Update of news and articles on Bukit Brown

March 2014

Zaobao Forum
Mar 17, 2014

记住武吉布朗的最后一战

 林志强

1942年2月15日子夜,壬午年正月初一,日本士兵口中高喊Banzai(万岁),持枪冲进武吉布朗坟场。

 武吉布朗是马来亚战役最后的一场激战,守卫军未曾被击败,但却在战地被令投降。不知何故,这场战役的记录稀少,随着英国公开解密档案,乔纳丹·库柏(Jon Cooper)努力搜寻葬在武吉布朗的战亡士兵,以及在众人的努力下,武吉布朗战役的画面陆续被勾勒出来。武吉布朗可以追溯到布朗先生(Henry George Brown),Brown为咖啡色之意,因此也称为咖啡山。

72年后的早晨,在72年前的战场,武吉布朗学会的会员等与60位公众分享这场尘封旧事,下午则有另一批会员与80余位参加二战研究学会主办活动的公众讲解战时情景。

 日军声东击西牵制大批英国劲旅,第5和18师团乘机进攻西部,然后向武吉知马推进。盟军总司令韦弗尔将军从爪哇飞来巡视,他下令部队必须战斗到底并主张反攻。2月12日汤姆部队(Tomforce)进行英军唯一的反攻,但徒劳无功。他们所面对的是曾经攻打中国的第18师团之第56和114联队,是山下奉文麾下的精锐部队。

 从11日晚上开始,主要的抗日华人领袖如林谋盛、庄惠泉、郑古悦等人陆续逃离新加坡,13日早上,星华义勇军被令解散。马来亚海军司令史般纳海军少将召集海港残存的50艘船艇,运载最后一批撤退人员,包括大批澳大利亚护士、工程师、华商如林忠邦与家眷,以及部分军事人员,但船只被日军发现并遭轰炸。此刻白思华在亚当路和罗尼路以北部署重兵,准备背水一战。

14日晚上,日军发动强大攻势,部署在蓄水池水塔山(Water Tower Hill)的守军萨福克(Suffolk)抵挡不住猛烈的炮火,从森路的岛屿乡村俱乐部朝武吉布朗大伯公庙撤退,他们没法抵挡坦克,但武吉布朗的坟墓却迫使坦克停止前进。隶属第5师团9旅团,11联队之第三大队的步兵取代了坦克,在冲进坟场与英军厮杀之前,高呼万岁以振兴士气。墓碑成为屏障,两军短兵相接,以刺刀甚至赤手搏击。与此同时,英军坦克从武吉知马路开进谦福路,日军坦克也掉头迎战,双方在王氏太原山下正面交锋,一时枪林弹雨,烈焰炮火,四处飞窜。

 白思华与众将领在福康宁战争指挥室商讨军情,东路日军近卫师团已经占领加冷与巴耶利峇,西翼则与英军在汤申路激战;准备与近卫师团会师汤申路的第5师团,却在罗尼路遭阻拦,没法跨越咖啡山,其西翼更遭守军康桥郡(Cambridgeshires)炮轰;但西路的18师团在巴西班让战败马来军团之后已迈向花柏山。

 此时爆炸声此起彼伏,许多屋宇在燃烧,水供、存粮、汽油、炮弹就将耗尽,而街道上尸体四处遍布却无人理会。兵临城下,众将领一致认为新加坡无法防守,白思华最终扛上一生之耻辱,步向山下奉文的营寨签署降书,他最后的请求就是保护妇孺以及英籍百姓。

 咖啡山是全球少数仅存的二战战场,这场战役之教训应该传承给全职与战备军人,以及学生,他们都应该到此了解当时的战情。2月15日,文化、社区及青年部代部长、通讯及新闻部高级政务部长黄循财在一个纪念活动上说,“一个国家不汲取历史教训,就不会有未来;一个国家不记得捍卫者,势必被历史遗忘。”的确,新加坡不应该忘记捍卫者,因此国防部和教育部是否考虑将武吉布朗战役列为训练与教育的一部分

