Best of our wild blogs: 7 Oct 17

Biodiversity of Indian Sunderbans recorded for the first time

First-ever population estimate of the mysterious marbled cat from continental Asia revealed

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SAF soldiers take care not to ‘thrash’ Brunei jungle while training: PM Lee

LOUISA TANG Today Online 6 Oct 17;

SINGAPORE — Even as Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) soldiers undertake realistic training in the jungles of Brunei, they take care to keep the area in good condition for future trainees, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (Oct 6) following a visit to observe jungle and survival training in Temburong.

Mr Lee noted, for instance, that the soldiers used pouches to hold the cartridges of blank rounds fired from their rifles and machine guns.

This was done so that they would not litter the jungle, an important training ground for the SAF for over 40 years, with empty casings.

“I was asking the soldiers, the trainers, about the sustainability because they have been training here for so many years. You want to make sure you do not thrash the jungle,” Mr Lee said after observing and interacting with soldiers from the 6th Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong cheering with the soldiers from 6th Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment, at the end of their training today. Photo: Mindef

“So I think we do what we can to make sure that it is kept in good condition, and not just for future trainees, but to keep the jungle a natural environment as it is.”

Mr Lee, who is on a three-day trip to attend the golden jubilee celebration of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s accession to the throne, was accompanied by the Chief of Army Major-General Melvyn Ong and other senior SAF officers during Friday’s training visit.

Temburong is a “unique environment which we cannot duplicate in Singapore”, noted Mr Lee who last observed the SAF training there four years ago in 2013.

“(Soldiers) come here, they learn about the jungle, they also toughen themselves up, they learn about themselves, so that is something very valuable,” he said, adding that a lot of attention has been placed on safety and physical preparations for the tough training involved.

“If anything happens, we will make sure that the doctors are there, all the rescue is in place. I think that the system is working well,” he added.

In a statement, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said that Mr Lee “emphasised the importance of training in a realistic and safe environment, and commended the soldiers for their professionalism and commitment”.

He also told the soldiers about the importance of National Service in ensuring the security of Singapore.

Singapore and Brunei share a close and long-standing defence relationship. Along with the regular training exercises that the SAF conducts in Brunei, which began more than four decades ago, both militaries interact through frequent bilateral exercises, professional exchanges, visits and cross attendance of courses.

“These exchanges have enhanced the professionalism and strengthened the ties between the two armed forces,” Mindef added.

PM Lee goes into Brunei jungle with SAF soldiers
Steve Lai Channel NewsAsia 6 Oct 17;

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong trekked into the jungles of Brunei to call on Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) soldiers undergoing survival training in Temburong on Friday (Oct 6).

The “unique” training environment Brunei provides is very special and could not be replicated in Singapore, Mr Lee said.

Mr Lee’s visit with the 6th Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment in Temburong is part of his trip to Brunei to attend the Golden Jubilee celebrations for Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. His last visit with Singapore servicemen undergoing training in the exclave was in 2013.

Besides offering a terrain that is not present in Singapore, the training exercises in Temburong are also good for character building, Mr Lee said.

“We cannot possibly do this in Singapore,” Mr Lee said. “I just asked the soldier: ‘Have you ever been in the jungle?’. He said: ‘Never’. Then I said: ‘What about Mandai?’. He said: 'This is bigger; it is different.'

“This is a unique environment, which you cannot duplicate in Singapore. They come here, they learn about the jungle, they also toughen themselves up, they learn about themselves, so that is something very valuable.”

The SAF conducts regular training in Temburong and both militaries interact through frequent bilateral exercises, professional exchanges, visits and cross attendance of courses. These regular exchanges between the two armed forces serve to enhance professionalism and strengthen ties.

Mr Lee also emphasised the importance of training in a realistic and safe environment, and for Singapore’s soldiers to be professional.

“We have put a lot of attention on to safety,” Mr Lee said. “(The officers) make sure the soldiers are prepared for what they are going to see. Physically, also prepare them to be fit enough for the training that we are going to throw at them. If anything happens, we will make sure that the doctors are there, all the rescue is in place. I think that the system is working well.”

He added: “Of course it is also very important that the soldiers know how to behave when they are in Brunei and do not cause any awkwardness or any inconvenience or problems to their host. We brief them very carefully when we come.”

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On the Record: Liu Thai Ker, architect and former master planner of Singapore

Bharati Jagdish Channel NewsAsia 7 Oct 17;

SINGAPORE: Award-winning architect, Liu Thai Ker, created controversy a few years ago when he said that Singapore’s urban planners need to design the city for a population of 10 million. At a time when some were voicing concerns about the pressures being put on infrastructure from a growing population - largely from overseas - many scoffed when he made that statement.

Today, he stands by it, saying it’s not too late to start planning infrastructure to accommodate a possibly larger population in the future. His motto is: if the economy grows and population grows, we need to be prepared for it.

Liu is the eldest son of artist Liu Kang and planned to follow in his father’s footsteps but circumstances railroaded his plans and he ended up studying architecture instead.

He doesn’t regret it one bit.

His career has seen him influence Singapore’s urban landscape as CEO of the Housing and Development Board (HDB) between 1979 and 1989 and as CEO and Chief Planner of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) between 1989 and 1992. He’s also noted for being a proponent of heritage and nature conservation.

Today, he is the founding chairman of the Centre for Liveable Cities and Senior Director of RSP Architects, leading master-planning and urban design efforts in more than 30 cities.

He went “On the Record” with Bharati Jagdish about why his own efforts to plan for a larger population failed, why having more people in Singapore won’t compromise liveability and why Singapore needs more intellectual thinkers.

They first talked about the factors that have influenced him the most over the years.

Liu Thai Ker: I grew up in the British colony. At that time, we didn't have nationality. I was just a British subject and later, during the Japanese Occupation, I just felt that if you don't have a strong country, you cannot really have your own dignity and have a good life. This influenced me greatly and later, when my mother succeeded in persuading me to become an architect, I thought I would. In those days, in the 1950s and 1960s in Singapore, three out of four people lived in squatter colonies. I thought I’ll grow up and help people build houses as an architect. But later, I felt that to be a good architect, I needed to know planning. I went to Yale to study city planning. All of this was designed to prepare myself to be ready to come back to Singapore to contribute to the building of the nation.

Bharati: You grew up in Malaya at a time when things were very different. How did living in a village, in a kampung, influence your work?

Liu: Initially, I lived in my grandparents’ house which was on the outskirts of Muar. It was a kampung environment - lots of vegetables and chickens and pigs and so on. Comparing the kampung life with urban life - with toilets, a clean water supply and so on - of course I wanted to be able to create an environment with those kinds of facilities. But on the other hand, having lived in a kampung and being close to animals, mud and vegetation, I also developed a feeling for nature and that also influenced my work later in life. We moved to Singapore after World War II.

In the 1950s, when the British were still our colonial masters, we had urban slums and squatters and the environment was not very clean. Even with your eyes closed, you’d be able to tell you were at the Singapore River because it smelled, it stank of the pollution and the buildings were old and dilapidated. People were poor.

My parents, despite the fact that they were schoolteachers, were desperately poor and I had to live in an environment that really would be considered by today’s standard, extremely poor. That was motivation for me to try to do something to change my life.

Just after the Second World War when the Japanese surrendered, we lived in Dhoby Ghaut. In the beginning, we had sewage collectors. They would walk through our house and collect the sewage in a bucket, then walk through our dining room and living room back to the truck with all that smelly waste. That is certainly not something that I would like to have in my life. In Muar, we would have to walk 10 to 15 kilometres to a wooden hut to use a toilet.

Bharati: You wanted to change your life, but you once said you wished you had worked to preserve a small part of the squatter areas. Did you ever experience that type of life?

Liu: No, I was a little better off than that but when I was in HDB, I used to visit squatter colonies. One day after the rain, I asked my HDB colleagues to walk with me along Redhill which is now called Redhill Estate. It was a squatter colony and as we were walking on the mud road, rainwater was still flowing down the sloping road. In the water, there was human faeces, pig faeces, rubbish and so on. If you don't ever get to see the actual environment, it’s very hard for younger generations of Singaporeans to understand where we came from. So that’s still my deepest regret. I should have saved one to three hectares of land which is not a lot compared to the size of Singapore. I should have saved one or two or three hectares of squatter areas, keeping them exactly as they were, including a lack of sanitation, and maybe including a standpipe. Nowadays, when I ask young Singaporeans in their 40s if they know what a standpipe is, nobody knows.

