Written by Ng E-Jay
08 Sept 2008
When a proposal was made to convert an unused school, Serangoon Gardens Technical School, into a dormitory for foreign workers, residents of the nearby Serangoon Gardens private estate banded together to show their intense disapproval and displeasure.
Over 1,600 residents out of the roughly 4,000 households in the immediate vicinity of the proposed dormitory have signed a petition, started by the residents’ committee, asking the authorities to reconsider.
The school in Burghley Drive has been vacant for about four years and can possibly house 1,000 workers. It is situated less than 10 metres away from the nearest residential property.
The petition was handed to Aljunied GRC MPs George Yeo and Lim Hwee Hua on Wednesday 03 Sept, in a highly publicized forum that saw a storm of criticism rain down upon the proposal that would, in the petition’s own words, “create security and social problems and spoil the ambiance of the estate”.
The Ministry of National Development (MND) stated that the school is just “one among the sites being studied, and there is no decision to proceed yet”.
MP Lim Hwee Hua said it was “good that residents are speaking out with an interest” on the issue and that she would convey their feedback to MND.
During the dialogue session, which was attended by some 250 people, residents let loose their tirade of objections to the proposal, including concerns about security, the possibility of increased crime in the area, and fears about maids hooking up with foreign workers.
The fears expressed by Serangoon Gardens residents are not without merit. For example, in residential areas like Jalan Kayu, where two dorms housing 6,000 foreign workers were built three years ago, littering, loitering and rowdy behaviour are some of the problems residents have had to put up with. (ST, “Problems ‘Next Door'”, 05 Sept).
Worse still, public announcements regarding the accommodation of foreign workers are usually relatively last-minute, low-key and piecemeal affairs because anything else would spark a massive outcry from residents living nearby. (ST, “Your backyard, my front door”, 07 Sept).
In other words, the usual Government practice is to hush up the issue until it is too late for residents to complain.
Earlier this year in Parliament, Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan said that, given the constraints of land, foreign workers’ dorms would eventually be near residential areas.
In my opinion, that stand is hardly sufficient.
If the Government wants to import a large number of foreign workers to build our casinos and all the mega projects that are supposed to spur our economy on, ample preparations first have to be made to house them properly. That means providing living quarters for foreign workers in locations that would inconvenience local residents the least.
In at ST article published on 7 Sept, Lydia Lim wrote that “foreign workers are human beings, no less so than I am … And human beings need places to live … That all persons are equal in dignity is a value I hold dear.”
Her view is certainly valid, but to me, it misses the point of the whole debate. The point of the whole debate is that the Government has over-extended itself, initiated too many projects which then require the import of large numbers of foreign workers, without ensuring before-hand that there would be suitable accommodation for those workers located away from populated areas.