woodland illegal clearing: Consultancy project director fined $20k , Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Kranji woodland illegal clearing: Consultancy project director fined $20k

A project director of the consultancy linked to the unauthorised clearing of Kranji woodland in 2020 and 2021 was fined $20,000 on Tuesday.

Tan See Chee, 65, was part of a quartet of officers from Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) and CPG Consultants working on the development of the Kranji Agri-Food Innovation Park (AFIP), which was planned to be a hub for high-tech farming and research and development activities.

The four officers were found to have acted in gross violation of wildlife-related requirements that needed to be met before getting approval from the National Parks Board (NParks) for the trees to be felled.

This led to the felling of 362 trees without approval.

Tan, who was appointed to be the qualified person and superintending officer for the project, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to two charges under the Parks and Trees Act.

Three similar charges were taken into consideration during his sentencing.

Tan is also an adjunct associate professor in the National University of Singapore’s department of civil and environmental engineering.

The other three co-accused are Neo Jek Lin, 44, who was a JTC senior project manager at the time of the unauthorised clearing; Chong Pui Chih, 47, a former deputy director with the statutory board; and Jimmy Liu, 63, the vice president of CPG.

Neo and Chong were fined $30,000 each in Nov 2022 for their roles in having Kranji woodland cleared without approval.

In January, Liu admitted to three charges under the Parks and Trees Act and one charge under the Wildlife Act and was fined $26,000.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Nicholas Khoo and Jordon Li said that in March 2019, the Government announced that a plot of land at Kranji Close and Kranji Road would be set aside for the development of Kranji AFIP.

JTC was appointed the project owner and developing agency for Kranji AFIP, and was responsible for its development and the engagement of consultants and contractors to plan, design and execute works there.

JTC then engaged CPG, which was responsible for the design and construction works at Kranji AFIP as well as ensuring necessary approvals were obtained from the relevant authorities before works were carried out.

As the qualified person for the project, Tan was responsible for carrying out design works and obtaining approvals from the authorities, among other duties.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the development of the Kranji AFIP was delayed after works were halted between April and August 2020.

The prosecutors said that Tan and the three co-accused had discussed the impact of the wildlife-related requirements on the time needed to complete work on the Kranji AFIP.

Concerned about further delays to the project, Neo and Chong suggested that, instead of complying with the wildlife-related requirements before commencing tree felling and site clearance works, they proceed while efforts were made concurrently to satisfy those requirements.

Tan agreed and ordered for the tree felling to be carried out without obtaining approval for the plan.

A total of 362 trees with girths exceeding one metre growing on vacant land at the Kranji AFIP were cut down as a result.

The prosecutors said the number of trees cut in this case was enormous by any measure.

“While the exact impact on the environment cannot be calculated because the offences took place before any studies were undertaken, the potential harm caused was undoubtedly high as evidenced by the large land size and the requirements which NParks had directed for before approval could be granted,” added the prosecution.

Several MPs had previously raised questions in Parliament about the unauthorised clearing of the land, which had come to light after aerial photos of the site appeared on social media.

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing had told Parliament then that investigations into the case found that two JTC officers had misrepresented facts and given inaccurate information to their superiors.

Mr Chan, who used to be the Minister for Trade and Industry, had said that the unauthorised clearance occurred between late December 2020 and Jan 13, 2021.

The woodland area was erroneously cleared to the consternation of nature groups.

Nature experts had previously told ST that as the Kranji woodland area was located along the Rail Corridor, it was of strategic importance as a connector for animals to reach other areas.