Saturday 31 January 2015

Sengkang plot not for commercial columbarium: Khaw Boon Wan

By Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015

NO COMMERCIALLY-driven columbarium will be built on land set aside for a Chinese temple, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan told Parliament yesterday.

He explained that the project in Sengkang was awarded to funeral services firm Eternal Pure Land (EPL) because Housing Board officers assumed that the company was acting for a religious group.

"For 20-odd years, we would never have thought that a for-profit company would participate in a non-profit-making venture like building a Chinese temple," said Mr Khaw, adding that a review of the tender process was ongoing. "The key point is... we do not want a commercial columbarium, and we won't have one.

"But having reached such a situation, I will find a way to try to unwind this."

While a commercial columbarium was ruled out for the site, an incidental columbarium offered as a service by a temple was acceptable, he said.

Mr Khaw added that the Ministry of National Development is in talks with EPL, whose parent company, Life Corporation, had raised $20 million to fund the project.

Soon after the company's plans for the columbarium were shot down yesterday, it asked the Australian Securities Exchange, on which it is listed, to stop trading in its shares for 48 hours.

The controversy ignited last month after a Straits Times article highlighted that a new columbarium was going to be built next to the Build-to-Order project Fernvale Lea, catching future residents by surprise. At first, the authorities said the columbarium could go ahead as it met guidelines.

Yesterday, MPs Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) and Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) questioned if it was fair for a purely for-profit company to challenge religious organisations for scarce land.

Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC) and the Workers' Party's Ms Lee Li Lian (Punggol East) asked if enough checks were done before a site reserved for a place of worship was awarded to a commercial firm.

Mr Khaw explained that private companies have always been able to bid for such sites. However, these firms were either set up by or in joint ventures with religious organisations. EPL was the first to break the mould.

"The officers assessing the tender just assumed (EPL) must be affiliated to some religious organisation, and because it made the highest bid, (the tender) was awarded to it."

He said the government had been looking to tighten tender rules even before the controversy broke. Some religious organisations had complained about losing bids to groups with smaller congregations or to those with deeper pockets.

"It is not easy to assess needs, especially when different kinds of religious organisations are involved, but we will find a way. We will seek religious wisdom. We will meditate on it."

After twists, turns and heat, Dr Lam cheers clarity
Columbarium controversy: MP explains how he came to defend tender
By Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 31 Jan 2015

THE authorities had assured him that commercial firms could bid for land marked for religious purposes, said the Member of Parliament at the forefront of the Sengkang columbarium controversy.

That is why he defended the tender in a dialogue with residents earlier this month, said Sengkang West MP Lam Pin Min in an interview with The Straits Times yesterday.

But it was revealed in Parliament on Thursday that, unlike previous bidders, funeral service provider Eternal Pure Land (EPL) did not have any religious links.

"I... asked HDB and URA whether a commercial entity is allowed to participate in a tender process for a place of worship, and I was informed that it had been done before," he said, referring to the Housing Board and the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

Previous tenders by commercial players had been affiliated to a religious organisation but EPL is a pure profit company.

"EPL told us that they were in the process of discussing with some religious organisation to work out some of the temple- related activities," he added.

The Government has since admitted that it was a mistake to award the tender to EPL.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said on Thursday that the ministry would stop the commercial columbarium.

The authorities will also review the tender process to plug this loophole where commercial firms muscle into places of worship.

The decision has been cheered by Dr Lam, who is also the Minister of State for Health.

He has been feeling the heat from some residents and netizens since news of the planned columbarium broke a month back. They were upset that a site planned for a Chinese temple would also have a columbarium, especially one operated for commercial interests.

They started an online petition against it, garnering more than 1,000 signatures. It prompted Dr Lam to hold a dialogue on Jan 4.

But at the session, he was perceived to be defending EPL rather than siding with his constituents. Some pointed out that he was sitting at the same table as representatives from Life Corporation - the parent firm of EPL. They were also unhappy that he highlighted the modern look of the temple.

Dr Lam clarified yesterday that he had not been taking sides and he did not understand why the seating arrangements had become an issue. "My purpose there was first to facilitate the dialogue session, to clarify the misinformation of what was posted online, and to allow residents to raise their concerns to me and the relevant agencies," he said.

"Usually for a dialogue session, this is how it's done."

