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Thursday, 15 January 2015



Assuming now, that Minister Khaw Boon Wan has directed URA and HDB to retract the tender for the Sengkang land for administrative and procedural review, what does that signals?

Who shall we award the trophy to as ultimate winner in this tussle?

I would suggest that residents of Sengkang who made their displeasure known not to celebrate that they have triumphed over the authorities.  It certainly bears resemblance of a tiny "People's Power" but read the situation with care...."It is not".  Remember that the fracas began with residents' unhappiness with the possibility of a Chinese Temple housing niches of the deceased and worse still, conducting funeral services within the premises.  While having funeral services is no longer an issue anymore, the housing of niches within the temple is not negotiable.

Why the tender was awarded to a profit-centred entity was never the original contention by residents till it was picked up later on by others to lend weight to the challenge.  Invariably this has become the sore thumb that seemingly requires immediate attention.

As it was mentioned in my previous blog the PAP government has a firm stand that it does not bow to populist demand big or small, and in this case the policy to allow niches to be integrated into place of worship is consistent with URA's planning policy as well as being a broadly accepted practice by communities across Singapore.


Why niches are a necessary part of many Chinese temples and why the government supported this religious practice?  Many temples in Singapore are part of our history, and not just history but also testimonial to the development of civilization and culture Singapore. Temples sprouted up from clannish, dialect, or even kampung origins. Temples were also meeting place for early migrants to seek mutual help, spiritual refuge, and social connections.  

Niches in temples was a necessary part of Singapore's particularly so for many who could not afford the price of a burial ground.  It is all about ancestral sacrifices for the betterment of the descendants, and about reverence and filial piety that anchors deep in Chinese tradition in Singapore.

Urban development has uprooted many of such historical temples and many of them too small and ill financed to continue their benevolent services had to merge or ceased to exist fostering the ashes of the deceased to bigger temples.  When burial becomes impractical in land scarce Singapore, the government built and operate columbariums to house niches for descendants to pay their respect and to keep family bonds intact.  

Urban development had also resulted in burial grounds being exhumed, and one prominent case in time was the acquisition of Kwong Wai Siu Pek San Teng burial grounds and this is where Bishan estate now stands.  A piece of land was given to the association of Cantonese clans to build a columbarium to house ancestral remains as well as providing for the future.

So many of these niches found in temples were there since history, and as temples continue to be relocated and the population of deceased continues to increase, more space will be needed to render such benevolent services to the community.

Therefore to most Chinese, to show discontent towards the housing of niches invariably demonstrates irreverence to our ancestors, disregard to their sacrifices and a contempt to tradition.


But it remains that the perimeters of tenders for place of worship need a hard review, and if possible immediate rectification if found wanting.

So if and when the government decides to retract the tender and rectify the perimeters of tender for place of worship, who is set to be seen as a winner and who is the loser?  Obviously if there happens to be a 'political motive" somewhere in this fracas, being a winner or a loser stakes a significant meaning to the outcome, but that would be the most undesirable outcome.

Winning and Losing should never be part of Singapore's administrative life where political gains and losses overshadow real needs and practical solutions.  If winning and losing becomes the main consideration, it forces parties to act irrationally and the ultimate losers are the people of Singapore.

It is only good for Singapore, its people when the government is willing to listen, respond rightly, and appreciated by the people that there is truly a two-way traffic between Singaporeans and the government that is running smoothly for the benefits of all.

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