Bukit Brown meeting 'not a consultation'

ST News
Mar 21, 2012

Bukit Brown meeting 'not a consultation'
It was not in response to interest groups' request: Tan Chuan-Jin

By Goh Chin Lian & Royston Sim

WHEN government officials met nature and heritage groups over plans for a new road in Bukit Brown on Monday, they never meant it to be a consultation on whether the road would be built or not.

The session was also not called in response to those groups' earlier request to meet government agencies, said Minister of State (National Development and Manpower) Tan Chuan-Jin, who had chaired the meeting.

He was responding to criticisms by seven groups, including the Nature Society (Singapore) and the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS), that they were not given time to make their own presentations of alternatives at the meeting.

The groups also said government agencies had postponed a Feb 20 meeting the groups had requested with 31 of their representatives, only to have the Ministry of National Development (MND) invite only a few of the original 31 representatives, and others, to the Monday night meeting.

Together with the decision to limit the representation of groups to one person from each group, these moves 'give a strong impression of the lack of good faith on the part of MND', they said in a statement released at 10.25pm on Monday.

Barely six hours later, in a Facebook posting at about 4.30am yesterday, Mr Tan said: 'It is illuminating to read the statement issued by the various groups.'

He said the meeting 'was never intended to be the type of dialogue desired and claimed by these groups. Nor was it a response to their earlier request'.

'I had explained that our intent was simply to share with a range of stakeholders some of the background information and considerations we had previously shared with other groups and to also highlight the road plans which were being announced,' he said.

'It was not a consultation effort to debate whether the road would be built or not. That has already been stated in Parliament,' he said, referring to the debate on MND's budget on March 5.

He added that the meeting was to announce the details and alignment of the road. 'However, it was clear that it did not matter. Because we failed to conduct a session that was in line with what they wanted, for example, to have their own briefs, to invite others on their invite list, it was deemed to be an inadequate effort at genuine engagement.'

Participants of the meeting described the atmosphere as largely cordial and civil.

Last night, MND said Mr Tan initiated Monday's session as part of ongoing engagements with stakeholders to share the considerations in the road design.

'It was a separate meeting from the one where some of the interest groups had asked to meet the Land Transport Authority,' the MND said, referring to the Feb 20 meeting.

It added that Mr Tan had clarified this point with the participants during Monday's session.

Mr Tan's posting attracted 67 comments as of press time last night. Some said officials had done enough to engage interest groups. Others said that since the Government was already set on building the road before it consulted other parties, there was no genuine engagement.

Interviewed last night, the groups stuck to their criticisms of the Monday meeting. An SHS spokesman said it was disappointed that the authorities did not present sufficient data to show that every possible solution had been considered.

SOS Bukit Brown co-founder Erika Lim said Monday's meeting was the first time the groups' representatives were meeting the Government collectively.

She said: 'This was our first real chance to sit down as a group to talk about Bukit Brown. If we don't, what other chance is there?'

Nominated MP and Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan said both sides would learn valuable lessons on engaging each other through this episode.

Nature Society president Shawn Lum - who was not at the meeting - felt the episode boiled down to a difference in expectations.

While the Government has tried to retain much of the heritage in the affected area, the gap in expectations between the groups and the authorities could have widened somewhere along the line, he noted.

'How do you bridge those sets of expectations? Finding that bridge will be the way going forward.'