Monday, 19 January 2015

Columbarium in a Temple or Temple in a Columbarium?

Artist's impression of the planned Chinese temple with columbarium next to BTO project Fernvale Lea -PHOTO: LIFE CORPORATION LIMITED

Residents surprised by columbarium plan
A new columbarium expected to come up in Sengkang West in 2016 to provide a resting place for the dead has already stirred up unease among the living

Australian funeral services company Life Corporation won a tender called by the Housing Board in July to develop a Chinese temple integrated with a columbarium at a land parcel in Fernvale Link.

The proposed site sits squarely next to an upcoming Build-To- Order residential area, Fernvale Lea, which will have residents moving in early next year.

Life Corp, the parent company of Singapore Funeral Services, said the space will be used to run funeral services, columbarium space and associated services.

Columbarium in Sengkang 'will be out of public view'
Upset over columbarium plans, Fernvale Lea's future residents want
Fernvale Lea flat buyers want refund over columbarium

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The Sengkang columbarium saga raises important questions in land-scarce Singapore

On Dec 30. 2014, The Straits Times published a report that a Chinese Temple with columbarium service was to be built in the Fernvale precinct.

Australian funeral services company Life Corporation won the tender and initially claimed that the “space will be used to run funeral services, columbarium space and associated services”.

Residents in Fernvale were surprised by the news in the media, prompting many to register their displeasure with their Member of Parliament Lam Pin Min. But below are some valid concerns brought up by netizens on MP Lam’s Facebook page:
  1. Why do many residents have the impression that the development looks more like a columbarium than a Chinese temple?
  2. Why do many residents have the mistaken impression that the site will house a Chinese temple but not a columbarium? Should HDB make disclaimers on its website more clearly to BTO-buyers?
  3. What are URA and HDB’s considerations in developing a masterplan for a town? Why do residents have the impression that certain amenities were prioritized?
  4. What were the evaluation criteria for the tender?
Life Corp CEO claimed ST reporter did not verify facts on Sengkang columbarium
Sengkang resident-turned-heroine Sharon Toh asks hard questions about Sengkang

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Should a commercial, profit-oriented business be allowed to develop a place of worship?

HDB's tender to develop the Chinese temple site at Fernvale Link attracted three bidders. A Buddhist association and a Taoist society lost to a business entity whose ultimate parent is a foreign company listed on the Australian Securities Exchange. There are currently no restrictions on the type of company that can develop a place of worship. This means that non-profit religious organisations will have to compete with profit-oriented businesses to bid for sites designated for religious use.

URA has shown that it has no qualms awarding a site designated for religious use to the highest bidder, even one which is a purely business entity devoid of religious affiliations and ultimately owned by a foreign company. That the business entity has pledged to serve the local community by providing a Chinese temple, does not change the fact that URA has sold a site designated for religious worship to be exploited by a commercial entity for maximum profits to its shareholders. URA stipulates that the columbarium cannot exceed 20 per cent of the total gross floor area. Still, one cannot help wondering whether the development will be a Chinese temple containing a columbarium or a columbarium containing a Chinese temple.

URA's decision to award the Fernvale Link Chinese temple site to a business entity in a tender where bona fide religious entities have also bidded, is unpalatable. URA may but is not obliged to award the tender to the highest bidder. A proper, responsible decision should take into account non-monetary factors. Especially for a site designated for religious use as a Chinese temple, the fact that the bidder is a non-religious entity should be a factor weighing heavily against it.

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Fancy paying HDB studio price for a columbarium niche?

The recent Sengkang columbarium saga shows that “properties” for the dead may be mirroring the development trend of properties for the living in Singapore. TRE examined HDB’s past land tender records for building Chinese temples and found that the recent Fernvale Link land parcel tender was, for the first time, successfully won by a public listed company (Eternal Pure Land Pte Ltd, a subsidiary of Australian listed company Life Corporation Ltd).

