January 14, 2006
Assistant News Editor
CONTROVERSY has trailed the Buangkok MRT station for the past two-and-a-half years — right up to its long-awaited opening day.
On Friday, Jan 13, while preparations went into overdrive for the carnival to celebrate the opening of the $80-million station on Sunday, drama knocked on its doors yet again. This time, it was over some "Save the White Elephants" T-shirts that former Raffles Girls' School (RGS) students were planning to sell at the carnival.
That day, the students and Punggol South organisers received a reminder from the police that they needed a fund-raising permit before they could sell the T-shirts to the public, in line with existing regulations. The 27 students were also told that they might break the law if the T-shirts were worn "en masse".
The last minute reminder had apparently caught the 17-year-old students — who had created the T-shirts last year after the infamous white-elephant incident — off guard. When contacted, a police spokesperson confirmed that the advisory was sent out.
"In view of the nature of the event, we had advised the organisers that they should be aware that the wearing of T-shirts en masse may be misconstrued by some as an offence under the Miscellaneous Offences (Public & Order & Nuisance) (Assemblies & Processions) Rules. Should Police receive any report or complaints, we would have to look into the matter. This is consistent with all reports made to the Police," he told Today.
But the police have no objections to the fund-raising initiative per se, and are prepared to expedite the permit, which normally takes three days to process.
"In this case, we have made an exception for the students. We have communicated to the event organiser that the fundraisers can still apply for a permit on Saturday, as long as they are able to produce a memo of understanding with the charitable organisation," said the police spokesperson on Friday night.
The latest drama caps the bumpy ride surrounding the Buangkok MRT station, which will finally open after two-and-a-half years of lobbying, including the placement of eight cut-outs of white elephants in August, which resulted in the police issuing a stern warning to a grassroots leader.
The then-RGS girls were inspired by the incident to create the T-shirts, selling them at $12 each, to raise funds for Youth Guidance, a charity that helps youth at risk. They managed to sell all but 60 of some 300 T-shirts.
Calling themselves Project White Elephant, the girls — formerly from class 415 in RGS — had said in a Lianhe Zaobao interview that they had always taken a strong interest in current affairs and the Buangkok incident had caught their attention.
They wanted to "galvanise the youth of today to rise up from the apathy they are stereotyped with and take an active role in airing their views".
In an infosheet which they sent to potential buyers of the T-shirts, they had said: "Even though the White Elephant has become our mascot and symbol for the project, we are in no way attempting to judge or condone the Buangkok MRT incident.
"Rather, we are using the accidental fame of the elephants to spark interest in our project; they also serve as a reminder that legal boundaries are important and should be adhered to even while expressing one's views and opinions about political issues."
Impressed by their entrepreneurial spirit and derring-do, Punggol South grassroots leaders had invited the team to set up a stall at the opening ceremony of the station.
Commenting on the latest police advisory, a grassroots leader remarked: "There's no reason for them to protest, because the station is going to be opened!"
Some 5000 residents and non-residents — who had each bought tickets at $3 — are expected to turn up this Sunday. A 240m long ribbon will be placed around the station, allowing for some 400 residents to cut the ribbon alongside guests of honour.
Of the latest controversy, Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Charles Chong advised the students: "The (fund-raising) permit is not a new requirement. We would urge them to get it."
He also assured the authorities that the participants had been given
T-shirts to wear — but they are purple in colour, with "no animal
images on it".