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站长的话

2014年03月17日

新加坡的建国历史很短,但我们的建国史事实上包括英国殖民地时代、日殖时期、加入马来西亚联邦短短23个月,到成为一个独立自主的国家,地小人稠的新加坡有超过百年的历史。如果要再往上追溯,还可在《马来纪年》里,以及中国历代古籍中找到有关新加坡的历史记载。

从独立到现在,我国在各方面发展得又快又好,但就像人的一生一样,我国也已从年轻迈入中年时期,一些人也越来越发现记住和汲取历史教训对国家未来发展的重要。

了解和保留历史对于年轻的国家尤其重要,我们应该持续不断发现、撰写,甚至重写过去的历史事件,让已逝去的历史重新呈现,而且应该让每一代人都对于过去的历史有所认识,如果我们对过去一无所知,渐渐地把过去遗忘,我们也会被历史遗忘。


 A rendition of the Battle at Bukit Brown (National Library)


ST Opinion
Mar 4, 2014

Growth v greenery: Where will Singapore's priorities lie?

-- ST ILLUSTRATION: MIEL

As Singapore grows wealthier, there are calls to reprioritise the environment over the economy. But one question is whether economic growth will be a given in the future.

By Euston Quah and Christabelle Soh For The Straits Times

THE pursuit of economic growth has always necessitated accepting some degree of impact on the living environment. Conversely, the preservation of the living environment will always involve forgoing some measure of economic growth.

This is in line with the basic fundamental economic principle that every choice entails a trade- off, and the sooner and better a society understands this opportunity cost and gains, the clearer and easier for policy makers to make informed decisions.

The tension between the economy and the environment often results in governments having to prioritise one over the other. Many would also argue that there is a clear limit to which natural capital such as green spaces and forests can be substituted for physical capital as in buildings, and infrastructures.

In Singapore, economic growth has historically taken centre stage and has always been the backbone of the country's material progress. There were good reasons for this.

In the early days of independence, Singapore faced existential challenges. Real income per capita, the amount of goods and services that could be purchased with the average income, was only about a 12th of what it is today. The unemployment rate was 10 per cent to 12 per cent.

The post-war population boom also meant that jobs had to be found for the growing number of young people. The late Dr Goh Keng Swee famously recalled that "(In) the first few years, when I went home for lunch, I passed big schools and saw thousands of kids going home at 1pm; I kept on worrying where I was going to find jobs for them."

The emphasis on economic growth then can be easily observed from the policies adopted. Doors were opened and red carpets were rolled out to attract foreign direct investment (FDI). The Economic Development Board was set up and specifically tasked to bring in FDI, a crucial mandate that has remained unchanged to today. Simultaneously, free trade agreements were actively pursued to expand Singapore's export markets.

Green considerations

HOWEVER, economic growth was not pursued with the complete abandonment of environmental concerns. Even then, it was recognised that Singapore's small geographical area meant that the living environment was interminably tied up with industrial activity.

As such, the paradigm was that while economic growth was paramount and had to be pursued, some consideration would be paid to the living environment.

An example of this was the land zoning that was carried out. More pollutive industries were located as far away as possible from residential areas.

Also, standards on waste and pollutant discharge were enforced from the start, a policy directive uncommonly observed in developing countries. The planting of trees and general greening of Singapore were also clear efforts to preserve the living environment.

In recent years, with Singapore's increased affluence, the population's focus on the environment has become stronger.

There have been calls to consider reprioritising growth and paying more attention to the living environment instead. The non-material aspects of the quality of life have gained more prominence as comfortable income levels become the norm.

To a large degree, this is unsurprising. As incomes increase, the marginal utility of income (the addition to welfare that extra income brings) decreases, which tips the scales in favour of non-income determinants to welfare.

A worsened living environment, due to population growth outstripping the capacity of physical and social infrastructure has been among the main points of contention.

Furthermore, as the Singapore economy reaches maturation, it has become increasingly harder to achieve high rates of economic growth.