Since 1991, HDB has successfully awarded its land parcels to 20 entities for building Chinese temples. As per URA’s Development Control guidelines, these places of worship are allowed to include ancillary uses such as columbarium service (‘Deciphering HDB’s Fernvale Lea brochure‘). The past 20 HDB land tenders for building Chinese temples have seen 102 bids. All of these 102 bids to build a Chinese temple were made by religious societies, associations and individuals. Only 3 were from companies but they are private companies. Just one of the private companies won a tender but it was a joint tender with a temple. In any case, that tender was meant for building a Chinese temple with funeral parlour service. Hence, the only time a public listed company has been involved and won a HDB land tender for building a Chinese temple cum columbarium is the recent case at Fernvale Link in Sengkang.

This sets a dangerous precedent because public listed companies have considerable financial muscle. They can easily raise money from the public through bonds, right issues, warrants etc to outbid individuals, temples, religious associations and societies in any land parcel tender.

related: Open letter to Minister Khaw on Fernvale Link Columbarium

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Sengkang columbarium saga – problems of an “open market” approach for “religious purpose”

“The Housing and Development Board and Urban Redevelopment Authority indicated that plans for a columbarium at a Chinese temple planned in Sengkang can go ahead, despite objections from residents”, Channel NewsAsia posted on 6 January.

HDB and URA are unequivocal in taking a ‘legal’ stand that no regulations has been flouted in the award to the highest bidder – Eternal Pure Pte Ltd, wholly owned by Life Corporation, a foreign public listed company – for a publicly tendered land zoned for religious purpose, even though it is a for-profit organization. As long as they fulfilled the letter of the law to operate 80% as a Chinese temple and only use 20% for the columbarium, which is really their core business, they are good to go.

There is a very appropriate Chinese proverb that aptly describes this whole saga: 挂羊头卖狗肉. Translated it means that the product was advertised as mutton but in reality it’s dog meat being sold.

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Stalemate between authorities and residents over planned Chinese temple and columbarium

The residents also asked the panel on how could non-profitable religious groups outbid commercial entities like Life Corporation Pte Ltd and whether HDB had scrutinised the background of the tendering companies. Their questions were not replied by the panel

Through the questions by the residents. It was made known that the company has not tied in with any religious body to run the temple and still in talks with religious groups on the issue.

One resident mentioned that it is clear that the Chinese temple is meant for the purpose of columbarium and not for religious purposes. This is shown by the fact that the private company has not even confirm which will be religious group that will be using the premises for religious purposes.

The residents whom TOC spoke to said, does it mean that this will mark a trend of private entities bidding for land marked for religious activities with the intention to profit?

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What are the rules on a Commercial firm operating a place of worship?

HDB and URA have commented on the Senkang temple with columbarium case but wonder about the legal position on allowing a private commercial company to operate a place of worship for financial gain. Maybe the authorities would want to help clear the air on this.

To me this stinks as I feel morally no one should be operating a place of worship for commercial gain which is very different from collecting donations to fund the day to day activities.

Very bad precedent.

related: How come Khaw silent on the columnbarium/HDB refund issue?

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Resident shares doubts over URA’s guideline to restrict funeral palour

John: For your information, for once now, when the general election is coming, the next one, you think how many of us.. just after this.. (Residents applause)

Dr. Lam: That is beside the point. I think what is important is that you know.. as the MP of Sengkang West. My duty is to address your concern, to speak up for my residents and to protect our interest. Alright? Take for example, if let say..err.. URA or HDB were to say, lets change this particular site that has been tendered for Chinese temple and change it to a crematorium. You think I will let it? Obviously I would not. I would be the first one to make noise and say how can you put up a crematorium in the middle of a residential estate? So that is also in my interest to protect because I have to answer to my residents.

John: Yes, I understand that, that is your duty. But let’s look at it this way. How many of us know that there is going to be columbarium  next to our flat, anybody saw the small print or fine print? No? (Residents say no in unision). Everyone know it as a Chinese temple. ok? Now, what is the projected earning for the next five years for your company? Because you are telling me you don’t want to run it for profit and all that. Hey, you are a listed company you know? You are always making money, how can you say that you are not making money? What is the projected income for the next five years? (Residents applause)

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Fernvale Columbarium: Business capturing government?