Bharati: What is it?

Liu: People in the squatter areas had no water supply to their homes, so the Government had to provide drinking water pipes in the area, not to every home, but every few metres, they put one. One pipe would serve a couple of dozen families. Every day, those families had to go to the standpipes to collect the water to bring back to their homes for drinking. So that was the kind of environment I was talking about.

The power of convincing the younger generation through photographs or words would not be as strong as if they saw the real thing. It’s something I only thought about recently. Today’s Singaporeans not only have all these modern facilities, they also have other amenities like schools and sports fields and so on. To let them have a comparison would make them more appreciative of what they have and maybe even also more appreciative of what the Government has done for them. If they are more appreciative, on the one hand, hopefully their attitude towards society would be more positive. And on the other hand, they would also be spurred to say, “Okay, if the earlier generation could make such big changes, why can’t we also carry on improving lives?” I hope it will spur them to make solid changes.

Bharati: You feel younger Singaporeans lack this ability?

Liu: Well, I certainly sound like a grumpy old man but it’s not just my opinion. Without soliciting, I often hear my Singaporean friends, including people 20 years younger than I am, saying that if Singaporeans could be more appreciative of what they already own, they may become happier people so that they would not just complain at the drop of a hat and if there’s something not right, instead of just complaining maybe try to do something about it.

Complaining doesn’t change your life. Noticing the imperfection and trying to do something to fix it would be more useful.

Bharati: You wanted to fix things through your architectural expertise, but I understand you actually wanted to be an artist like your dad. You said your mother persuaded you to become an architect. How did she do this, considering you were quite set on becoming a painter?

Liu: At the age of 17, I was thinking about my future because my parents had absolutely no money to send me to university. Someone asked me to be a substitute teacher in a primary school, so I did that. Some of the students in my class were 19 or 20 years old. They were older than me. Their studies had been affected by the Japanese Occupation. There were many years that they could not go to school. Through those few years of teaching, I accumulated some money. I thought that since my parents had totally no capability to send me to university, despite the fact that I had very good school results, why don't I just use the money to buy a passage to China and enroll in an art school. I announced it to my parents. I said, “In 2 weeks, I will be gone.” Of course my mother bawled her eyes out and told me not to do anything. She said, “Let me think of something else.” Remarkably, two days later, she found a solution. First, she persuaded me to do architecture because there was some art and creativity involved in that as well. And as an architect, I could lift the family from poverty to a better life. Secondly, at that time, the University of New South Wales had part-time courses, so that meant that I could work and study at the same time. That would make this journey more affordable for the family. So I thought, “Why not?” Frankly, in my mind I was thinking, “Okay, I will do something to make my mother happy, but after finishing university, I will go back to art.” Because of that thinking, when I went to Sydney I enrolled in art school to take art classes half-a-day every week. I did oil paintings, watercolour paintings. But by the time I finished my fourth year of a six-year part-time course, I started to realise that by being an architect I would be useful in taking Singapore out of its backward condition. I realised what architecture and planning could do for a nation. I decided to just spend my energy full-time on architecture.


Bharati: Wouldn’t you say the arts would have been a useful contribution too?

Liu: To me, changing a person’s physical environment was a more immediate mission. But while you are changing a person’s physical environment or city’s physical environment, it doesn't preclude you from doing art. In fact, if we had better housing, schools and so on, we could actually give the people a better chance to be educated and therefore pursue their intellectual or cultural activities. So I saw the physical environment as a catalyst for culture as well. In the early days in Singapore, because of our utter poverty, the Singapore Government gave priority to physical improvement and cultural development came later.

Bharati: I ask you this also because you were chairman of the National Arts Council at some point. Some artists feel that even then, art should not have been an afterthought. In fact, sometimes, the best art emerges from strife and poverty. As someone with the instinct to be an artist, why don’t you see it that way?

Liu: Yes, actually, I personally feel that there’s a tendency among Singaporeans to see cultural activities as an additional activity, meaning you go into it only when you are free. I don't think that’s a good idea. You have a point. I totally agree that in a lot of countries, art and culture, art and living are totally integrated. Here, there’s a line drawn between living and art. I wish that this can be integrated. But at that time, I guess for me, it was a matter of choice and under those circumstances, I made the best choice I could. I hope that today, more will be done to integrate art education as part of living rather than something that’s an add-on. At the moment, cultural development tends to be a kind of entertainment. It’s not. It’s really an expression of living a life.

I personally also feel that in Singapore, if we were to stay on the forefront of nations, we not only have to look at further development of art, but also further development of intellectual thinking. I think we tend to be a little too pragmatic. It’s only through intellectual thinking that we can go deeper into a problem. By thinking more deeply, we can have invention.

My job takes me out of Singapore quite a bit. When a job needs to be done, it needs to be 100 per cent. A shallow person will get it 80 per cent done and consider the job done. They meet the basic requirements and don’t look deeply into doing it better. I do find quite a lot of that amongst Singaporeans. But I find when I give people from other countries a job, they might take a slightly longer time getting it done but by the time they come back, it’s 100 per cent done. When you do that, you are making progress, you are making headway that other people don't make. It’s something I do worry about.

Ours is basically a pragmatic society so if you get the job 80 per cent done and you feel that you can get by with your customers or your boss, you think, “Why not?” But when you do that, you would not go into other areas that people have not thought of.
To me, that is an innovative society. We need more people thinking like that.

This doesn't mean that we should abandon pragmatism. I think we should have everything - pragmatism, deeper intellectuals and appreciation of culture. We need all that.

Bharati: How do you think we can achieve this?

Liu: I feel that it has to start in school. We should ask more searching questions. I think when there’s a problem, we should not just stop at finding a solution. We should ask ourselves whether there is a way to do a better job than this? We need to have a greater emphasis on studying history and philosophy because through studying philosophy and history, you actually probe deeper into the subjects and that helps with intellectual depth. I was talking to an education expert from Scandinavia and asked him why arts education is important. He said it’s because it helps you imagine things. But he said you can do this in other aspects of education as well. When you teach a student a science subject or any other subject, you must take them through the class, not just by explaining what’s in the textbook, but going beyond that for them to think more deeply into the subject. So I said, “Then can we just do without arts education? If we can teach the other subjects in that way, why do we need arts education?” But he said “no” and said that arts education is very different from the other subjects because other subjects have boundaries. Arts education has no boundaries.

You have to keep probing deeper and deeper. So when we have arts education, we shouldn’t treat it as skills training in the sense that you just learn to play the piano well, or draw an apple. Treat it as an exercise in probing deeper and deeper into the unknown.

I think that can be very helpful. It’s an issue of what our definition of the purpose of arts education is. Technical training is important but on top of that, I think we need to use it as a medium to develop a person’s mind.

Bharati: Even today, when it comes to the arts, there are still issues of censorship and disagreement over state funding. If we have so many out-of-bounds (OB) markers in Singapore, can we truly have a vibrant arts education that encourages probing without boundaries in Singapore?

Liu: Personally, I feel that a society needs to have OB markers because otherwise, there will be a lot of conflicts.

Bharati: That’s an assumption that some people make. But couldn’t talking about difficult issues also bring enlightenment and understanding?

Liu: Yes. Actually that’s right. I personally feel that we certainly should talk about difficult issues, but not in an irresponsible way. In other words, you don't talk about something different or difficult for the sake of being different and difficult. You must have a basis for saying that. You must build up your argument for doing so. That requires intellectual depth.

I'm a little bit concerned that it’s now become fashionable to speak irresponsibly just to create controversy. Then you are seen as being very clever and people clap for you. To me, that is not healthy.
If you want to be different and you want to express new ideas, you have to build up a strong argument for it. That is a real intellectual depth.


Bharati: You yourself created controversy a few years ago when you said that Singapore’s urban planners should plan for a population of 10 million. Some say you made a good case for it. Others asked why you would even suggest having so many people populate this tight space.

Liu: If your economy is doing well, no government with any amount of power should stop population growth.

Bharati: But economic growth at what cost?

