SINGAPORE: A vice-president at CPG Consultants was fined S$26,000 by a court on Thursday (Jan 19) for his role in the illegal clearing of a woodland in Kranji.
Jimmy Liu Wing Tim, 63, pleaded guilty to four charges under the Parks and Trees Act and Wildlife Act. Another three charges were considered in sentencing.
Liu was part of a quartet of officers from CPG Consultants and Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) who contravened the requirements by the National Parks Board (NParks) and caused trees in the area to be felled without approval.
The felling was also done without the necessary steps needed to ensure wildlife-related requirements were complied with.
The reason for going ahead despite the contraventions was to meet timelines and avoid project delays, the court heard.
Liu’s co-accused are: Former JTC deputy director Chong Pui Chih, her then-subordinate Neo Jek Lin and director of CPG Tan See Chee.
The four were involved in the development of an Agri-Food Innovation Park at a plot of land at Kranji Close and Kranji Road.
The park was to house high-tech farming and research and development activities such as indoor plant factories, insect farms and animal feed production facilities.
The Kranji site is about 18.4 hectares – roughly the size of 26 football fields – divided into 10 plots. The planned development required the felling of existing trees, but approval was required for the felling of any tree with a girth exceeding 1m growing on any vacant land.
JTC engaged CPG as the civil and structural consultant and quantity surveyor of the earthworks and infrastructure project at the Kranji site.
While JTC’s role was to oversee the progress of the development works, CPG was responsible for the design and construction works in accordance with approved designs.
CPG was also responsible for ensuring necessary approvals were obtained from the relevant authorities before works were carried out.
Liu was appointed as the Qualified Person Representative and Superintending Officer Representative, to assist his boss Tan, who was the Qualified Person and Superintending Officer.
The Qualified Person has statutory duties under the Parks and Trees Act to ensure that works are carried out in accordance with the law, and to notify the Commissioner of Parks and Recreations of any contraventions.
The four accused found out that NParks required further measures to be put in place to safeguard wildlife, public safety, public health and ecosystems.
However, they decided to go ahead with the tree felling without first putting in place such measures.
They knew that the project was already delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in works being halted at the Kranji site from April 2020 to August 2020.
They were worried that the project would be delayed further, as a result of having to satisfy the wildlife-related requirements.
JTC’s Neo and Chong suggested that they carry out the tree felling and site clearance works while efforts were made concurrently to satisfy the wildlife-related requirements.
Despite knowing this was a contravention of the law, Liu and Tan agreed.
They gave orders to the contractor involved to perform tree-felling works at various plots in the Kranji woodland.
A total of 362 trees with girths exceeding 1m growing on vacant land there were cut down as a result.
ARGUMENTS ON THE FINE QUANTUM
The prosecution asked for a fine of S$27,000. He said the exact environmental impact cannot be quantified as the offence took place before any studies could be carried out.
He said Liu was essentially CPG’s representative on the ground, but acknowledged that his acts were done in a “misguided attempt to please JTC”.
While Liu did not derive any monetary benefit from the felling, it was part of his job scope and Liu continues to be employed even up till today, receiving salaries and bonuses, said the prosecutor.
Instead of carrying out his duties, he abdicated from them in a “misguided pursuit of commercial considerations”, he said.
The defence asked instead for a fine of S$18,000, citing an early plea of guilt, full cooperation with the authorities and the fact that no corruption was involved.
He said time pressure “was exerted on our client” and said the land was vacant and was not land for which there were conservation uses.
There was also no protected flora and fauna there, he said.
The land was slated for redevelopment and what happened was “not wanton destruction of flora and flora”, but actions “taken without regard for statutory requirements”, he said.
He said there was time pressure involved in the project, which was unfortunately exacerbated by the timing and impended by the onset of COVID-19 restrictions.
“Parties had to operate under unusual and unfamiliar circumstances, and these were pressures that together with the confluence of other factors may have clouded the judgment of parties involved,” he said.
Liu paid the fine in full on Thursday.
Chong and Neo were fined S$30,000 each in November, while Tan’s case is at the pre-trial conference stage.