Our increasingly less incorruptible government may be suffering more from stupidity than greed. Just like lobby groups capture the American law makers, we may be getting our equivalent. Therefore we must study the various cases carefully and learn from them. The latest could very well be how an ASX company successfully navigated itself into no more our columbarium services but businesses.

Years from now, not only is health care expensive, death rites and burial will also be inflating much faster than GDP and wage growth. I think this Fernvale columbarium just gave us the opportunity to see the moment of its birth.

A clueless government letting big business come in to screw us, typically under the guise of upgrading. True upgrading is when you can afford it. If it is a service that is needed by all, then something is wrong when it inflates faster than wage or GDP growth. Haven't they learn from the troubles at the public transport front.

related: Fernvale Columbarium: Shallow people opposed this

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On Second Look – Sengkang’s Chinese Temple

In a dialogue session with future residents, Dr Lam Pin Min and Life Corp representatives reassured everyone that there would not be any funeral and cremation services at the site. It was also mentioned that a “Buddhist organisation” will be managing the “Chinese temple”. Would you be reassured if you were in the shoes of Sengkang West Link’s residents? The trouble with many of us here in Singapore is, we derive hope, after long hours spent at the office, solely from the anticipated appreciation in property prices. And for the majority of Singaporeans, it’s their one and only residential property – something which I don’t really understand, but I’ll hold that topic for now.

Not surprisingly, there were “alternative voices” chiding the angry residents for treating our deceased’s ashes as something “dirty”. That may not be the main reason that residents are up in arms. But from an investment or business point of view, these folks are afraid they can’t sell high and retire – the simple Singaporean’s dream. You can’t say that doctors are superstitious when a private hospital doesn’t have a level 4. It doesn’t matter if you’re Chinese or not. If your market is Chinese, you’d better have lots of 8s and no 4s. If you’re doing daytime TV shows and your viewers are grouchy aunties, then you’d better make sure that the men are all pigs who neglect their wives because of their tummies and wrinkles and pigs’ new-found lovers are all sluts who are only after their money. The people who write these stories don’t necessarily believe them. So you see, if we’re looking at things from an investment point of view, the residents’ concerns are valid. You wouldn’t buy a house next to a columbarium just as you wouldn’t buy one next to a shooting range. You need not be superstitious to make such choices.

It could be an excuse, but some say that they are concerned that the tender for building a “Chinese temple” for the site was won by a commercial entity with funeral services as its core business and not a religious organisation running a temple as we know it. If this is going to be a trend, then in the future, all temples will be managed by companies and not by religious organisations. Can non-profit religious organisations win the bid over commercial entities like God Inc? Buddha Inc? This is something I’m deeply concerned about. Our many religious organisations are already getting more and more commericalised. If market forces were allowed free play in the area of building and managing religious sites like Chinese temples, then we’ll only see a gradual erosion of our values and principles, not just pertaining to religion, but to being compassionate humans – the sort who will hold a fellow human who is about to fall on a moving bus instead of elbowing him away.

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Anti-Govt websites setting up Columbarium for MIW political careers

In the recent dialogue session involving Seng Kang West resident Sharon Toh, it was revealed by  Lifecorp that they were not registered with any religious association or charity. They were a For-Profit organization which is public listed in Australia that was going to develop, build and operate a Buddhist Temple with Columbarium.

After this astonishing news went viral on the Internet, our BOT's reporters went to town to ask if any other commercial entities were planning to develop, build an operate other religious establishments.

First to respond to our enquiries were DeBloodSucking Bank, their spokesperson, Ms Lui Pa Pa commented, "We are equally shocked and surprised that For-Profit organizations could set up religious establishments to make money. We are disappointed that despite being closely linked to the MIW, we were not informed of such a lucrative and profitable business. With our wealth of knowledge in sucking blood, I mean money from Singaporeans, we will definitely be successful in such endeavors. We are immediately convening a taskforce to study and identify areas of opportunities to move into the religious arena."