Liu: That’s why you need to be prepared. If you want your economy to grow, and your population grows but you are not prepared for it, you will have problems. If you plan well, the city can still be liveable. Singapore is unlike other countries. If you don't plan long-term, if you don't conserve your land carefully, use it efficiently, when you run out of land, you have no land to expand. You have limited land. So you have to use what you have more efficiently from the start to make sure you have enough for changing circumstances. To keep the economy growing, you need a growing population size. So what’s the reason for us not to plan long-term for large numbers just to make sure we can be self-sufficient.

"I learnt the lesson that population projections are really under-projections. I also learnt a second lesson because Singapore’s population grew faster than we could envisage in 1991," says Liu Thai Ker.

Bharati: We’ll talk about how you arrived at the figure of 10 million in just a moment, but you were CEO and Chief Planner of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) between 1989 and 1992. Why didn’t you think that way then? Why didn’t you plan for a larger population? We could have avoided many of the overcrowding problems we’ve been facing for several years now.

Liu: At that time, I was already worried that if we did not plan well enough, we would run out of land. In other countries if they run out of land, they just go into the rural areas. If we run out of land, we will hit the international line and we can’t build anymore. Most planning would plan in horizon for about 15 to 20 years. I felt that we have to plan for long-term.

Bharati: But clearly, you didn’t.

Liu: Let me explain. We adopted an “X” year concept. We would plan for “X” years. It was a term used by me.

Bharati: Why “X”?

Liu: I decided to just use that term.

If I told the people in those days that I wanted to plan for a hundred years, I think I would be told off, maybe I would even lose my job because nobody did that.
Bharati: You were looking at 100-year horizon?

Liu: It was meant to be 100 years. We proceeded to check with some experts. I asked them what the population size would be in hundred years. At that time in 1991, we had 3.2 million and our economy was just starting to grow faster. Very few of them projected beyond 4.5 million in year “X”. I felt that it was just too modest, so I decided to look at it in terms of by 2091, based on the projections, we would have 5.5 million people.

Bharati: A gross underestimation.

Liu: Yes. By 2017, we already have 5.7 million. Did I make a mistake? Yes, but at least I jacked up the number beyond other people’s projections and secondly, being a very good Singaporean, I had the virtue of being kiasu. So despite that 100-year projection, I still kept a lot of land undeveloped so we would have room to play around with. I also negotiated with the Port of Singapore Authority for the ultimate boundary of land reclamation. Some of these are still not reclaimed, but it’s in the plan. There’s room for more. It’s just that our population projection was not accurate but name me one urban plan anywhere in the world where the population projection is accurate.

Bharati: Considering this, how did you even arrive at 10 million?

Liu: I learnt the lesson that population projections are really under-projections. I also learnt a second lesson because Singapore’s population grew faster than we could envisage in 1991. Why?

If your economy is doing well, no government with any amount of power can stop population growth unless you tell society, “Look, I don't want economic growth.” Then you can stop the population growth. Which government will want to do that?

In China they have the hukou system – a household registration system. They register in different districts. Despite this, Shanghai and Beijing cannot stop the population growth.

Bharati: But certainly, it shouldn’t be a case of economic growth at all costs, should it? These things need to be calibrated, not just because of the infrastructural issues, but social issues associated with uncontrolled population growth.

Liu: If you have made and implemented plans to accommodate population growth, the costs won’t be hard to bear. These are the lessons I’ve learnt. I still feel we need to face the inevitable reality of 10 million people.

Bharati: But if as you say, you can’t control or even accurately project population growth, how did you land on the 10 million figure and the need to plan for it? Why not 20 million or some other random figure?

Liu: Because I also read a UN report that said by 2075, the world can no longer support population growth. Between now and 2075, the world population may double but by then, the world’s resources can no longer support growth.

Bharati: There might be technological solutions for that, or not. The point is, even that’s not certain.

Liu: Yes, but based on that, I thought of 10 million almost like the ultimate number. But even if we plan this, I personally would still want to reserve some land just in case the UN prediction is not right.

Bharati: You’ve said we can plan for 10 million and accommodate 10 million people without losing green spaces and heritage and conservation areas and buildings. How?

Liu: I know Singapore’s land situation quite well and I feel that despite my proposal for 10 million, there will be enough land, including the future reclaimed land. We should keep all the interesting parts – historical areas, bungalows and even golf courses because we need all of this, to be a complete city. This would mean taller blocks and denser towns too.


Bharati: But how liveable will the city be? Dense, overcrowded estates, parks, transportation nodes. Transport nodes have experienced that already. We’ve seen more MRT lines open up but clearly at one stage, the city wasn’t ready to accommodate the population comfortably because of the influx of immigrants. What about such issues?

Liu: Yes, because at that time, we didn't expect the population to grow so fast. We didn't expect Singapore economy to be so successful.

We need to learn our lesson. If we plan for taller and more dense development now, if we decide now, we can distribute the taller buildings more evenly across our island and therefore you won’t see big bunches of tall building in certain areas.

If you do that, those areas become like a slum area. So if we do it now, we have better chance of creating an environment where you have a mixture of different densities. That makes for better living. For example, people not only accept, but love The Pinnacle. Why? Because The Pinnacle stands alone among the shop houses. If you put 20 such buildings next to each other, would you still love The Pinnacle? I want to avoid that situation. High-rise housing must be mixed with low-rise schools, parks, sports fields, low-rise neighborhood centers and so on. The definition of high-density is to create a physical environment where it’s very difficult to see the sky but if you mix them around this way, it’s still possible to see the sky.

If we plan now for a larger population now, we can avoid possible future overcrowding on the transport system too. I’m happy to see that the Government in recent years has added quite a few MRT lines. But I just hope that they have done a calculation to see whether the train and the bus stations be able to cope with the amount of travelers. If they have done this calculation, then maybe the problem would be solved in due course.

Bharati: Right now, we are seeing issues with the Bukit Panjang Light Rail Transit system. It will soon be overhauled. Minister Khaw Boon Wan said the Bukit Panjang LRT was an “afterthought” built under “political pressure”. Apparently they had not anticipated a need for LRT during the town planning stage. This resulted in the LRT having to be built around existing developments, incorporating “sharp turns over undulating terrain” and over time, leading to “power trips at the sharp bends". What alternative strategies would you suggest as a planner to anticipate such needs or to mitigate such problems?

Liu: I shall abstain from commenting on the Bukit Panjang LRT. I will not want to be drawn into any political debates.

If we plan for a larger population and do the calculations right. We can avoid problems. If the population does not grow as projected, then we’ll have more than we need. That’s better than not having enough. But if the population doesn’t grow, it would also mean economic growth is in trouble. Then we have a bigger problem. We have a chance to do it now. If we plan now, we can take better charge of the situation because now we have more land available for us to play around with the density.

Bharati: Of course, the train disruptions are angering people too.

Liu: That’s a separate thing. One is to plan for the needs and actually to have our MRT service and bus services. The two must be combined and done well. We need several factors. One is to set the target of how many per cent of people would want to travel by public transportation. Two is to plan according to such projections and three is to plan and develop them in good time. So I think currently, the development is slightly behind time. I personally remain reasonably optimistic assuming that they have done their calculations.

For the transport issue, there is the maintenance factor. Maintenance is quite obvious that it’s not as good as one had wished. This is a management issue, not a planning issue.
Bharati: Of course if the planning isn’t done well, the strain on the infrastructure could make maintenance even more arduous too.

Liu: Yes, so as planners we plan as well as we can. When we talk about problems, we have to be very clear in what context we are talking about them.

Bharati: There are plans to build some facilities underground such as storage facilities. Would your plan involve subterranean housing?

Liu: No. Would anyone want to live and work underground? Some people have talked about it but to me, that is not an option. You can use underground for storage, because the goods don't complain. They don't need the sun and they don't need the see the trees. But human beings need to see the sun, need to see the trees. So that’s another reason that we need to plan now for 10 million so that we don't run out of land and need to go underground.

Bharati: Why do you think our Government planners today are not doing what you’ve suggested in terms of thinking beyond the next 15 years?

Liu: No idea. Since I left the Government, I haven’t really had a communication channel with the Government. But I hope that they will take the 10 million seriously and really try to study a plan for that.


Bharati: You’ve mentioned the importance of preserving heritage and nature areas and even golf courses while being able to house a population of 10 million. But already today, at about half that population, we’ve seen several nature and heritage go or in danger of going. The loss of Bukit Brown caused quite a furore. There’s been a debate over the impact of the Cross Island MRT line being built beneath the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. With your plan, will there be more losses?

