Earnest engagement

ST Editorial
Dec 18, 2011

Earnest engagement

The Government has pulled out all stops to work with heritage groups on the Bukit Brown project. Some 5,000 graves in the cemetery will have to be documented before they make way for the development of a road. As work to record the graves started a fortnight ago, an advisory panel comprising representatives from government agencies and heritage groups has been formed to help the documentation team gain access to the various interest groups when needed.

The Government has also made Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin the point man in the exercise. He, in turn, has roped in the top brass of various government agencies to attend to interest groups and the media on all matters regarding the area's redevelopment plans. A recent meeting between his team and five members of the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) lasted more than two hours. As an SHS committee member reported afterwards: 'We asked them so many questions... Nothing like this has ever happened before.'

Both civil servants and civic society acknowledge that such efforts to balance preservation and redevelopment are unprecedented. There have been scant records of Kwong Hou Sua and Bidadari cemeteries, which were dug up in the last decade. Such public-private partnership should become the norm when it comes to sensitive redevelopment projects. It is a clear demonstration of the kind of approach Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong outlined at the recent PAP convention, where he spoke about changing the outreach strategy, and consulting Singaporeans more actively. There are, of course, the critics who will carp that the ongoing engagement over Bukit Brown is but a public relations exercise, since the Government did not think to consult civic groups before it decided to build the road across the cemetery. That would have been much better, but it is not too late for the Government to learn from this episode.