Unlike economies playing catch-up, Singapore can no longer achieve great gains in efficiency simply by adopting best practices from overseas. We have also long since lost the labour cost advantage in the form of a cheap local labour force.

For economic growth to be sustained at the pace enjoyed by developing economies, higher costs have to be incurred, either in terms of greater investments in research and development, or in terms of costs to the living environment, or by importing cheap foreign labour, which in turn raises social costs.

The above factors have led to the view that the time for a paradigm shift is due, with many believing that Singapore's future emphasis should be and will be on preserving the living environment rather than pursuing economic growth.

As things stand, such a shift in policy stance seems to have already happened in other developed economies. The predicted disastrous effects of climate change have focused minds on reducing carbon emissions and preserving the natural environment.

For instance, the European Union already has an emissions trading scheme in place and Australia introduced a carbon tax in 2012. Even China, which has yet to become a developed economy, is taking strong measures to improve the living environment.

Growth worries

FOR Singapore, while the gradual shift towards prioritising preservation of the living environment and away from economic growth may seem to be the choice of some for now, there is little reason to believe that such a shift is permanent in the longer run.

This is because part of the desire to not focus on economic growth stems from taking economic growth as a given. However, with globalisation and increased economic competition, this assumption may not hold true.

Developing economies are doing their best to move up the value-added chain. China's Huawei is producing smartphones that can rival global brands like Samsung and Apple in terms of quality. Shanghai is fast becoming the next global financial hub. Flappy Birds, a recent craze in game apps, was developed by a Vietnamese.

More and more of such instances would mean an increased overlap between goods and services produced in Singapore and by other countries. This increased competition has negative implications for Singapore's economic growth.

Additionally, Singapore may not always be a magnet for foreign labour. As wages and the standard of living rise in developing countries, Singapore will become a less and less attractive destination.

This has a direct effect on the productive capacity of our economy: a smaller labour force means less goods and services can be produced. It will also reduce our ability to attract FDI as the availability of skilled and cheap labour decreases.

Unless local population growth picks up, the shrinking labour force will mean negative growth and decreased incomes. There is a limit as to what capital and technology can remedy or replace labour.

It is possible that as incomes start to fall and unemployment rises, the focus will turn back to the economy. We have seen this in the EU, where the European debt crisis and subsequent recession have pushed climate change down the list of priorities. Australia has also taken steps to repeal the carbon tax. Threats to economic growth may trigger a similar reaction in Singapore.

As such, it is extremely difficult to predict Singapore's future priorities. Will the Singapore of the future still be one of Asia's most liveable cities? Or will the need to ensure that economic growth continues as top priority result in fewer green spaces and more congestion?

It is not likely that the waste disposal, cleanliness, and pollution standards which Singapore had set and rigorously upheld over the past decades will be abandoned.

But it is clear that if there comes a time in the future to protect jobs, incomes, and employment in a world of uncertainty and immense competition from other countries, we could expect the economy to take priority over greenery, including the need for land conservation and protection of nature.

Experts from a variety of fields are working on a book about Singapore's economy and environment, to be released when Singapore reaches 50 next year.

The book, entitled Singapore 2065 and edited by Euston Quah, will include contributions on a broad definition of the living environment, including population and health.

Its aim is to expand on the discussion started in this article: that the relationship between Singapore's economy and the environment is ever-shifting and should not be taken for granted.

stopinion@sph.com.sg

The first writer is professor and head of economics at Nanyang Technological University and president of the Economic Society of Singapore. The second writer is an economics teacher at Raffles Institution.

Business Times
March 1, 2014

Preserving a shared heritage

Removing one of the last remaining embodiments of a shared history risks eroding the spirit of national unity that S'pore has worked so hard to build.
By Linda Lim

I READ with interest the recent article by Chew Kheng Chuan ('Preventing a grave error', BT, Feb 22, 2014), and the response by Andrew Goh ('Keeping Bukit Brown cemetery not a wise choice', BT, Feb 25, 2014), on the pros and cons of preserving Bukit Brown cemetery.