Liu: Whatever we have today, I would say deserves to be kept for a long time. There’s no need to lose more.

Bharati: Why are you so confident it’s possible to house more people without losing heritage and nature when urban planners today have not managed to inspire that confidence in people?

Liu: I’ve also learnt that nothing is absolute. Even during my time, it was already made known that Bukit Brown would be gone. I cannot guarantee that what we have now will be kept. There’s a Chinese saying: “a sparrow may be small but it has all the organs of a bigger animal”. Singapore is not just a city. We are a country. We must have all the facilities of a country.

I don’t want to lose heritage because if Singapore were to be a world-class city, you need to have heritage, you need to have culture, you need to have a beautiful natural environment, you need to have golf courses. If we don’t have all these things, we cease to be a world-class city.
Bharati: Why golf courses though? Some have said they’re not at all essential.

Liu: Well, leisure is part of living and also it’s good for businessmen as well and if it’s good for businessmen, it’s good for the economy.

Bharati: So when planners today say that we have to sacrifice these and other heritage and nature areas for the sake of development, are they wrong?

Liu: I’m not in communication with the planners but if I look at the map of Singapore, we do have spaces that we can use without sacrificing heritage and nature. We still have land not reclaimed and I must say, every time I take off from Changi to go overseas, I’m very, very happy to see the that Pulau Tekong is now reclaimed to be a much bigger island than I envisaged in those days. We could also redevelop some of the industrial areas because a lot of the industrial areas in the earlier days were single-storey terrace factories. Now, you can actually intensify these. So we can also hopefully use some of the excess land for housing, for commerce and so on. If the planners say that we have very little land. We can’t go for 10 million, I would say if that’s the case, it’s even more critical that we plan for 10 million now. If we plan for 15 years or maybe add another 10 to 20 years, we might use up all the land, but the population might continue to grow because the economy is still booming. Will we then say, “There’s no more land, so we should stop economic growth?” Is that a good idea?

Bharati: Could we have avoided losing some heritage buildings or nature areas had planners over the years done a better job of using land efficiently?

Liu: Off the cuff I can’t think of anything that been a serious loss. I would say so far, our Government has done a very rational job. Some things I believe were necessary. In urban planning, you have to make a choice between heritage, nature, rivers and cemeteries.

Personally, I feel on issues like cemeteries like Bukit Brown - the priority should be for the living rather than for the dead. Each issue needs to be examined independently.
Bharati: What’s your stand on the Central Catchment Nature Reserve issue?

Liu: I’ve left the Government and I don’t want to get drawn into the controversy, but since you asked, I would say that MRT line investment is expensive so if the same line can go through more urban areas, picking up more passengers, first of all, you get a better return for your investment. Secondly, you serve more people than if you go underground without income and without serving more people.

You save some time for the people on the line but you cause more people not being able to take the MRT lines. So I think the subtotal of it is quite different. I think we should look at the bigger good. But I must say, this is comment based on pure theory. I haven’t really studied the problem.

When it comes to places like Rochor Centre, I would say I believe the Government has probably done an economic study. It’s public housing but in a place with a very high land premium. By tearing down and redeveloping for something of higher value, to me, makes economic sense and I personally feel that that’s not a bad decision.

Bharati: Some people are now also taking issue with the loss of farmland.

Liu: I haven't made any study of that except that some time ago, I heard a talk about farming and this speaker said that it’s unrealistic for us to hope to be self-sufficient on our food supply. On the other hand, we still must maintain our vertical farms to do research because there is business for us to use more scientific ways to ensure quality food. What is more important is for us to create an urban environment which is as liveable as possible. If you want to have a small farm area to demonstrate to people how chicken and pigs and cows and goats live, I would say it can be considered but I don't think we can count on developing a large farm to give us good food supply. That, to me, is quite difficult.

Bharati: While being a proponent of nature and heritage, you also seem to take what some would describe as an unsentimental economic approach to the issues. How do you personally strike that balance?

Liu: You have to think of all of the factors at the same time.

Sometimes, the sentimental wins out. Sometimes you have to look at the alternatives and see if they will contribute to liveability more considering the limitations.
For different issues, certain factors may take higher priority than the others. But as a planner, you have to consider all of these factors.

Bharati: Are there any spaces or structures that you feel we absolutely should not lose in the future?

Liu: Off the cuff, nothing really comes to mind. But I feel we can develop without losing more. I would say serious things to lose would be things which are valuable to us but irreplaceable such as nature and historical buildings.


"There’s a Chinese saying: “a sparrow may be small but it has all the organs of a bigger animal”. We must have all the facilities of a need to have heritage, you need to have culture," says Liu Thai Ker.

Bharati: Your plan, I understand, envisages a mega city made up of five smaller cities, each one with a population of just two million or so with its own Central Business District (CBD), own hotels, own cultural centre. The Government has planned a second CBD in the Jurong Lake District. What do you think of the current plans as a whole for Singapore?

Liu: If you want to create a CBD, you have to consider if the population size will support the CBD to fill the jobs and support the retail. You have to consider the increased amount of traffic and so on. You have to consider the increased demand for schools, universities, hospitals for the increased population. For the western part of Singapore to have a CBD, I feel that theoretically, it’s fine but I feel that we need to think about all these related issues. But won’t it be better if we consider the whole island as one whole collection of systems? That means if Singapore in the future would have four other secondary CBDs and all the traffic, the roads and the MRT lines and so on are planned at the same time and planned for a bigger population. It would give us better assurance that we will have a better environment, a good environment in the future for everyone living in each city – everyone will have the opportunity to live and work in one city. That means you don't have to spend a lot of time traveling long distances. You can go home to spend time with the family.

Bharati: You were Chief Executive of the HDB between 1979 and 1989. You made an impact in several areas including in the planning concept – the move from large-scale estates with localised facilities to new towns that were actually self-sufficient. But what would you say to people who feel that the flats that were built at the time didn’t really address liveability in the sense that they followed a cookie-cutter model?

Liu: Singapore was much poorer then. People’s incomes were lower, so it was important for us to build housing efficiently at a low-cost. Our goal was not to design aesthetic buildings to please the few people who an international education. Our main mission was to house as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. The young need to understand this. But also, not many people realise that in those days, our contractors were very inexperienced. So if we were to ask them to do something out of the ordinary, many mistakes would be made. I’ll give you one concrete example. In Buona Vista estate, because of the hill, I asked our engineer to design a step footing instead of a flat foundation so that we don't have to cut down the hill. Way past the construction completion date, I still couldn't see the building. So I asked my engineer about it. He said, “Oh, Mr Liu, you don't realise our contractor has never done this before. They're struggling to get it done.”

I want to say one thing though. Despite the high degree of standardisation, I did take care of two things among others. One is to give the places identity. I put non-housing buildings like churches, temples and community centres as much as I could at street corners to give the building blocks some identity. Also, we didn’t spend money adding aesthetic features to the buildings but I still wanted the buildings to be beautiful, so what did I do?

I learnt from Miss Universe. What’s the difference between Miss Universe and ordinary girls? Why is she prettier? It’s because she has nice proportions so I spent a lot of time working on the proportion of the HDB building façade.

In every HDB building, the relationship of the window sizes to the balconies to the size of the window panels and so on they are all carefully calculated and proportioned.

I also introduced a concept of street architecture. That means if you have a row of buildings in one whole block from one street corner to another street corner, that row of buildings should not be all flat. It should go up and down, so the whole street facade looks like a piece of artwork with rhythms and so on. If you look at the Bishan estate from Bishan Park, now, the buildings going up and down – that’s the result of street architecture. It was deliberate. It was not as thoughtless as some of the critics would say.

Bharati: You are the Chairman of the Centre for Liveable Cities’ Advisory Board. What other elements would you say absolutely cannot be compromised or must be introduced in order to ensure liveability here?

Liu: The purpose of planning can be summed up by two words. One, is people. The other, is land. The city needs to be functional and the economy has to be sustainable. These are the two fundamentals. This is the starting point, but to achieve them you need to think about liveability, resilience and so on. It’s a whole string of issues. Liveability involves health, education, culture and jobs and so on. You have to think about a green environment, low carbon emissions and so on for sustainability. We’ll have to also understand the basic human needs. To give you an example, I think one of the reasons that we have achieved good racial harmony is that in HDB estates, we provided religious sites for different faiths. The Chinese, Indian temples, mosques, and also churches. Always think of human needs – not just the practical ones, but the ones for human well-being and plan for it. We need to ensure protection of rivers, hills and in certain areas, we even protect the mangrove swamps and so on to keep the natural biological species. We have to consider many factors all at the same time.

