When the news first broke about the ruckus concerning the temple and columbarium in Fernvale, Sengkang, I though not again. These not in my own backyard thingy again! What is the big deal? After all, many temples and even some churches in HDB estates have columbarium and provide funeral services. So what is the big fuss about?
Then upon further reading, I realised that this one is different.
The "temple" will in fact be run by a private entity and not a religious organisation. In fact, it is a company listed on the Stock Exchange of Australia and the business of the company is providing funeral services. In fact in its announcement to the ASX, it stated clearly that "securing the land is integral to Life Corporation's expansion plans and strategic direction to provide a full suite of premium funeral services. Life Corporation intends to embark on a exciting new project to construct a Chinese Temple with an integrated state of the art columbarium on the land"
From what I can gleaned from this short sentence, it looks like it will be similar to the Nirvana columbarium in Choa Chu Kang in concept with the main emphasis being the provision of columbarium services rather than religious services. After all, providing religious services is not going to make money for the company. Selling of niches and providing the ancillary services like prayers on occasions like the Seventh Month and Qing Ming will. The other thing that reinforce this view is that the published photo of the proposed building certainly do not resemble any Chinese temples. If anything, it looks like just any state of the art building which, looking at the brighter side for the affected residents, actually might just mitigate the issue a little bit.
The HDB has now come out to state that it does not restrict any type of organisation from bidding for land zoned for religious purposes as long as it is ultimately used for that purposes. But this is drawing a fine line here. If this trend continues, other companies with deep pocket will also set up division to bid for land parcels meant for religious use and use it to provide for profit business. What they just need to do is to throw in a little sweetener like employ a full time priest to do some prayer now and then and volia! Sit back and watch the money roll in. After all, nothing is as certain as taxes and death.
Bidding for land for religious use should be restricted to registered religious organisation and charities. Private companies should not be allowed to participate in such exercise. If not, soon all temples and churches will not be able to build new buildings as I don't see how they can outbid commercial business.
Of course now that the tender has been awarded, I don't see how HDB can do an aboutturn so what they need to do now is to strictly ensure that as stated in the press release, provision of ancillary services like the columbarium will be kept to only 20% of the total land use. Also the MP for the area has stated that the place will not be used for funeral services. If that is the case, I will foresee that the place will not be able to generate enough revenue to cover the cost of the land and the construction of the facility and will not be profitable and if that is the case, whether the company will still want to go ahead with the project. After all, if a funeral company cannot provide funeral services, what other things can it do there to generate income?