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Deciphering HDB’s Fernvale Lea brochure

HDB and URA have come out to say that the town map and site plan included notes which indicated that “places of worship may include columbarium as an ancillary use

They added that the columbarium would be out of sight and not exceed 20% of the total gross floor area of the building. MP Lam Pin Min clarified on his Facebook page:
This plot of land has been designated as a reserve site for a Chinese Temple in the URA Masterplan and has been reflected on the brochure for the Fernvale Lea BTO development. It has also been indicated in the brochure that the proposed facility may include other ancillary uses, including Columbarium allowed under URA’s prevailing Development Control guidelines. I have verified with URA that such ancillary services (including Columbarium) should not be visible to the public and must not exceed 20% of the gross floor area…
I have also been reassured by the developer that there will NOT be crematorium or funeral parlour services at the new temple. Essentially, HDB, URA and MP Lam are pushing the buck to the residents saying they should have read the “fine print”. Indeed, the Fernvale Lea brochure contained the following information:

related: Sengkang columbarium – PAP MP’s dodgy statements

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How are buyers of niches protected from unscrupulous columbarium operators?
Residents leave the Anchorvale Community Club's multi-purpose hall after the dialogue session with Sengkang West SMC MP Lam Pin Min on Jan 4, 2015. The National Solidarity Party (NSP) has hit out at the Government over the columbarium issue at the upcoming Fernvale Lea estate in Sengkang

The case of Poh Lian Development Pte Ltd v Mok Mee Property Pte Ltd and Others indicates how lucrative the columbarium business can be.  According to the law report of that case, while the cost of development was estimated to be around $28 million, profit from the sale of niches in the columbarium were projected to be well in excess of $100m. That projection was made in the year 1999.  Today, 15 years later, our population have since increased tremendously and with severe constrains on space in our tiny island, one can imagine how much more profitable columbarium business would now be.

In a rapidly aging society like Singapore with severe space limitations, where huge profits can be made by the sale of columbarium niches, businessmen will definitely try to get their hands into this business.  How would buyers of niches be assured that they are not over-charged, that the terms of the purchase are transparent and fair or that the remains of their loved ones would be properly kept?

Currently, Singapore has no specific legislation regulating the management and operation of columbaria.  It may now be high time for the Government to look into enacting a legal compliance regime aimed to protect consumers from unscrupulous columbarium operators and to ensure that columbaria are managed properly.  Legislations of other countries, like Hong Kong’s Private Columbaria, may be studied for its relevance for implementation in Singapore.
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Not in my own backyard again? But....

When the news first broke about the ruckus concerning the temple and columbarium in Fernvale, Sengkang, I though not again. These not in my own backyard thingy again! What is the big deal? After all, many temples and even some churches in HDB estates have columbarium and provide funeral services. So what is the big fuss about? Then upon further reading, I realised that this one is different.

The "temple" will in fact be run by a private entity and not a religious organisation. In fact, it is a company listed on the Stock Exchange of Australia and the business of the company is providing funeral services. In fact in its announcement to the ASX, it stated clearly that "securing the land is integral to Life Corporation's expansion plans and strategic direction to provide a full suite of premium funeral services. Life Corporation intends to embark on a exciting new project to construct a Chinese Temple with an integrated state of the art columbarium on the land"

From what I can gleaned from this short sentence, it looks like it will be similar to the Nirvana columbarium in Choa Chu Kang in concept with the main emphasis being the provision of columbarium services rather than religious services. After all, providing religious services is not going to make money for the company. Selling of niches and providing the ancillary services like prayers on occasions like the Seventh Month and Qing Ming will. The other thing that reinforce this view is that the published photo of the proposed building certainly do not resemble any Chinese temples. If anything, it looks like just any state of the art building which, looking at the brighter side for the affected residents, actually might just mitigate the issue a little bit.

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Sitting at the wrong end

Yup, that's what Lam Pin Min did. He was elected by the residents of Sengkang West to represent their interest. But when he received numerous queries on the Columbarium which will be housed in that vicinity, what did he do? Sit at the table with reps from HDB, URA and Life Corp, and not with the residents of Sengkang West. This raises doubts about which side he represents and in what capacity he organised that dialogue.

