Lack of consultation over sea burial site is disturbing.

By Jose Raymond

The Government’s proposed sea burial site at Tanah Merah as reported by Lianhe Zaobao and Straits Times has brought about yet another petition in protest.

The petition has already gathered more than 1000 signatures, which was apparently started by a sailing parent, calling for the relocation of the sea burial site. The petition is currently making its rounds on social media and comments on the petition prove that there is unhappiness.

The proposed sea burial site, said to be ready by the fourth quarter of 2019, is very close to where sailors and windsurfers engage in activities almost every day of the week, especially on weekends. On any given weekend, there are more than 100 sailors, windsurfers and paddlers who use the area for their activities. (see map image).

In all of these activities, there is a chance of boats capsizing and people having to swim in the waters, with the possibility of ingestion. An open water swimming event has also been previously organised by the Singapore Swimming Association very close to the area which has been announced as the site for the new burial site.

Based on feedback I have received from parents, coaches and members of the sailing fraternity, there is a lot of discomfort in not just the location, but also the way the proposal has been made public.

There are fears that the ashes may circulate into the bay, based on tidal shifts, and also the possibility of remains flowing to other parts of the beaches west of Tanah Merah. A glance at the tidal hydrodynamics in the Singapore Strait show that these fears may not be unfounded.

Disrespectful against the deceased, disrespectful against the many families and sports enthusiasts who use the area very frequently, about sums up their feelings.

Have the relevant government agencies, especially the National Environment Agency (NEA), engaged the many stakeholders in the area during its planning stages? What are the alternative sites being considered, if any?

The NEA has said that it will conduct an environmental impact assessment prior to construction but shouldn’t this be done before the location is identified? Also, what does “comprehensive consultancy studies” actually mean?

The perceived lack of consultation, effective stakeholder engagement and consensus-building ahead of the announcement is not how a modern government should conduct its policymaking and announcements, especially when there are multiple stakeholders involved.

Basic public management etiquette today requires that key stakeholders are engaged so that there is a common understanding and agreement on the use of our common spaces.

This is critical in a dense city state like Singapore.

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