Bharati: One of the things you take pride in is your focus on creating community spaces within housing estates. Some have remarked though that physical spaces don’t really help if people aren’t willing to interact. A lack of neighbourliness is an issue in many estates. Increasingly, people are interacting more online than in physical community spaces. Do you feel like your efforts have failed or are futile?

Liu: The concept of community space has been around for centuries. The most original community space is the village well for people to gather around while collecting water. In modern times, despite the introduction of telephones, some people still gather at community spaces, because face-to-face contact cannot be replaced by phones and emails. I think as a planner we can only try our best to provide the physical environment, conducive to human interaction but we cannot force the people to behave the way we want them to behave. But we cannot use that as an excuse for not creating conducive environment.

I often tell people that in HDB estates, we have provided a vertical kampung, but I'm waiting for you to show me the kampung spirit.

I remain hopeful that as long as the planner does his job to create a conducive environment, all you need is just one or two leaders in the community to lead to push it and things will happen.

Bharati: You said earlier you regret not having preserved a small part of the squatter areas. Do you regret anything else?

Liu: I wish that when I was at the URA, I had prepared more aggressively for a larger population. Planned the road traffic and MRT more like for a collection of five cities rather than five regions. If I had done so, the job of planning for a population of 10 million would be more easily done now.

Bharati: What legacy do you want to leave?

Liu: I feel that the fact that I started in HDB and with the help of all my colleagues, we created highly self- sufficient new towns and the segmented corridors to create a sense of community. I really hope this kind of community spirit can in time to come, nurture a stronger understanding of the culture and art and attitude to life among the different races. Not only will we achieve harmony but we would also enrich our understanding of life. I want to leave a legacy of having created such opportunities.

Read more!

At Singapore's last kampong, villagers cast a wary eye on the future

ALFRED CHUA Today Online 6 Oct 17;

SINGAPORE — The sleepy rhythms of Kampung Lorong Buangkok are thrown off kilter with some regularity these days, and given the interest re-ignited in the area by this week’s Parliament sitting, things are set to get a lot busier for residents.

If anything, residents are more than prepared for “intruders”. On a visit earlier this week, a sprightly woman approached a reporter and asked, in Mandarin: “Yes? Another reporter? You want to ask me about what I feel about this kampung, right?”

Mdm Sng Mui Hong, 65, has had a front-row seat to the times of Kampung Lorong Buangkok — from the massive floods of the mid-1970s to its current status as a curiosity of sorts for all manner of Singaporeans and tourists.

She is, after all, not just another kampong-dweller. To some, the resident of 62 years is known as ‘towkay’; to others, she is their landlady, who oversees day-to-day administration of the village. Her father, the late Mr Sng Teow Koon, bought the land on which the kampung now sits in 1956, and began renting out space at low prices to a mixture of Malay and Chinese families.

In the over 50 years she has lived in the village, she has greeted all manner of visitors - from tourists to students to the Prime Minister himself.

To the residents of the 26 houses in Kampung Lorong Buangkok, living in mainland Singapore’s last surviving kampung is a badge of honour.

And while they are, in true kampung spirit, welcoming of one and all, they draw a line at being viewed as some lost tribe that is now a beacon for the curious, reduced to being exhibits in a quaint fishbowl. They remain proud of their way of life, and want to be treated with respect.

But while there has always been a smattering of visitors, things are about to get a lot more hectic for the residents. Kampung Lorong Buangkok was thrust back into the spotlight earlier in the week, when Member of Parliament (Ang Mo Kio) Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar raised an adjournment motion on the need to preserve green spaces and heritage in her Jalan Kayu constituency.

Dr Intan had on Monday (Oct 2) proposed that the authorities preserve the kampung, which sits on a 1.22 ha plot of land, as a conservation or heritage education site.

Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee said in response that there was “no intention” to begin developing the area “in the near future”.

Mr Lee told the House on Monday that while any future developments, which could include schools and a major road in Seletar, need to be carried out in a “holistic and coherent way”, they have to involve deep engagement with the families in the kampung.

“Some may not want to move away...but they may also not want their community to be turned into an educational or heritage attraction, drawing crowds of curious visitors,” he said.

Of course, being Singapore’s last remaining kampung on the mainland - the only other one left on the island, Kampung Khatib Bongsu, was demolished in 2007 - means the curiosity factor of Kampung Lorong Buangkok will likely go through the roof soon.

Of late, visitors have included students on excursion, tourists from places like India, Japan and the United States, and other Singaporeans intrigued by a bygone way of life. Film crews have also descended upon the village, along with their crates of equipment and sizeable entourages.

Mdm Sng, like some of the residents TODAY spoke to, were largely receptive to this, but stressed that there are rules that visitors need to play by.

These include not intruding on residents’ privacy by sticking camera lenses into living rooms, or causing a ruckus at odd hours of the day.

Outside the house of Mr Omar Dengkil, 91, a sign reminds visitors that those who want to get a picture or video of the house ought to get permission first.

When asked, Mr Omar, who has lived in the kampung since its beginnings in the 1950s, said that while he was more than happy to answer questions about the area or show visitors around, he did not welcome cameras in the house, at least not without his permission.

A 47-year-old housewife who only gave her name as Lina told TODAY that there have been times when she felt like “shutting myself in the house”, because of the overwhelming number of visitors.

“Sometimes, I just don’t want to answer the door, or open my windows. If not (visitors) would come by and start taking pictures of the inside of my house,” she added.

Mdm Lina lives in the kampung with her mother, husband and three children. She grew up there, then moved to a Housing Board flat, before moving back to take care of her mother, who has dementia.

Another thing that irks her is how visitors and acquaintances they tend to ask the same question: “They like to ask me when the Government will be taking the land back, and (if they do) how much we will be getting in compensation.”

“After a while, it becomes very frustrating, because we ourselves are not sure when this will happen,” she said.

Her children, too, get questions about life in a kampung, not just from friends, but also their teachers in school. While they take it in their stride to provide as much information as they can, “it gets a bit too much after a while”, said Mdm Lina.

Above: 83-year-old Awe Ludin has been living in Kampung Buangkok for more than 50 years. He welcomes visitors to his courtyard, and even keeps pet roosters for schoolchildren to see. “Otherwise, they won’t know what a live chicken looks like," he says. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

But other residents, like 83-year-old Awe Ludin, simply shrug and accept that this is the way things are, and will likely be for a while.

He welcomes visitors to his courtyard, and even keeps pet roosters for schoolchildren to see.

“Otherwise, they won’t know what a live chicken looks like. They only know it when it’s fried chicken,” he chuckled.

Another thing residents would like the visitors to know is that having strangers traipse through the grounds at all hours is not something normal.

Mdm Sng told TODAY that kampungs usually restrict visitors.

This stems from a desire to protect the village’s women from male trespassers.

However, she came up with the idea of opening the doors to provide Singaporeans with an education of sorts, so they could better appreciate a way of life that was once common in the country.

When Kampung Lorong Buangkok began life in 1956, such dwellings were common in Singapore.

At its peak, more than 40 households called the place home, but that number has fallen by almost half now.

Despite some misgivings, Mdm Sng said opening up the village was the right thing to do, to give Singaporeans an education of sorts and an insight into a way of life that has all but disappeared.

Yet, while visitors can sometimes seem like a nuisance, there are other, perhaps more potent, challenges over the horizon for the villagers.

A skyward glance from any point in the village reveals the issue. Here, blocks of flats loom over the kampung. There, a landed estate is kept at bay by a canal. And at its edge, held back by metal fences, workers in yellow hard hats are busy putting up new HDB flats, shattering the mid-afternoon quiet with their tools.

Mdm Lina has seen change shrink the boundaries of the village. Her house was once bordered by shrubs and greenery.

These days, the trees are gone, and concrete hulks that will eventually become homes for other Singaporeans are towering over her home, a red and white panelled three-bedroom house.

Other reminders that the kampung is a relic of a bygone era abound, including some that sound mundane, but speak to the pace of change in Singapore. For example, where on earth does one find a zinc roof supplier in Singapore these days?