He needn't have to sit at the table with these guys. I mean it was the Ministry of National Development, URA, HDB and Life Corp (as the bidders) who had to do all the answering. Lam Pin Min just had to sit and identify with the people asking questions from these government agencies and private companies, helping his residents to make better sense of the issue.

But that is the sad state of affairs in Singapore, especially if you elect an MP from the PAP. There seems to be this struggle for such MPs - "do I represent the Government, its decisions and its interests, or do I represent the people even if it means speaking against some of the Government's decisions and positions?"

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Temple, Columbarium and HDB

Dear MP, I think you really have no idea. Maybe before you enter the discussion, you already envisioned the resident to be unreasonable.

I said this because, look at where you sit and look at how you talk. You sit with the developer, URA and HDB facing the residents. Shouldn’t you sit with the residents, take command and direct the question to the relevant parties? After all, you are their elected representative. You lost your initiative when you just sit down there fending the residents question. If I were to view the videos on youtube, it would seem like you are HDB/URA/Eternal Pure spokesperson and the lady asking the question to be the MP.

You just show you cannot mobilise a few blocks of residents and letting others seize the initiative. Come the next election, you still dare to ask for people in Sengkang to trust you? I don’t know man, Singaporeans are BDSM people. they like getting f**ked by govt, maybe they will vote you back for more reaming.

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Sengkang resident-turned-heroine Sharon Toh asks the hard questions about Sengkang columbarium
Someone was standing up for residents during the dialogue session

A video clip of a Fernvale Link resident questioning Life Corporation’s CEO Simon Hoo is starting to go viral online. Here’s the clip, which is mostly in Mandarin:

In the first half of the clip, Fernvale Link resident Sharon Toh asked Hoo whether it was true that in a Dec. 30, 2014 The Straits Times report that Life Corp would be providing one-stop funeral services at the proposed Chinese temple at Fernvale Link. Hoo clarified that the report was not verified and that only a temple with a columbarium would be built and there would be no funeral services provided.

The exciting part of the exchange came later after Hoo’s clarification where Toh asked some pointed questions. We give you a transcript:

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MP's Tight-Rope - To Be Pro-Residents Or Pro-Business?
One of the questions raised by some from the Fernvale columbarium saga is this: is your Member of Parliament (MP) suppose t represent you and speak on your behalf, or is his role to defend others with whom the residents may have an issue?

Unfortunately, the dialogue session which was held on Sunday, organised by Dr Lam, to clear the air on the controversy, seems to have raised the ire of residents instead.

One of them told Dr Lam off during the session, reminding him that he is supposed to be speaking for the residents, and not to defend the company behind the temple/columbarium, Life Corporation.

This is one of the problems for PAP MPs, and in particular for MPs who also happen to hold official government positions, such as Dr Lam. The last thing an MP should do is to side with those who created the problem. 

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Columbarium in Sengkang: FAQ on death-related facilities and sites in Singapore

Some residents of Fernvale Lea, an upcoming Build-To-Order (BTO) HDB project in Sengkang, have protested against the housing of a columbarium within a Chinese temple near their flats.

Some said that they did not know about the columbarium plans. Others pointed out that a mention of it was in fine print in a brochure.

Here are answers to some commonly-asked questions about the issue.
  • What are the sort of death-related facilities and sites in Singapore?
  • Which authority is in charge of these sites/facilities?
  • Where can I get more information on land use?
  • What does it mean if a parcel of land is marked "reserve site"?
  • What do the rules say about the development of columbaria?
  • What sort of land-use information does a person applying for a BTO normally get?
  • When was Fernvale Lea marketed?
  • What information exactly was given out to residents?
  • When was the tender for the Chinese temple site put up?
  • Who won the Chinese Temple site bid?
  • Why are Fernvale residents unhappy?
  • How have the authorities responded?
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Update 30 Jan 2015: Singapore minister says Sengkang columbarium plans will be reversed
Yahoo Newsroom - Google Street View Screengrab of Fernvale

Singapore's minister for national development Khaw Boon Wan on Thursday said he would not allow plans for a Buddhist temple and commercial columbarium in Sengkang to proceed. He also said his ministry would "find a way" to deliver the Chinese temple the land was originally earmarked for.