He said he did not scrutinise whether a commercial entity which bid for land for places of worship had to have religious ties.

He was not aware of the rules and was not part of the tender process, he said, adding that the rules had "very fine details".

Asked if it had been a stressful time for him, he replied: "Definitely. No one wants anything to happen in their constituency."

He said the residents were relieved that action had been taken. "I'm just happy that a decision has been made... to not have a commercial columbarium there.

"I'm also just happy that many of the residents who are concerned can have their fears allayed because, at the end of the day, this is a positive outcome for many of the residents."

What will happen to the tender? Three possible scenarios
By Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 31 Jan 2015

AFTER National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan said on Thursday that there will not be a commercial columbarium at a site reserved for a Chinese temple in Sengkang, it is unclear what will happen to the tender.

Lawyers and property consultants say there are three scenarios for the company, Eternal Pure Land (EPL), which is owned by Australian-listed Life Corporation.


THE Government can choose to honour the tender agreement with EPL, but under the provision that it is in a joint venture with a religious group that will run the temple.

This is likely to be the best outcome for both the company and groups which need a space for a temple, says property analyst Nicholas Mak.

In a joint venture, the company and the religious group would own the land together. This would be different from the current situation, where EPL fully owns the land that was awarded to it.


EPL can choose to withdraw from the tender agreement. Normally, this could be seen as a breach of contract but the Government may give the company a free pass on this, says Mr Mak.

Since the company has already taken a loan of $15 million for the development of the site, it may have to pay a penalty should it choose to exit early.


IF THE Government voids the tender agreement and calls for re-tender, the repercussions could be wide, warn lawyers and property consultants.

Depending on the conditions of the tender, EPL could sue the Government for a breach of contract.

It would also damage the credibility of the authorities, who could be seen as going back on their word.

Relief over no-go for Fernvale commercial columbarium
But some future residents worry place for the dead may be built later
By Cheryl Faith Wee, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015

FUTURE residents of Fernvale Lea were mostly relieved after being told that the building of a commercially run columbarium close to their new homes will not be happening now.

But some were still uncomfortable with the idea that the eventual Chinese temple in the estate might still include a resting place for the dead, if its trustees decide to include niches for ashes.

Since last December, more than 1,000 people have signed an online petition to "say no to a columbarium next to our future home". The Build-to-Order project will be ready for people to move into this year.

Some even went as far as to demand a refund from the Housing Board during a dialogue earlier this month with Dr Lam Pin Min, MP for Sengkang West.

Yesterday, it was made clear in Parliament that the site was never meant to be used for a for-profit columbarium, and that the Government is in talks with winning bidder Eternal Pure Land to ensure that the land is used for a Chinese temple.

"With this development, residents' fears should be allayed and there will not be a need to return the flats to HDB," Dr Lam told The Straits Times, adding that many residents had expressed their relief to him.

Ms Josephine Soh, a 29-year-old human resource executive, said: "I was pretty worried about noise pollution that might come from funeral processions. At least a temple just has periodic noise from festivals or big dinner events - usually occasions to celebrate and not something to do with someone passing away."

Sales manager Tan Wei Leong, whose Fernvale Lea flat faces the Chinese temple site, said: "If there really has to be a columbarium, then at least it should not be a commercial one, which will have a lot more niches.

"I hope that the current tender will be void and a religious group will win the bid."

Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday that the eventual temple there has the choice of whether to run columbarium services for its devotees. "We cannot make the assumption that (there will be such services)," he said.

But even if there is a columbarium, it is not an uncommon practice. Other temples, such as Puat Jit Buddhist Temple and Nanyang Thong Hong Siang Tng Temple - both in Anchorvale - and some churches already include columbariums.

But that still upsets Mrs Gladys Goh, a 33-year-old order management specialist. She said that she had asked HDB several weeks ago about the possibility of getting a different unit in Sengkang or other estates.

"I wouldn't mind living elsewhere, as long as it is not where, every day, I would walk past a place which includes a columbarium," she said.

He had assured residents that the columbarium would be out of the public's view and will take up, at most, only a fifth of the Chinese temple it will be housed at.

He highlighted the modern look of the temple, which he said will be the first in Singapore to have an automated columbarium. There will be other features to reduce noise and parking issues, he said.

