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.
"From what we know, the plan of the company is to run a commercial columbarium on the site. This is not in line with our plan for the place-of-worship site."
News of a proposed columbarium and Chinese temple in Sengkang caught residents in the area by surprise. The site is next to a Build-To-Order (BTO) project called Fernvale Lea, which is due to be completed this year.
In a petition put up by angry residents, some said they did not want their children to be exposed to "these kinds of things so young in their lives".
Others were annoyed that the possibility of a columbarium at the temple there was not clearly indicated in marketing materials, and that the Housing Board did not make that clear to them.
Others were worried that the proximity of a columbarium would affect the resale value of their flats.
Some were also unhappy that a profit-driven organisation won the tender.
Eternal Pure Land, which is owned by Australian company Life Corporation, had put in a $5.2 million bid on July 17.
After a dialogue with Sengkang West Member of Parliament Lam Pin Min, some Fernvale Lea buyers asked HDB for a refund.
Yesterday, Mr Khaw said in Parliament that he could understand some residents' unhappiness because of indications that a commercial columbarium would be built in their neighbourhood. "Those concerns are legitimate and reasonable," he said.
Mr Khaw also told Parliament, in response to questions about the site, that the tender had been awarded to Eternal Pure Land under the impression that the company was a vehicle for a religious organisation to build and own a Chinese temple.
He said: "For a quarter of a century, we never had a for-profit company taking part in such temple tenders. Therefore, it never crossed the minds of the officials evaluating the tender.
"The officers assessing the tender just assumed that it must be a company affiliated to some religious organisation and, because they made the highest bid, it was awarded to them."
He also drew the distinction between the operation of a commercial columbarium and an "incidental columbarium", which is a service provided by religious organisations.
He said the ministry will ensure the land is restored to the original plan for a Chinese temple, and that it is in discussion with Eternal Pure Land on how that can be achieved.
"Having reached such a situation, I'll find a way to try to unwind this. The key point is for that Sengkang site, we want the Chinese temple and we will deliver that, for that Sengkang site we do not want a commercial columbarium and we won't have one."
He also said the Government will review the land tender process for places of worship and tighten eligibility requirements for tenderers.
Australian-listed Life Corporation requested a trading halt yesterday afternoon, for up to 48 hours from the start of trading today.
In an announcement posted on the Australian Stock Exchange, Life Corporation said the request was "pending an announcement to the market relating to its proposed development of a Chinese temple and associated integrated columbarium".