Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher de Souza posted a Facebook note on Monday (4 May) announcing that, as part of Singapore’s fight against COVID-19 and to ensure the continued health of the essential workers, the former Nexus International School at Ulu Pandan will be used to house healthy foreign workers working in essential services.
De Souza — a practising litigation partner working at law firm Lee & Lee — said that the site, which can house up to 1,000 foreign workers, will be ready by middle of next month.
He then tried to assure residents staying around Ulu Pandan Road, “I would like to assure all residents that the safety and well-being of these workers remain a top priority. Similarly, steps will also be taken to minimise disruption to residents living close by – that is also a top priority.”
He further assured that all foreign workers will undergo medical screening before moving into the site. The facility will also be self-contained, with all meals and amenities provided on-site. And special transportation arrangements will be made to transport them from the site to their workplaces and back.
“It was important for me to know whether the workers will be comfortable and well taken care of. Therefore, I asked to make a site visit to the former Nexus International School,” De Souza wrote.
He said based on his site visit, he noticed that the hexagon-shaped classrooms are spacious, and have large streams of daylight coming in.
He shared, “They are bright and roomy. They will be one of the places where beds are placed for the workers. The grounds are green, airy and generous. There is a long driveway to make the pick up and send off more convenient. There are sheltered open spaces like atriums which will provide more space.”
“I have also been assured that preparations will be made to take care of the workers’ well-being during their stay,” he added.
“I would like to take this chance to ask all Ulu Pandan residents to give us and all our essential workers your fullest support, and to welcome our new guests with care and encouragement. These essential service workers have spent long amounts of time away from their hometowns and families, and have put themselves at the frontlines – day-in, day-out – to ensure that our essential services are kept going even in these difficult times. Just as they have cared for us and Singapore, let us care for them too.”
“This is part of Ulu Pandan’s collective contribution to Singapore’s fight against COVID-19,” he declared. “This is our chance to show them that we care, and that we thank them for their hard work. I hope all Ulu Pandan residents can join me in supporting them, so that we overcome this challenge together, as one!”
Concerns from residents
Not long after De Souza posted his Facebook note, concerns began to appear on his Facebook page.
Cheryn Chan wrote that she is concerned with the safety of the residents in Pine Grove Estate. She commented, “When the workers are fully accommodated in Nexus by mid-June, they will use the entrance and exit point next to Pine Grove for their daily commute. As there are a thousand residents there, it is only to be expected that the entrance and exit point at Nexus which is just next to Gate 5 will be heavily used by the workers going to and returning from work. There will also be heavy vehicles to fetch them to and from their worksites. This will cause congestion at the area at Gate 5. This will certainly interfere with the flow of traffic for residents of Pine Grove at Gate 5.”
“More importantly, this would provide and access point for the workers to enter Pine Grove Estate. Needless to say, this is a safety issue for us,” she added.
Another resident, Audrey Jewel Chua, said, “We really need you to help pine grove sort out the MCST issue first before placing a good 1000 migrant workers near us. Look at pine grove security right now, no proper measures are taken since the BCA letter informing them for proper measures to monitor incoming human traffic.”
Elderly resident Irene Leong added, “Senior citizens like me, I was told make up 70% of PG (Pine Grove) estate. After hearing from those who managed to chat with you, many questions were not adequately answered. Please DO NOT house FW here risking us Singaporeans if no proper plans and concrete safety measures are put in place. I am not against FW but housing them here will bring a hosts of new problems to us n our neighbourhood.”
Some also questioned the sincerity of the MP in his approach.
Just yesterday, Audrey Jewel Chua confronted the MP by saying that he only replies to those praise him but silent to those with concerns.
When De Souza said that she had dropped out from the Zoom conference call for the Meet-the-People Session, Chua retorted by saying that she did not do so and had waited for 45mins and way past her bedtime.
She wrote, “A group of about 10 of us approached you and requested for you to put all of us in a group Zoom meeting eg 8pm to 9pm so you don’t have to listen to the same questions and reply to the same questions 10 times. This is being productive. But you declined and insisted that you ONLY wanted one on one session on zoom. If you wanted one on one session, why is there a need to use zoom. You might as well just use WhatsApp video call? Zoom is for mass meetings in group sessions. Would you have avoided having to engage SPs from 7pm to midnight?”
Nothing that the open forum is meant for residents to air their view, Chua wrote, “I do appreciate that you kept mentioning “Many Residents were supportive”. So what about those that are not so supportive. I am not saying i am not supportive, but there are concerns and these concerns should be addressed.”
Support for MP drowning out residents’ concerns came swiftly
Then yesterday night (7 May) starting from around 9pm till midnight, a deluge of Facebook posts on the matter started appearing in support of De Souza’s call to set up housing for migrant workers at the Ulu Pandan site:
Some commenters did not seem to be residents of the estate, and some accounts even look outright questionable.
Rather than proposing practical solutions to address the concerns of some of these residents, the postings appeared to be praising the MP caring for the migrant workers.
In any case, it appears that the decision to house foreign workers at the Ulu Pandan site has already been made prior to having any discussions with the residents. De Souza’s dialogue with the residents was more of an afterthought.