Mr Chew argues that Bukit Brown, now a 2014 World Monuments Watch site, should be preserved because it embodies our heritage and history, a habitat for rare fauna, and a precious green space in an otherwise densely-settled, highly urbanised environment. He proposes that the site be "developed as a new, transformed national heritage park . . . a place of sanctuary, sanctity, sacred burials, cultural and historical heritage, education, research to our origins and identity as a nation . . . a unique tourist attraction, a park that caters to the recreational needs of citizens and visitors alike".

In response, Mr Goh argues that given Singapore's land constraint, it is a "luxury" to leave such a large tract of land undeveloped, noting that Singapore has already disposed of hundreds of cemeteries, and to preserve Bukit Brown in particular is to cater to the "sectarian" interests of the Chinese majority "to the exclusion of the interests of citizens of other races".

Mr Goh misreads Mr Chew, who clearly states that his proposed Bukit Brown Heritage Park "will be a new public space that will cater to the physical, educational, cultural, environmental and economic needs of 7 million Singaporeans", not just the 78 per cent who happen to be of ethnic Chinese origin.

Mr Goh also does not consider that other land in Singapore (besides Bukit Brown's 162 ha) is available for 50,000 housing units to be constructed, and that the prior loss of other cemeteries actually increases the scarcity value (as a place of heritage and recreation) of Bukit Brown.

Social benefit-cost analysis is the standard tool economists use to assess the value of any particular public investment project. It is "social" because it includes the imputed value ("shadow price") of "externalities" (such as clean air and water, "green lungs" in urban areas, and so on) that are not priced by the private market on either the benefit or the cost side, and also because it balances (or trades off) the often divergent or competing interests of different stakeholders ("winners and losers") in a particular project.

Subjective element

The net result of this calculation depends on the value ("weights") assigned to particular costs, benefits and stakeholder interests, and the rate at which one "discounts" them into the future. There is a strong element of subjectivity in any such calculation, which necessarily reflects the relative values of the society in and for which a particular public project is being planned. Politics enters into the calculation to the extent that these values reflect the popular vote electoral results in democratic countries.

The Ministry of National Development (together with the Land Transport Authority, Singapore Land Authority and Urban Redevelopment Authority) proposes that Bukit Brown cemetery be progressively "redeveloped", beginning with an initial 4,000 graves to be removed for the construction of an eight-lane highway designed to reduce traffic congestion in contiguous areas. Mr Chew proposes that the entire cemetery be transformed into a National Heritage Park.

Both proposals involve benefits and costs, with different "winners" and "losers". The MND proposal would ease traffic congestion (especially benefiting higher-income car owners) and provide new, conveniently located housing close to the city centre and Orchard Road.

To maximise its pecuniary benefits, the government should favour high-priced housing, which would also maximise profits to private property developers, the wealthy who can afford to buy such housing for their own residence or rental income, and banks which lend them the money to make such purchases. In return the government stands to benefit from increased tax revenues and the profits of any GLCs involved in the project.

These concentrated, mostly "private" benefits of the MND proposal are readily calculable from market prices. The proposal's costs are more widely dispersed, diffuse and "social" and so more difficult to assign monetary values to. They include: loss of natural habitat, environment and fauna (which Singapore often touts in tourist promotion ads), loss of recreational space (and its attendant health, social and psychological benefits) for both locals and foreigners, and loss of cultural heritage, history and national identity.

Public goods

All of these are "public goods" which by their nature are undervalued by market forces. The "losers" here are members of the "general public" (including foreign visitors) who on average would be lower-income than the "winners" of the MND proposal, but especially over time, greater in number. MND's project is therefore "regressive" in terms of delivering benefits more to the higher-income and imposing costs more on the lower-income.

The "weights" we assign to the gains of "winners" and losses of "losers" depend on how we value them, which in turn depends on the availability of substitutes or alternatives, and on our own collective values. For example, other land exists for the 50,000 housing units proposed by MND.