Religious groups yesterday highlighted that sites reserved for places of worship are not meant for commercial entities.

Said Mrs Parvathi Annanth, the chief executive and legal counsel of Sree Maha Mariamman Temple in Yishun: "Land released to commercial entities with no religious affiliation is an invasion of our rights."

The president of the Singapore Buddhist Federation, Venerable Seck Kwang Phing, said land is scarce here and commercial entities should go for sites zoned for those purposes.

Singapore Management University law professor Eugene Tan also suggested that bids for worship sites by joint ventures involving a religious organisation and a commercial firms should be subjected to extra scrutiny.

This is "to ensure that profit- making companies do not use religious groups as a front to make money from a site designated for religious purposes".

Sengkang columbarium: Khaw Boon Wan takes questions from MPs
By Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2015

SINGAPORE - Several Members of Parliament had questions for National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan, after he announced on Thursday that a place-of-worship site in Sengkang should not have a commercial columbarium.

The site, which was marked "Chinese temple", was awarded to a commercial company called Eternal Pure Land, which had bid $5.2 million for it in June last year. It said it would develop a temple and columbarium there.

Residents of an upcoming HDB Build-to-Order project, Fernvale Lea, were up in arms. Among other things, they did not like living next to a columbarium, felt their property resale value would be affected, and did not like how a religious site was given to a commercial entity.

Extracts of the debate in Parliament:

MP Seng Han Tong (Ang Mo Kio GRC): What lessons can HDB and other government agencies learn from this incident?

Mr Khaw: I think one takeaway for me from this episode is that times have changed and some of our tender procedures have not caught up with time.

For example, for 20-odd years, we would never have thought that a for-profit company would participate in a non-profit making venture like building a Chinese temple. But, of course, in this instance... the motivations are very different.

But having reached such a situation, I'll find a way to try to unwind this. The key point is, for that Sengkang site we want the Chinese temple and we will deliver that. We do not want a commercial columbarium and we won't have one.

Mr Seng: How clear are URA's plans for development of places of worship?

Mr Khaw: Reservation of place-of-worship sites and so on are clearly marked in our Masterplan. Every five years, MND reviews the Masterplan. If we find that adjustments are needed, we publish those and seek public consultation before we confirm them. So there is full transparency in that regard.

Likewise, HDB's BTO brochures are very clear. In this instance, for example, that there will be a site reserved for a Chinese temple was clearly marked. There was no ambiguity about that.

But I can understand some of the residents' unhappiness because of this indication that there will be a commercial columbarium cropping up in their neighbourhood. So I think those concerns are legitimate and reasonable.

We all make a strong distinction between a commercial columbarium and an incidental columbarium service which is provided by temples and some churches.

MP Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC): Will the ministry consider disqualifying the company and recalling a tender?

Mr Khaw: A review is ongoing and has in fact been going on for several months. We've been doing many rounds of consultations and the consultation will continue to see how best to tighten some of these tender rules to achieve our planning objectives.

If we want a temple, we really get a temple and not suddenly have a commercial columbarium crop up.

So this review is ongoing and in fact, the reason that triggered the review wasn't this (the Sengkang columbarium). It was that we have gotten quite a number of feedback from some of our temples and churches. They found that when they take part in tender, they often lose out to some bidders whose congregation is much smaller and who already own an existing place of worship.

So they ask: should we not build in a criteria assessment that tries to ascertain needs, rather than whoever happens to have the deepest pocket?

And often some of these deep pockets have an external linkage; they are foreigners, so they were more able to win the tender. So that was what triggered the review.

But as you know, it's not easy to assess needs, especially when different kinds of religious organisations are involved, but we will find a way. We will seek religious wisdom. We will meditate on it.

Dr Lee: Will the ministry disqualify this tender and recall it so that temples, especially smaller temples, can take part in... and make it more affordable? Because many say that if we allow commercial companies to tender for such land, it will drive up the (prices of the) place and then they will have difficulty in getting land.

Mr Khaw: Yes, that is the intent. We are in discussion with the company to see how we can restore this site to its original purpose. Their plans and our plans do not coincide. So we're in discussion. I don't want to go into too much details, but we will find a way to restore this site to its original intent.

MP Lee Li Lian (Punggol East): How can such an incident take place or be overlooked, and what other safeguards are there in place to prevent it from happening again?