Responding to multiple questions filed by three different MPs, he said in Parliament that it was the first time the government allowed a secular company to win the tender for the plot of land in Sengkang's Fernvale estate, located near to two upcoming Build-To-Order HDB projects as well as an executive condominium.

The case of the Sengkang Chinese Temple plot raised the ire of Singaporeans who had purchased flats under the project — the company, Eternal Pure Land, opted to build a Buddhist temple with a commercial columbarium on the area, plans that would-be residents said they did not know about before they opted to purchase homes there.

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“We just assumed”: Khaw Boon Wan

In Parliament on Thursday, Workers’ Party (WP) Member of Parliament for Punggol East SMC, Lee Lilian, asked the Minister of National Development, Khaw Boon Wan, how the land site in Fernvale designated for a place of worship could be erroneously sold to a private company.
She also asked how such an incident could be prevented in future.

Here was Mr Khaw’s reply:
  • “For many years, the tenders are open to commercial companies, with the assumption being the companies are affiliated to some religious organisations.
  • “And because temples or churches are non-profit- making, we just assumed that (for-profit) companies will not be taking part in a non-profit-making venture…
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Khaw says no to commercial columbarium

There will be no commercial columbarium at the proposed temple site in Sengkang, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said in Parliament yesterday.

He said that until the recent case in Sengkang, the Government had never awarded a place-of-worship site to a company that was not affiliated to a religious organisation.

"We now understand that the winning tenderer for this site, Eternal Pure Land, is actually a private company without any religious affiliation," he said.

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No commercial columbarium at temple site in Sengkang
HDB development at Fernvale Link, where a columbarium was proposed to have been built. Photo: Ernest Chua

Not only had it ignored land use gazettes by planning to build a commercial columbarium, the private firm that caused a brouhaha earlier this month among some Sengkang residents, who complained when they learnt that such a facility was coming up near their homes, is not even affiliated to any religious organisations.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan revealed these details in Parliament today (Jan 29) as he ruled out the possibility of Eternal Pure Land building a commercial columbarium in Sengkang Link.

Without elaborating on when his ministry uncovered these details, Mr Khaw said this is the first case of a company without religious affiliations winning a tender for land slated for places of worship, and it happened because of wrong assumptions made by Housing and Development Board (HDB) officers assessing the bids.

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Sengkang temple site not meant for commercial columbarium: MND

The decision to award a site designated as Place of Worship to a company not affiliated to a religious organisation is a first for the Government, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan in Parliament on Thursday (Jan 29).

Mr Khaw said the Ministry of National Development is "in discussion" with Eternal Pure Land (EPL) to "ensure that the land is restored to the original plan of a Chinese temple". He was responding to questions posed by MPs Seng Han Thong, Lee Li Lian and Lee Bee Wah.

"We now understand that the winning tenderer for this site, Eternal Pure Land, is actually a private company without any religious affiliation. From what we know, the plan of the company is to run a commercial columbarium on the site," the minister said. "This is not in line with our plan for the Places of Worship site."

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MND skirting around concerns about the Sengkang columbarium tender

Mr Khaw’s responses in Parliament yesterday can basically be distilled into three key points:
  • The tender with for-profit company Eternal Pureland Pte Ltd (EPL) to build a temple on land for non-profit purposes will continue;
  • MND acknowledges that the land was meant for non-profit uses, and is “in discussions with EPL” to build a temple rather than a “commercial columbarium”;
  • There are serious gaps in the MND tendering process, which will be reviewed.
Is MND’s approach to the whole issue sufficient in answering the concerns of the residents directly involved, and the confidence in the public about MND’s ability to deal with such issues?

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Carving a niche in after-death services

A spinning crystal orb greets you as you step into a carpeted lobby and families chat in a lounge filled with cushy seats.

There are plenty of rooms in this building and its priciest suite could set you back by $20,000.

Some might mistake the lush set-up for a five star hotel, but Nirvana Memorial Garden in Choa Chu Kang is a resting place for the dead. It opened in 2009.