True, the housing would not be as centrally located, but the vast majority of Singaporean home-buyers now face this anyway, and the island is so small, the inconvenience of additional distance is only incremental.

Reducing traffic congestion might also undermine the government's goal to limit car ownership and use, and the energy and environmental costs it generates. Already a very high proportion of Singapore's extremely scarce land area is devoted to roads and highways, and experience shows that continuous increases have not permanently reduced congestion - hence the "need" for the Bukit Brown highway itself.

I am no civil engineer, but instead of cutting through Bukit Brown, why not construct a smaller underground highway that would not disturb the cemetery above ground - as has been done in many other sites in Singapore? As for tax revenues, our government already runs huge budget surpluses, and would still collect (only slightly lower) taxes on the 50,000 housing units if they were built elsewhere.

Communal heritage

There are far fewer alternatives available to mitigate the loss of natural habitat and natural recreational green space in Singapore, and none for the unique cultural heritage resource that Bukit Brown presents. As a multi-racial society Singapore must (and does) value the cultural assets and expressions of all ethnic groups, including those no longer present in Singapore (the Armenian Church, for example).

All our heritage has communal origins, hence we should celebrate all forms of communal heritage as our shared heritage; it would be particularly peculiar if we were to preserve only British colonial architecture, say, and not that of the Chinese, Indians and Malays.

Understanding this, visitors to Bukit Brown include many non-Chinese, who are interested not just in Singapore's Chinese heritage, but also representations in the cemetery - in those buried there, and the material culture of the tombs - of the longstanding regional and global connectivity of which we are justifiably proud. Indeed, as the World Monuments Watch designation shows, Bukit Brown can be considered not just a Singaporean or Chinese heritage site, but rather a world heritage site.

Respecting those who lived or passed through a place before us is a hallmark of all civilizations; hence the attraction of Angkor Wat and Egypt's pyramids to the whole world, and the universal outrage felt at the Taliban's destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan. Bukit Brown may not be in the same league in terms of antiquity and artistry, but to dismiss it as therefore irrelevant to human history is to disparage our very existence as a nation.

Intriguing alternative

Mr Chew's proposal is an intriguing alternative to MND's. It essentially seeks to codify, capture and extend more widely the potential benefits (economists' "utility") already existing in Bukit Brown, but not fully realised by the general public.

Its costs would be relatively limited, especially as the opportunity costs could be reduced by relocating the 50,000 housing units elsewhere, while its benefits would be broadly distributed and permanent. To me, tourist revenues, environmental and recreational benefits, while important, are not as significant as the unique and irreplaceable cultural heritage the cemetery embodies.

We know that as societies become more affluent, the value they assign to non-material "intangible assets" such as history, aesthetics, knowledge and experience increase. Singaporeans are or will be no different. That so much of Singapore's natural and cultural heritage has already been destroyed makes the little that remains, like Bukit Brown, even more rare, precious and incalculably valuable, and it will become more so as time passes.

I disagree with Mr Goh that preserving Bukit Brown is a "luxury", but if it is, surely it is one that, as one of the world's richest countries, we should be able to afford, particularly as it relates so intimately to our fragile but fiercely-held sense of national identity.

Particularly at a time when many Singaporeans are feeling beleaguered by the large and rapid influx of foreigners - an "unnatural" population increase that might be seen as responsible for the traffic congestion and housing shortage that are the rationale given for the need to "develop" (or "destroy") Bukit Brown - the drastic act of removing one of the last remaining embodiments of our shared history risks undermining the very spirit of national unity that we have collectively worked so hard to build and to treasure.


• Linda Lim, a Singaporean economist, is professor of strategy at the Stephen M Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Bukit Brown contains a 'live' (empty) tomb constructed by and for her great-grandfather Kung Tian Siong (1876-1958), who was buried in the Bidadari Christian cemetery that has since been demolished.


INTANGIBLE ASSET
Bukit Brown can be considered not just a Singaporean or Chinese heritage site, but rather a world heritage site. - PHOTO: SINGAPORE HERITAGE SOCIETY

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