There was a time when they were ubiquitous, back when such roofs were de rigueur here. As such homes disappeared, so did the folks supplying such items, and now, finding one is a real challenge.

Each roof panel can last a resident an average of three to four years before it gives way, and when it does, the real problem arises. Supplies are hard to come by, and even if you can find a zinc roof, good luck finding someone who can do the replacement. Mdm Lina’s husband said he had to pick up the skill from her late brother, but admits that there “are not many people left who know how to (handle zinc roofs)”. Despite these challenges, and the uncertainty that lies ahead, many residents are insistent on staying, as they feel their way of life is far superior to that of the average HDB dweller.

Among the reasons they cite are space and the neighbourliness that HDB living does not offer.

Mr Omar, for instance, recalled how everyone, Malay and Chinese, pitched in when help was needed to prepare land for a Muslim prayer hall. While some gathered leaves and rocks to lay the foundation, others with skills helped erect the building, which now sits proudly in the village’s centre, its pastel shades standing in stark contrast to the muted colours of the surrounding houses.

Jamil Kamsah,62, has lived in the area since 1965. He recalls catching fish from the nearby drain when he was younger. He disapproves of recreating a mock-up of the kampong: “It’s not the same...almost like taking away the real heritage of the area.”

Given their druthers, then, villagers say they would want the kampung to be kept as is, failing which, conservation would also be welcome. It would be a waste to see it go, said former make-up artist Jamil Kamsah, who has lived in the area since 1965, and recalls catching fish from the nearby drain when he was younger.

“We should never forget our roots...where we came from,” he told TODAY as he went about tidying up the lush garden surrounding the house.

For many, however, dreams have given way to reality. Mdm Lina, for instance, said she has already made “mental plans to move out”.

“What can we do? If (the Government) wants us to move, we have to, right?” she said with a shrug.

Chiming in, Mdm Sng added: “If they need the land, no amount of pleading can help. We just have to accept fate and carry on (with life).”

Mr Awe added: “I’ve seen a friend cry when he had to move out of his kampung.

“I think my wife might cry (if we need to leave this kampung), but...I won’t cry. Men...cannot cry, lah,” he quipped

If, or when, that happens, Mdm Lina and others said they would have just one wish.

“At least they should preserve the buildings here, even if we (cannot stay),” she said.

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Malaysia: DOE lifts stop-work order on Lotte Chemical Titan's project

Bernama New Straits Times 6 Oct 17;

KUALA LUMPUR: The Department of Environment (DOE) has lifted the stop-work order on Lotte Chemical Titan Holding Bhd’s (Lotte) KBR Catalytic Olefins Technology catalytic cracking reactor within TE3 project in Pengerang, Johor.

In a filing to Bursa Malaysia today, Lotte said the stop-work order was lifted yesterday after the company satisfactorily completing requested remedial actions.

On Oct 1, Lotte received the the stop-work order from the DOE on its K-COT to mitigate and reduce odour emission and eliminate surface oil sheen/film discharge.

It said the commissioning and the commercial startup of its’ TE3 project remained on target by the fourth quarter of 2017.

“The stop-work order is not expected to have any material effect on our company’s and group’s earnings, net assets and gearing for the financial year ending Dec 31, 2017,” it said. -- Bernama

Lotte Chemical climbs after stop-work order lifted
The Star 6 Oct 17;

KUALA LUMPUR: Lotte Chemical Titan Holding Bhd's share price rose to a high of RM5.23 in afternoon trade on Friday after the Department of Environment lifted the stop-work order on its catalytic cracking reactor in Pengerang, Johor.

At 3.37pm, it was up 13 sen to RM5.23. There were 1.59 milion shares done.

The FBM KLCI rose 0.74 point or 0.04% to 1,759.83. Turnover was 1.78 billion shares valued at RM1.18bil. There were 382 gainers, 314 losers and 494 counters unchanged.

It annnounced to Bursa Malaysia on Friday the order was lifted the previous day after the company had “satisfactorily completed the requested remedial actions.

The order, which was issued on Sunday, involved its KBR Catalytic Olefins Technology catalytic cracking reactor.

The directive to halt the work was due to odour emission and surface oil sheen/film discharge. The cause was traced to the reaction of hot water from the TE3 Project poured into the waste water treatment plant containing pygas and pump failure at the waste water treatment plant.

Lotte Chemical Titan had also stated the stop-work order did not have any operational impact because the TE3 project has not started operations.

MSWG urges Lotte Chemical Titan to 'seriously strengthen' operational risk management
Mohd Sulhi Azman 9 Oct 17;

KUALA LUMPUR (Oct 9): The Minority Shareholder Watchdog Group (MSWG) has slapped Lotte Chemical Titan Holding Bhd, the largest initial public offering (IPO) on Bursa Malaysia this year, with a call to "seriously strengthen" its operational risk management to reduce its impact on the company's corporate image and financial objectives.

The call by MSWG was related to the recent five-day stop-work order at its catalytic cracking reactor plant, which is part of its TE3 Project, in Pasir Gudang, Johor.

"We believe even with the clarification statement released by the company to claim that the impact of the incidences was minimal to the company, damage has been done and the incidences could have impaired the confidence of the investing public towards the company," MSWG said in its latest The Observer weekly newsletter.

"This was the third incidence of operational disruption that happened to the company within the past three months since the listing of the company in July 2017," the watchdog group added.

The previous two incidences that had damaged the credibility of Lotte Chemical Titan's operating image were a fire that caused minor damage on Sept 20 and a 13-day water supply cut in April, following which the company saw a huge decline in production volume that subsequently eroded its earnings in the second quarter ended June 30, 2017.

To recap, Lotte Chemical Titan had on Oct 1 received a stop-work order from the Department of Environment (DOE), which subsequently resulted in a sharp drop in its share price to below RM5 the next day — the lowest since its listing on July 11.

Following satisfactory completion of the remedial action, Lotte Chemical Titan said the stop-work order was lifted by the DOE on Oct 5.

The DOE, under Section 38 of the Environmental Quality Act 1972, is empowered to inspect — without a warrant — and also to stop the operation of any vehicle, ship, aircraft, or businesses at any premises suspected of causing environmental damage.

As for the stop-work order — a government directive that has tarnished its corporate image — Lotte Chemical Titan said it was issued after the DOE had identified its plant in Johor as the source of a stench that had reached Singapore's shores.

The stop-work order, the chemical firm added, was given to mitigate and reduce odour emission and eliminate surface oil sheen/film discharge.

As for the potential impact, the petrochemical firm owned by Lotte Co Ltd, a South Korean conglomerate behemoth, had previously said that "it does not have any operational impact", as its TE3 Project has not commenced operations.

Code-named TE3, Lotte Chemical Titan had in its IPO prospectus said the project aims to increase the output of ethylene, propylene and other by-products such as C4 and C5, which will be done after it completed the construction of relevant facilities.

"The commissioning and the commercial start-up of the TE3 Project remain on target by fourth quarter of 2017," Lotte Chemical Titan had on Oct 4 said in a filing with Bursa Malaysia.

At noon break, shares in Lotte Chemical Trading fell one sen or 0.2% to pause at RM5.22 today, giving it a market capitalisation of RM12.05 billion.

Stench in Singapore: Chemical plant operating again after DOE lifts stop work order
Rizalman Hammim New Straits Times 12 Oct 17;

JOHOR BARU: The Johor Department of Environment (DOE) have lifted a stop work order on a chemical plant in Pasir Gudang which was found to be the cause of the chemical stench tainting the air over Singapore last month.

Its director Datuk Dr Mohammad Ezanni Mat Salleh said the order was lifted last Thursday and the plant is currently operating as usual.

"We have inspected and are satisfied the remedial works that was done. The plant has begun operating as usual since last Thursday," said Ezanni.

The stop work order was issued after the plant suffered a fire at one of its facilities early last month. DOE then identified the plant as the source of a chemical stench that enveloped parts of northern Singapore.

Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) had earlier traced the source of the chemical stench that cloaked the island on Sept 25 to an industrial facility in Pasir Gudang.

The agency was reported as saying that it had contacted the DOE to seek its assistance after the smell was detected.

"The DOE has deployed resources in identifying the source of the smell. It has traced the source to an industrial facility in Pasir Gudang and is taking action against the operator," NEA said.