Mr Khaw: As I said, this is a case where for many years the tenders are open to commercial companies, with the assumption being the companies are affiliated to some religious organisations and it is a convenient vehicle for the religious organisation to take part and to execute the project.

In fact, some of us recall that the request to include commercial company came from the religious organisations because some of them found it more convenient to do so.

And because temples or churches are non-profit making, we just assumed that (for-profit) making companies will not be taking part in a non-profit making venture. So that was how things cropped up.

... Mr Seng will know a very popular Chinese opera, Butterfly Lovers, or Liang Zhu. It describes the period of old China when girls, unfortunately no matter how talented they were, were not allowed to join schools. So there was this very young, beautiful, talented young lady, Zhu Yingtai, who wanted to study, so she disguised herself as a boy and succeeded in attending the school for three years.

... People just assumed that girls won't turn up, and because they made the assumption, they discovered it only later and (asked) 'why didn't you know'.

So they thought this one looked a bit girlish - but it turned out (she was) a girl.

So it's a similar situation here, that the officers assessing the tender just assumed that it must be a company affiliated to some religious organisation.

And because (Eternal Pure Life) made the highest bid, it was awarded to them. But as I said, we will find a way to forge a middle path forward. The key point is we will restore the planning objective.

MP Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC): When the agency assessed the bid and the tender, didn't information about the parentage of the bidder, and the fact that it was incorporated only recently in Singapore, arouse some suspicion or checks?

What is the due diligence that was taken in assessing this tender, and whether lessons learnt could be applied to prevent such instances from happening - not only just for religious sites, but other land use tenders as well?

Mr Khaw: Certainly, out of this incident we learnt some lessons which Mr Seng asked about just now. But as I said, for a quarter of a century we never had a for-profit company taking part in such temple tenders.

Therefore, it never crossed the mind of the officials evaluating the tender. But never mind, having ascertained the situation now, it's not too late to unwind the situation.

MP Fatimah Lateef (Marina Parade GRC): Since (MND) is looking at the review, can you also look at extension of lease for some of the religious organisations, like those competing for land? Some of those temples and religious organisations in my constituency have actually bid for a long time and have waited many years where they really have no choice, and their hands are tied.

Mr Khaw: All right. As I said, you know, the review was meant to look at larger issues and various aspects that have cropped up.

Shortage of land for places of worship is indeed a real issue because unfortunately in Singapore, we are very handicapped as far as land provision is concerned. And that is why in recent years, we have allowed existing places of worship to intensify their land use, (so that they are) able to meet the demand they are now facing.

But at the same time, we are reserving enough sites; but there is always a need to intensify land use, and we will bear those points in mind.

MP Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC): On the issue of transparency, one of the sticking points from many of the residents or potential buyers of these flats was that the columbarium was seen to be a fine print. So moving forward, from a URA perspective or sales perspective, how does HDB plan to change this practice?

Mr Khaw: In this instance, there was no question of lack of transparency. The site was clearly marked as a temple.

And in fact, for completeness, the HDB put in a footnote to indicate there may be a columbarium because we cannot assume that the temple will build a columbarium.

I am closely associated with three temples which I visit quite regularly, and out of the three, two have columbarium service. So it's not all three or all zero. And so, some do (have columbariums), some don't.

And even for this new temple that will eventually crop up... we do not know whether they want to put up a columbarium service or not. So we cannot make the assumption.

But I think the unhappiness of the residents over the last few weeks was that they thought we were going to allow a commercial columbarium to be built - and this is quite a different creature from an incidental columbarium service.

On what went wrong
The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015

MR KHAW Boon Wan made reference to a Chinese opera, Butterfly Lovers, to explain how the authorities slipped up in assuming that organisations which bid for worship sites were affiliated with religious organisations.

He was responding to the Workers' Party's Ms Lee Li Lian, (Punggol East), who questioned how such an incident could have taken place or be overlooked, and asked what safeguards there are in place to prevent it from happening again.

Mr Khaw:For many years, the tenders are open to commercial companies, with the assumption being the companies are affiliated to some religious organisations.

And because temples or churches are non-profit- making, we just assumed that (for-profit) companies will not be taking part in a non-profit-making venture...

