Forum: Pass law to make environment studies of projects a must

A rope links two patches of forest across a water body at Mandai Road.
A rope links two patches of forest across a water body at Mandai Road.PHOTO: ST FILE

In recent times, the Singapore Government's focus has been balancing environmental conservation alongside sustainable development.

However, Singapore still does not have a law mandating environmental impact assessments (EIAs).

Regardless, it is heartening to see the Government voluntarily employing EIAs in its recent projects of the Cross Island Line, Mandai hub of wildlife parks and, most recently, the new Tengah housing estate.

Following the practice of places like Hong Kong which has had an EIA regulation since 1997, Singapore should take its first step by mandating designated projects to require an EIA.

This change would make sense with the Government's designation of this year as the Year Towards Zero Waste.

As Singapore begins to explore the implementation of an EIA law, it is worth taking a few notes from other countries that have had an EIA law in place by analysing their best practices and challenges.

In Hungary, an EIA decree requires the legal evaluation of comments and observations into the reasoning of a decision in merit.

This is crucial for Singapore as the only thing worse than the Government failing to do an EIA is to do an impact assessment but fail to listen to the feedback from the populace.

In Australia, the challenge for EIAs is that of inadequate investments. Rigorous assessment requires a lot of time and resources in order to fully capture the full scope of the environmental damage created by the project.

While technically challenging and expensive, the Government must not let this hinder its job of doing a comprehensive EIA. Failure to do so will simply result in EIAs being done for the sake of compliance and will go against the good intentions of the Government.

While the Government is on the right track by conducting EIAs for certain projects, it is high time it mandates an EIA regulation that incorporates the lessons learnt from other countries.

Benjamin Yeo Zhi Hui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2019, with the headline 'Pass law to make environment studies of projects a must'. Subscribe