Residents in Sengkang and Punggol complained about an acrid, chemical stench that was later detected in areas such as Ang Mo Kio, Yishun, Seletar and Bishan. Thick smoke also hung over some of the affected areas, Singapore residents said.

Read more!

Indonesia: Pangolin smuggling thwarted in Dumai

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 6 Oct 17;

Customs and excise personnel in Dumai, Riau province have foiled an attempt to smuggle nearly 100 pangolins, the world's most trafficked mammal.

The customs and excise officers found 95 pangolins, the office’s spokesman, Khairil Anwar, said. The team also seized two boxes containing 37.5 kilograms of pangolin scales.

“The evidence was seized from a car passing through Medang Kampai subdistrict at 10:30 p.m. on Thursday,” he said on Friday.

Before the raid, a patrol team had been following the car for nearly an hour on suspicion of carrying illegal goods. Suspicions grew after the car was seen heading toward an illegal port.

Realizing the car was being tailed, the driver made a sudden stop and abandoned the car. The team members searched for the driver but to no avail, Khairil said.

He suspected the pangolins and the scales came from Jambi to be smuggled to Malaysia. The patrol team had received a tip-off from locals regarding the reported plan on Sept. 28.

The office will coordinate with the Riau Natural Resources Conservation Agency to follow up on the pangolins.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified them as critically endangered, one rank below extinct in the wild.

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Indonesia: Government officially lifts moratorium on Jakarta reclamation project

Ivany Atina Arbi The Jakarta Post 6 Oct 17;

The central government officially lifted its moratorium on the Jakarta Bay reclamation project through an announcement letter issued by the Office of the Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister, a top official at the city administration confirmed on Friday.

The letter was sent to Jakarta Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat on Thursday evening, Development Planning Board head Tuty Kusumawati said at City Hall.

“With the announcement, the ban on construction work on the Jakarta reclamation project is officially lifted and, as a consequence, the minister’s letter banning the project, issued in 2016, is nullified,” Tuty told reporters.

Former minister Rizal Ramli halted the project last year and asked for the fulfillment of several requirements.

The requirements included a revision to the Environmental Impact Analysis (Amdal), taking into account technical designs for power plant pipes, sedimentation mitigation and sailing routes for traditional fishermen.

Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan claims that all requirements for the controversial project have been fulfilled.

Jakarta Bay reclamation project resumes as moratorium lifted
Fardah Antara 11 Oct 17;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, on Oct 5 issued a Ministerial Decree No S-78-001/02/Coordinating Minister/Maritime/X/2017 to revoke a decree on moratorium of Jakarta Bay reclamation project issued in 2016 by his predecessor, Rizal Ramli.

Pandjaitan sent a letter informing outgoing Jakarta Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat that the moratorium was officially lifted as developers had fulfilled several requirements demanded by Ramli.

The requirements included a revision to the Environmental Impact Analysis (Amdal), taking into account technical designs for power plant pipes, sedimentation mitigation, and sailing routes for traditional fishermen.

Pandjaitans decree was issued just 10 days before the upcoming inauguration of Jakarta Governor-elect Anies Baswedan and his deputy, Sandiaga Uno, who during their regional head elections (pilkada) campaign had promised their constituents, particularly traditional fishermen, to cancel the reclamation project.

Pandjaitan, however, affirmed on Oct 9 that Baswedan cannot cancel the reclamation project in Jakarta Bay, because the project was under the central governments control.

Following the revocation of the moratorium, projects of the C, D, and G Islands in North Jakarta Coast would resume.

He explained that he had demanded the developer to find a solution for the undersea cable network of coal-based power plants (PLTU) in Muara Karang, which were affected by the project.

"The interest of local fishermen has also been duly taken into consideration for carrying out the reclamation project. A channel has been provided for fishermen going out to or returning from the sea. Thank God, there is no injustice committed against fishermen. This is in line with the program of the Maritime and Fisheries Ministry to develop the port at Muara Baru into a modern fish market," Pandjaitan added.

The Indonesian Businessmen Association (Apindo) has lauded the governments decision to revoke the moratorium on reclamation in Jakarta Bay.

They believed that the Jakarta Bay reclamation project will help boost new economic growth and positive sentiment for Indonesia.

"A new economic area and growth will emerge," Hariyadi Sukamdarni, the chairman of Apindo, stated on Sept 11.

The government had issued the moratorium based on political considerations, he remarked. In fact, reclamation development is normal in several countries, he pointed out.

Traditional fishermen in North Jakarta and surrounding areas, however, have expressed their objection towards the Jakarta Bay reclamation project.

The Indonesian Traditional Fisherman Association (KNTI) has stated that the reclamation projects in several regions would affect the sea prevent traditional fishermen from having access to the marine natural resources.

"Greedy businessmen behind the reclamation projects in 28 Indonesian coastal areas are snatching the ocean from traditional fishermen," Marthin Hadiwinata, the chairman of KNTI, noted.

Under the guise of conducting development of coastal regions that were claimed to have been damaged, for instance, in Jakarta Bay, greedy businessmen have gained multiple profits from the reclamation projects by carrying out destructive projects, he claimed.

Based on studies on several reclamation projects, there were indications of the projects having violated legal procedures, ranging from zone planning and licensing to implementation concerning environmental assessment.

Meanwhile, the Peoples Coalition for Fishery Justice (Kiara) has opined that reclamation is not suitable for the Indonesian nation that is spread over a vast area.

"Reclamation is not really suitable for this nation. It could be checked. There are plenty of land areas that could be used," Kiara Secretary General Susan Herawati Romica noted on Sept 26.

The NGO noted that trying to emulate Singapore in terms of conducting reclamation is a wrong step, as it is a small country, while Indonesia is large and has a vast area.

According to the 2016 data of the Kiara information and data center, more than 107 thousand fishermens households were affected by 16 reclamation projects that have been spread across Indonesia.

Mining activities in coastal areas and small islands in 20 regions in the country have resulted in the loss of livelihoods of the local people and destruction of the coastal ecology.

As for the Jakarta Bay reclamation project, one of serious questions often asked is the source of sand, corals, and other solid materials needed for building the man-made islands. Massive sand and coral mining will endanger or even make an island and several islets vanish.

Since the Jakarta Bay project is relatively close to the Thousand Islands (Kepulauan Seribu), several environmentalists suspect the reclamation project might source sand and coral from the Thousand Islands, which might lead to the disappearance of several islets in the area. (*)

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Vietnam: Eco-tourism should not destroy biodiversity - experts

Instead of being wary about investors, tourism management authorities should collaborate with them in preserving the natural environment, says Dr Nguyen Hoang Tri, Secretary of the National Committee for UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) in Vietnam.
Vietnam Net 6 Oct 17;

With about 2.3 million hectares of special use forests (SUF), 31 national parks and 68 natural reserves, and dozens of other forests, Vietnam is seen as a prime eco-tourism destination.

However, rapid and haphazard development of tourism infrastructure in natural reserves and SUFs in the last few years has raised concerns that development was taking place at the expense of the environment.

Tourism inside and around protected areas like the Phong Nha – Ke Bang and Bach Ma national parks, as well as the Son Tra and Lung Ngọc Hoang natural reserves, has also raised concerns over the loss of biodiversity.

Ways to address these concerns and preserve the nation’s natural environment in the context of an eco-tourism boom were discussed at a conference held in Hanoi on October 4.

Most tourism projects in the country are implemented without conducting comprehensive environmental impact assessments (EIA), said Dr Le Hoang Lan of the Vietnam Association for Conservation of Nature and Environment. The result is that the risks and consequences that the projects can have on the environment are not accounted for, she said.

Current regulations only require tourism investors to address damage caused to forests by paying money or replanting trees, “but such losses can’t be measured with money, like losing rare animals like rhinos,” Lan said.

“Re-growing forests does not ensure recovery of biodiversity,” she said, adding that regulations should require investors to restore biodiversity in damaged areas.

Overlaps and loopholes in laws and regulations on natural resource management have complicated the task of preserving biodiversity in the country, public policy specialist Nguyen Quang Dong said at the conference.
For example, the 2010 decree on SUF management actually allows investors to engage in activities forbidden by the Law on Forest Protection and Management, he said.

Both the environmental and agricultural ministries have their own guidelines on planning natural reserves for tourism, which are too many, unstructured, and too complicated, he added.

“They need to redefine their functions and untangle this management mess,” he said.