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Firm behind proposed Sengkang columbarium: Looking for solution with Govt

Life Corporation, the company behind the proposed Chinese temple and columbarium in Sengkang, has said that it is "sensitive to recent public and Government comments" and that it is currently working with the Government to find a "mutually satisfactory and viable solution", after the Government said that it will not allow a commercial columbarium on the plot of land.

The company's plan to build a commercial columbarium on the site reserved for religious use came under scrutiny after some people who have bought flats near to the site objected to the plan. Some people also said that a site meant for a Chinese temple should not have been awarded to a for-profit company.

The Government said last Thursday that awarding the tender to a for-profit company was a mistake.

After twists, turns and heat, Dr Lam cheers clarity
Fernvale Lea flat buyers want refund over columbarium
Live and let live
After twists, turns and heat, Dr Lam cheers clarity
Relief over no-go for Fernvale commercial columbarium
Khaw says no to commercial columbarium
Parliament to discuss non-religious groups developing places of worship
Columbarium caretaker: 'The 12 years I've worked here, it's been peaceful'
Relief over no-go for Fernvale commercial columbarium
Khaw says no to commercial columbarium
Carving a niche in after-death services
Fernvale Lea flat buyers want refund over columbarium

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Columbarium tender puzzling

I refer to the report “No commercial columbarium at temple site in Sengkang” (Jan 30). What is puzzling is how a tender requiring domain expertise was awarded to a young company registered here last June (after the tender was issued).

Its principal activities include funeral and related activities such as embalming, cremating and cemetery services and the sale of bereavement products and services. It is even less understood whether the principal promoters are professionally qualified and equipped with a reasonable track record to perform the tasks required for this specialised project.

Looking at it from the financial risk management perspective, an infrastructural project of this magnitude was granted to a company with an issued and paid-up capital of only S$100,000. What happens if the company goes insolvent mid-way?

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Eternal Pure Land, the private company which bid for the land, had intended to build a for-profit temple-cum-columbarium on the site and their tender price, which was $1.2 million above the 2nd highest bidder, reflected this original intention

For the tender to have been accepted in the first place, it must have stated its intentions, so why wasn’t HDB aware of it until residents made a lot of noise? Furthermore, why is HDB simply allowed to break contract and alter its terms when and when it pleases? This will ultimately have an effect on the company which it had already promised the land to and which has been proceeding under the assumption that it could build the columbarium as it had originally intended.

From the company’s perspective, their plans have gone down the drain. At the same time, if the tender price needs to be lowered because of the fact that they are not going to build commercial services there, then the other religious organisations that bid for the land would also need to be re-considered.

If HDB ends up having to pay damages to Eternal Pure Land, this will come out of the pockets of taxpayers in the end. It seems that HDB’s failure to do its due diligence has caused so much trouble and stress and is likely to even cost taxpayers money.

PAP MP Lam Pin Min: HDB and URA Lied to Me
Khaw Boon Wan: There will not be a Commercial Columbarium built in Fernvale
Khaw Tells Opera Story in Parliament to Justify HDB's Failure to Conduct Check

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The land for tender at Sengkang was designated a religious site. But it was awarded to a funeral services firm Eternal Pure Land, linked to a public listed company Life Corporation, headquarter in Australia. The company’s intention was to build a columbarium. But Sengkang plot was not for commercial columbarium. Columbarium is big business because each niche cost a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Religious bodies do build columbarium within their temple or church compound but they are primarily to serve their congregation

How to correct this error? Can the tender already awarded, be withdrawn? It would reflect badly on our tender system if the government do this. It showed lack of due diligence. Moreover as it involve a public listed company, it will have impact on stock price of the share. Will there be legal implications?
“The key point is… we do not want a commercial columbarium and we won’t have one, but having reached such a situation, I will find a way to try to unwind this” quote Minister Khaw.
Singaporeans are watching how the Ministry is going to make a U turn look STRAIGHT. All the best

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Not In My Backyard
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– My Jade[d] Mouth: Sleeping with the dead
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