A very popular Chinese opera, Butterfly Lovers, or Liang Zhu... describes the period of old China when girls, unfortunately, no matter how talented they were, were not allowed to join schools. So, there was this very young, beautiful, talented young lady, Zhu Yingtai, who wanted to study, so she disguised herself as a boy and succeeded in attending the school for three years...

People just assumed that girls won't turn up, and because they made the assumption, they discovered it only later (in) hindsight and (asked): "Why didn't you know?"

So, it is a similar situation here, that the officers assessing the tender just assumed that it must be a company affiliated to some religious organisation.

How the columbarium saga unfolded
By Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2015


MAY 27: The Housing Board puts up a tender for a Chinese temple along Fernvale Link in Sengkang. The 2,000 sq m site located next to the upcoming Build-to-Order project, Fernvale Lea, had been set aside for religious use.

JUNE 12: Australian-listed company Life Corporation, which acquired Singapore Funeral Services in 2013, sets up Singapore subsidiary Eternal Pure Land. Three days later, the new firm submits its bid for a Chinese temple with an integrated columbarium to the HDB.

JULY 17: The tender is awarded to Eternal Pure Land, which placed a bid of $5.2 million.

There were two other bidders for the site, both of them Buddhist societies: Peng Hong Association, which placed a bid of $4 million, and Xing Guang Maitreya Society, which placed a $1.8 million bid.

JULY 30: Life Corporation posts an announcement on the Australian Stock Exchange that a convertible bond agreement worth $6 million will be partially used to finance the purchase of the Fernvale site.

NOV 21: Life Corporation announces that Hong Leong Finance will provide a $15 million loan for the funding of the temple-columbarium complex.

DEC 30: The Straits Times runs a report ("Residents surprised by columbarium plan") on the proposed temple cum columbarium. Prospective residents say they are shocked, and that they were unaware they might have to live next to a columbarium.


JAN 4: At a dialogue with residents, Sengkang West MP Lam Pin Min assures them that the site will stick to Urban Redevelopment Authority guidelines on ancillary columbariums, which should take up no more than a fifth of the building's total area.

But a number of residents insist on a refund from the Housing Board.

Resident Sharon Toh asks Dr Lam how a purely commercial entity with no links to a religious group was able to bid for the land, to a round of applause from the residents gathered.

JAN 29: Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan tells Parliament that there will be no commercial columbarium at the site.

Firm working with Govt to find solution
By Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 3 Feb 2015

THE company behind controversial plans to develop a columbarium in Sengkang has said it was open and transparent with the authorities about the tender.

Funeral services company Life Corporation insisted that it provided "all information required and requested" in accordance with tender conditions, in its first public comments since the Government admitted last week that it was a mistake to award the project to a commercial firm.

Life Corp has faced a backlash from residents of nearby Build-to-Order flats, such as Fernvale Lea, since The Straits Times reported the company's plans in late December.

Many residents are against the idea of a columbarium being built next to their estate, especially by a commercial company with no religious links.

Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan addressed the issue in Parliament last Thursday, reassuring residents that there will be no commercial columbarium at the site.

Life Corp said in an announcement posted on the Australian Securities Exchange website yesterday that it understands the sentiments of residents who feel that "ownership of such land development should be by a non-profit religious organisation".

The company added: "It has always been (the) intention that the temple component of the development would be headed by religious individuals."

Life Corp said it has already made preliminary plans regarding the operation of the temple, which is due to be completed by 2017.

It added that it is sensitive to recent public and government comments, and is currently working with the Government to explore whether "a mutually satisfactory and viable solution can be found in due course".

The purpose of the announcement may be to calm investors and lenders, according to SLP International Property Consultants' head of research Nicholas Mak. "It seems to be saying that Life Corp did not do anything underhand in the tender."

He added: "The announcement also mentioned twice that Life Corp was 'successful in its tender' and was 'awarded the tender', which suggests that it will own the lease of the land.

"This could be another message to investors and lenders that the lease will not be taken away from Life Corp."

Financial analyst Esther Gan, 35, who is moving into Fernvale Lea later this year, said she has accepted that a columbarium is likely to be built in a temple there.

Mr Khaw has said no commercial columbarium will be built.

"I'm still upset at this, but I have to make peace with it because I need a place to live," said Ms Gan.

"There will still be a columbarium there. But it'll be packaged within the primary temple in order to pacify people."