Dr Nguyen Quoc Dung of the Institute of Investigation and Forest Planning, said that management of national parks has been arbitrarily decentralised in some localities.

Instead of being managed by the provincial People’s Committees as regulated, some national parks are being administered by lower-level agricultural and forest protection departments, he said.

Dr. Nguyen Hoang Tri, secretary of the National Committee for MAB Vietnam, said that the private sector, particularly tourism investors, should not be excluded from the policy making process.

“Tourism is an important sector for economic development, and it should be encouraged to grow,” he said.

“Since private investors have their own perspectives on tourism, public management agencies and policy makers should not be ‘scared’ of them, but instead engage them in dialogues and collaborate with them in the task of environmental protection,” he added.

Other experts proposed a comprehensive review and evaluation of environmental preservation and development in the last two decades, so that a more effective legal foundation can be laid for eco-tourism development.

“The carrying capacity of facilities at eco-tourism sites, and the monetary value of biodiversity loss caused by eco-tourism, are the two most difficult factors to evaluate,” said Nguyen Viet Dung, deputy director of the Center for People and Nature.

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Ivory trade to be banned in UK 'to protect elephants'

Matt McGrath BBC 6 Oct 17;

The sale and export of almost all ivory items would be banned in the UK under plans set out by the government.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has announced a consultation to end the trade in ivory of all ages - previous attempts at a ban would have excluded antique ivory produced before 1947.

The government says there will be some exemptions, for musical instruments and items of cultural importance.

Conservation groups have given a guarded welcome to the plan.

Growing market

While the UK has had a ban on the trade in raw ivory tusks, it has become the world's leading exporter of legal ivory carvings and antiques in recent years.

According to an Environmental Investigation Agency report, there were more than 36,000 items exported from the UK between 2010 and 2015, more than three times that of the next biggest exporter, the US.

Conservationists argue that these sales stimulate the demand for the product, and are linked to increased elephant poaching across Africa.

Prince William has long been a campaigner against against ivory trade and in 2016 urged the UK to pass a total ban on domestic sales.

At a wildlife conference in Vietnam, he said: "Ivory is not something to be desired and when removed from an elephant it is not beautiful.

"So, the question is: why are we still trading it? We need governments to send a clear signal that trading in ivory is abhorrent."

Previous attempts in the UK by the Conservative Party to limit sales of ivory have failed to get off the ground.

A ban on sales of ivory produced after 1947 was announced by then Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom in 2016 but a follow-up consultation never materialised.

However, a 12-week consultation on Mr Gove's proposals is due to start immediately, and draft legislation covering a ban on sales and exports is likely in the new year.

The government says that the proposals are being driven by concern for the 20,000 elephants that are killed by poachers every year.

"The decline in the elephant population fuelled by poaching for ivory shames our generation," said Mr Gove in a statement.

"The need for radical and robust action to protect one of the world's most iconic and treasured species is beyond dispute."

He said the proposals will put the "UK front and centre of global efforts to end the insidious trade in ivory".

While the government says the plans are driven by concerns over elephants, there are other factors at play.

Britain will host a major illegal wildlife conference in 2018 and it would be embarrassing if the UK was continuing to allow a domestic market in ivory while countries like China were moving to close theirs as they have promised to do by the end of this year.

"The key thing is, we hope, they will have committed to the ban before this conference," said Heather Sohl from WWF UK.

She said it would allow the UK to have a greater standing in how China enforces its own ban and also strengthen its hand in dealing with countries with legal markets.

While environmental groups have welcomed the government's new stand, there are concerns over the size and scale of exemptions to the ban.

Mr Gove says there should be four categories of ivory items allowed for sale:
Musical instruments
Items with only a small proportion of ivory
Items of significant historic, artistic or cultural value
Sales between museums

Some conservationists are worried that if these exemptions are too broad, they could become loopholes and undermine attempts at a ban.

Others, though, believe that clear and strong restrictions can be put in place.

But those involved in the antiques business are not happy about the proposed ban.

Noelle McElhatton from the Antiques Trade Gazette said those involved in the trade abhor poaching and are disgusted by what is happening to the African elephant.

However, she said she expected art and antique sellers to argue that a ban on trade in objects made pre-1947 - which she said could include Georgian chests of drawers, Victorian pianos or Art Deco figures - "will not save a single living elephant".

"We feel strongly that an outright ban would be an over-reaction and would be very detrimental to the honest and legitimate trade of pre-1947 ivory."

The consultation will run until 29 December.

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EU rules out tax on plastic products to reduce waste

EU opts for public awareness campaign on the impacts of plastics on the environment saying a tax would not be sustainable
Fiona Harvey The Guardian 5 Oct 17;

The EU has ruled out penalties on single-use plastic products, in favour of raising public awareness of the damage consumer plastics are doing to the world’s oceans.

Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European commission, said a tax would “not be sustainable”, but that changing the way plastic was produced and used could work. “The only sustainable method is to create recyclable plastic and take out microplastics. You can’t take out microplastics with a tax. You need to make sure things are reused, and not put in the ocean.”

He said the commission was working with manufacturers to help change their products and packaging. Karmenu Vella, environment commissioner, also pledged that the EU’s long-awaited plastics strategy would be published by the end of the year.

The European commission cannot raise taxes directly, but can encourage member states to do so, and can impose other penalties, as with the emissions trading scheme to reduce carbon from heavy industry.

Timmermans rejected outright charges and taxes on single-use plastic, and was reluctant to consider legislative measures, but called instead for public information campaigns on the problems plastics cause. “It is not that we, through legislation, should force [producers of plastic to change], though if we have to we might, but through public awareness, to urge countries to raise awareness,” he said.

“Nothing disciplines companies more than consumer practices. We are on the verge of changing consumer habits. I sense a turning point, like that we saw 10 to 15 years ago on climate change,” he told journalists at the Our Ocean conference in Malta.

“That was what happened with recycling. Who made us recycle? Our kids. I don’t think there is one producer of consumer goods that would go against the grain of public awareness.”

At present, only about 6% of plastic waste is recycled within the EU. In part, this is because of the many different forms of plastic that are used in consumer goods, and the difficulty of returning them to the kind of versatility that virgin plastics enjoy. But Timmermans said consumers would accept “less flashy” and less aesthetically pleasing packaging, if they understood it would help remove pollution from the oceans.

Vella added that companies should design plastic products with reuse in mind from the outset: “The circular economy is the most effective way to deal with plastics.”

He promised that the forthcoming plastics strategy would include design, recycling, biodegradable plastics, single-use plastics and microplastics.

The commission is also to remove single-use plastics, including drinking vessels, from its own offices by the end of this year.

The commission is to devote €550m (£490m) to projects that improve the health of the oceans, from marine protection zones and satellite monitoring, to plastic waste disposal. At the conference, more than €6bn was pledged in total by governments, institutions and private sector companies towards efforts to combat overfishing, pollution, plastic waste, ocean acidification and other threats to the marine environment.

This included a pledge of $150m (£115m) from a group of NGOs and companies to prevent plastic waste reaching oceans in south-east Asia. Five countries – China, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand – are responsible for half of all the plastic waste that enters the oceans globally each year. In those countries, on average less than 40% of plastic waste is recycled. The organisations include PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, 3M, the American Chemistry Council, the World Plastics Council and Oceana.

Insurers are also taking action against illegal fishing, with several of the world’s biggest companies pledging to stop insuring vessels that have been pirate fishing. Illegal fishing costs the world an estimated $10bn to $23bn a year, amounting to about 25m tonnes of fish that are taken from waters against quotas, or in contravention of national fisheries rights and policies. The insurers include Allianz, Axa, Generali, Hanseatic Underwriters, and The Shipowners’ Club.

However, the environment lawyers ClientEarth said laws against illegal fishing in the EU were being undermined by failures among member states.

Analysing the enforcement system in six of the EU’s biggest fishing countries – France, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland, Ireland and the UK – the lawyers found none were properly implementing the anti-piracy regulations of the Common Fisheries Policy, and the level of sanctions against offenders was low.

Elisabeth Druel, lawyer at ClientEarth, said authorities were doing little to combat illegal fishing. “Strong and systematic sanctions are needed to deter illegal fishing and pay for the damage done to our marine environment. The fishing industry would have us believe they are heavily inspected and sanctioned, but our research shows that is just not the case.”

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