Shrub it off: Singapore vice-president fined over illegal clearing of trees in Kranji

The barren Kranji Woodlands captured in February 2021. Photo: Brice Li/Facebook
The barren Kranji Woodlands captured in February 2021. Photo: Brice Li/Facebook

Jimmy Liu Wing Tim, a vice-president of building firm CPG Consultants was fined S$26,000 (US$19,680) on Jan. 19 for his part in the Kranji woodland clearing incident. 

The 63-year-old was part of a group of four officers from Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) and CPG who went ahead with the clearing without satisfying wildlife-related requirements from the National Parks Board (NParks).

He had pleaded guilty to four charges under the Parks and Trees Act and Wildlife Act. Three more charges were considered in sentencing. 

Other people involved included former JTC deputy director Chong Pui Chih, her then-subordinate Neo Jek Lin and director of CPG Tan See Chee.

The reason given for going forward and contravening the requirements was that timelines needed to be met to avoid project delays. 

Committing tree-son

The trees improperly destroyed were situated along the old Singapore-Malaysia railway in Kranji and beside land marked for the development of 25-hectare Agri-Food Innovation Park, which will be part of the 500-hectare Sungei Kadut Eco-District industrial area. 

The park was set to house high-tech farming and research and development activities like indoor plant farms and insect farms and animal feed production factories. 

The planned development required the felling of existing trees, but further approval was needed for the felling of any tree with a girth exceeding 1 meter growing on any vacant land – which they failed to do so.

As a result, 362 trees with girths exceeding 1 meter growing here were cut down.

Finding fault

JTC had engaged CPG as the civil and structural consultant and quantity surveyor of the earthworks and infrastructure project – which means that they were responsible for the design and construction works in accordance with approved designs.

This means that they also had to ensure approvals were made on time by the relevant authorities. 

JTC’s role was to oversee the overall progress of the project.

For this project, Liu was the Qualified Person Representative and Superintending Officer Representative, to assist his boss Tan, who was the Qualified Person and Superintending Officer.

In projects like these, the Qualified Person is legally responsible to ensure works are carried out in accordance with the law and to flag to the Commissioner of Parks and Recreations if there are any contraventions. 

The four involved were aware of the further measures required by NParks to be put in place to protect wildlife, public safety, public health and ecosystems – but they still made the decision to go ahead first as there had been some delays due to Covid-19. 

Neo and Chong from JTC suggested they go ahead to clear the site first while trying to get approvals at the same time.

Knowing that this was breaking the law, Liu and Tan still agreed. 

Money doesn’t grow on trees

With Liu’s case, the prosecution had asked for a S$27,000 fine although it was brought up that the exact monetary amount of the environmental impact cannot be qualified because no research or studies were carried out. 

The prosecution also added that while Liu was the CPG representative, his acts were done because of a “misguided attempt to please JTC”. 

It was heard that he received no monetary benefit from it like a bonus and was merely trying to do his job. 

The defence then asked for a fine of S$18,000 instead as no corruption was involved and cited an early plea of guilt and full cooperation with the authorities. 

They also stressed that on top of the time constraints Liu was facing, there was no protected flora and fauna at the Kranji site.

Liu paid the fine in full on Thursday. 

JTC’s Chong and Neo were fined S$30,000 each last November, while Tan’s case is still at the pre-trial conference stage.

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