Putting concerns over columbarium to rest
Editorial, The Straits Times, 10 Feb 2015

THE Sengkang columbarium episode holds important lessons from a public policy point of view. The most important of those lessons is that of alertness. National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan told Parliament that the project had been awarded to funeral services firm Eternal Pure Land because Housing Board officers had assumed that the company was acting for a religious group. Such a supposition was based on the experience of the past 20 years or so, not a negligible span of time, which suggested that a for-profit company would not participate in a non-profit-making venture, such as building a Chinese temple.

HDB's decision to disallow a commercially run columbarium at the site would partially relieve a proportion of future residents of Fernvale Lea, the project to be built nearby. The relief is partial for some because the Chinese temple that is built eventually in the estate might still include a resting place for the dead. If future residents do not want any sort of columbarium in the vicinity, that would be another instance of the not-in-my-backyard syndrome here that can lead to bitter and divisive turf wars if not nipped in the bud.

The controversy generated by the commercial columbarium demonstrates how the times change without a warning. Thus, the response to the saga, too, must bear the imprint of alertness to change.

Public tenders need to be monitored rigorously so that the reputation of a national institution such as the HDB is not compromised. This is so especially because Life Corporation, the parent company of Eternal Pure Land, insists that it was upfront about its plans during the tender process. If so, how did the controversy arise, since the tender was awarded properly? But if there was misunderstanding, how did this occur?

The issue now is not to revisit the columbarium episode but to learn from it so that its attendant controversy could be avoided in future. National agencies must make it a part of their operating culture to ensure that those executing and supervising projects are not lulled into complacency by the legacy of earlier eras, but are alert to what needs to be done differently for each project that comes up.

By contrast, it would be unfortunate if the saga were to go down in Singapore's administrative history as a case of public pressure leading to the rescinding of a tender. While public sentiments are important, these should not trump a country's responsibility to its institutional principles and processes. A reasonable settlement must emerge so that corporate interests are balanced with the public interest in this case - to uphold Singapore's ability to reconcile the two.

* Sengkang columbarium issue: HDB rejects flat buyers' refund requests
By Lester Hio, The Straits Times, 24 Feb 2015

THE Housing Board has rejected the requests of unhappy flat buyers for refunds on their Build-To-Order (BTO) flats, made last month when they discovered that a temple with a commercial columbarium would be built near the estate in Sengkang.

That project will no longer go ahead as planned.

HDB said in a statement that it received 95 requests as at Feb 9 from future residents of three BTO projects along Fernvale Link - Fernvale Lea, Fernvale Rivergrove and Fernvale Riverbow - asking to cancel their bookings, and get a refund.

These 95 make up 2.4 per cent of the 4,000 units in the three BTO projects.

HDB reiterated that the Ministry of National Development (MND) and its agencies would ensure that the site is restored to the original plan of a Chinese temple. Whether it has a columbarium or not would depend on the temple's trustees, and would be subject to the Urban Redevelopment Authority's guidelines and approval.

HDB sent official letters or e-mail to buyers to turn down their requests on Feb 16.

The buyers have until Friday to notify HDB if they wish to proceed with the cancellation of their flat application. If they do so, they will be subject to the standard process of cancellation, wherein they forfeit the option fee paid if they cancel before signing the Agreement for Lease. This can range from $250 to $2,000, depending on flat type.

If they cancel after signing the agreement, they will forfeit 5 per cent of the flat's purchase price.

The appeals for refunds were made after buyers discovered that a temple complex with a commercial columbarium, run by Australian-listed company Life Corporation through its subsidiary Eternal Pure Land, would be built nearby.

At a dialogue with residents and agencies involved, called by Sengkang West MP Lam Pin Min on Jan 4, buyers claimed that the site was earmarked for a temple and should not be given to a for-profit company.

Others said they were misled by the site plan and did not want to live near a columbarium.

A group of residents left their names with HDB afterwards, asking for a refund. There have been no further updates from HDB or MND on their talks with Eternal Pure Land regarding the site.

Restaurant manager Catherine Neo, who asked for a refund, said: "A temple columbarium won't hold as many niches as a commercial columbarium, so that's okay with me. There's nothing that can be done. I'll get the key and move in, but I might not stay there for long."

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