Two unrelated events linked only by their being theresults of unexpected disasters ushered us into the new year. One came and went relatively unheralded but the other captured headlines on both sides of the Causeway.
The leases expired on Dec 31, 2020 for 191 terrace house in Lorong 3, Geylang and the land will revert to the state for development. This is the first time a residential plot of land in independent Singapore has reached the end of its lease.
Hark back to a day in April 1958. Fire was raging through Kampung Koo Chye at the confluence of Kallang River, Lorong 1 and Lorong 3. Like refugees, residents fled for safety as they streamed out desperately to find safety in Sims Avenue/Geylang Road.
Somehow or other, a substantial number of the 10,000 people made homeless found temporary housing through their own means and connections or community efforts. Some were housed in Geylang English School at Lorong21 where they stayed during the school holidays in June. The community rallied. Donations and help of every kind (from food, clothing to tuition and uniforms for children) poured in. Lucky for some fire victims, immediate housing was available at just completed flats in the then new Kallang Airport Estate. They moved in to these flats in Jalans Satu, Dua, Tiga and Enam and Dakota Crescent.
Meanwhile, the Housing and Development Board (or Singapore Improvement Trust ) worked overtime to build those terrace houses in Lorong 3. When they were completed, residents in Kallang Airport were given options: they could stay in the estate (on soft loans), return to Lorong 3 and stay at these terrace units through a generous ownership scheme with a 60-year lease (one generation) or accept a fairly substantial amount of cash aid from a large fire victims fund and find theiraccommodation away from Lorong 3 or Kallang Airport. As a historical by-note, the residents at JalanEnam/Dakota Crescent and Jalan Satu had to be rehoused decades later as part of the almost relentless development and renewal of Singapore.
There are many, many personal stories from this one fire disaster upheaval alone which I hope younger Singaporeans than me can capture for posterity. Before they are lost forever.
The second sad tale for the week is that of the aborted RM60 billion ($19.7 billion) Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High Speed Rail. Both Singapore and Malaysia agreed to the project in 2013 and they signed their commitment in 2016. It was slated for completion in 2031. There were some signs of it being derailed when the PakatanHarapan government under Dr Mahathir Mohamad came into power. He said he wanted to relook the projectbecause of Malaysia’s financial position. Still, the sight of Malaysian and Singapore ministers flying between KL and Singapore to make public noises of continuing support gave the impression that the HSR was still on track.
Then came the unexpected Covid-19. On surface, the HSR became one of its many obvious victims. Should such a project go ahead in such an unchartered dire straits in contemporary times? Economies around the world are barely holding up. Businesses and travel have been hit and will take a while to get back to anywhere near normal. Even with the vaccines coming on stream, health safety will continue to be challenging as the world and region cope with new Covid-19 waves and variants.
It is unfortunate. And it is equally unfortunate that Malaysia has not quite got out of its current post-NajibRazak and post-PH political instability to think beyond each Dewan Rakyat sitting. Let’s hope our neighbour works out its politics and will be able to look ahead soon.
I agree with Najib Razak.
In a Facebook posting on January 1, the former Malaysian Prime Minister said that building the HSR was justified as the benefits from an increase in tourists from Singapore would bring billions in revenue as well as create jobs for the people that will last for a long time.He said: “The cost .. was RM60 billion. We must also realise that in the first half of 2019, tourists from Singapore spent RM11.56 billion in Malaysia or an estimated RM25 billion a year.
“If the HSR project can increase tourism from Singapore by 50 per cent, the total amount that Singaporeans tourists will end up spending in Malaysia will increase to RM12.5 billion a year. In 10 years that’s RM125 billion. If it’s 50 years, RM625 billion would have come into Malaysia. Hence by replacing the HSR KL-Singapore project to HSR KL-Johor Baru — which costs the same — the country will lose trillions and trillions of ringgit 20 years down the road.”
The project would have been a win-win in so many ways for both countries. Tourists will flood into the two countries as they view Singapore-Malaysia as a combined and complementary destination with new possibilities and options. Business travellers too, they will take advantage of fast and comfortable train rides to conduct their face-to-face meetings.
The economies of both countries should gaintremendously from the overall picture of a region buzzing with dynamism and hyperactivity.
The very act of committing to and building the HSR would have a trigger effect. It would have shown the world that the two countries were serious no-nonsense players in the world economy.
While the residents of the Lorong 3 terrace houses have already moved on, the planners of the HSR may want to revisit the project in the near future. It is much too good an idea to consign to the dustbin of history.
Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.