Please let us stay !

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Dear Sir, I am very sorry to bother you with this, but I am at my wits end.

I am true bred Singaporean with a turtle museum that is about to be evicted from Singapore despite my many attempts to try stay put. Can you help me?

I am Connie Tan, owner of The Live Turtle & Tortoise Museum, such was started by my late father and me and presently houses over 40 different species of live turtles and tortoises. It is also the only one of its kind in the world and recognized by The Guinness Book of World Record (international version, not Singapore version) as such - it still holds this record for Singapore.

My late father and me had the honour of meeting you in person some time ago, when we were exhibiting in Jurong at one of the roadshows. (attached photo)

The musuem's present predicament is that we have been told to vacate our premises at the Chinese Gardens by 31 March 2018 for its redevelopment.

I have tried to move to a few possible places but most times, terms are not conducive. Previously, ORTO at Sembawang has kindly allowed us to be possibly situated there but SLA has rejected for us to be there as they said the use of the space cannot be changed.
Even though ORTO is also not such a viable option due to its 3 years remaining duration to be there - I do not have much choice given the limitation I have.

To list which agencies has given us a negative reply over the past years;

1. Nparks; one department said that due to the fact that our species are not of Singapore origin, we cannot occupy land, cared by Nparks. Another Nparks department says that as we are not drawn into the new Jurong redevelopment plans, therefore not allowed to continue our stay in The Chinese Garden. I tried asking for the person who is working with the architects for planning but I guess I am just a commoner who will not be able to get to the top.

One reply came from an individual, that he cannot help as it is not in his purview. This person is upper management.

My turtles are mostly endangered species and therefore definitely not originated from Singapore.
And how I educate the young ones in Singapore is, with the endangered species, not mainly with our home-grown ones.

Today, Nparks says they wish to help, but cannot help as they do not have an option for me.

2. SLA; one department said that ORTO is not allowed to have what our license has stated to be, which is display & exhibition of turtles. So cannot be there.
One individual also had given us a negative reply previously(a high ranking person)
At present moment, the one person whom I was counting on, a Mr Teo, who was trying his best to help but process is slow due to him having to talk to other stat boards. He has recently officially given me a reply that he cannot help me.

3. AVA; AVA really tried, really really tried to help, especially one person there. He tried to push all departments to give me a reply when I could not get a reply. He is not even supposed to help me cos he is not in the correct department.
But finally, they also said that I am not fitting into the reason for the land / space use within their control. Even though I feel that AVA is my parent stat board.

Now, another person, Mr Lim, is trying to help. But he says that he can only help me with the license if I manage to move to somewhere else as they do not have any space / location that they can propose to me, with my kind of unique use.

4. URA; they did not know we are facing this problem. I have raised this to an individual before but I have not gotten a reply from him some years ago. Currently, one person, Ms Chia, is trying to help, but as she put it, she was also ‘stone-walled’ by Nparks while trying to move this matter forward. I know how it feels, having been stone-walled so many times.

My dad and I started this turtle museum with a hope that kids get to enjoy and be educated with so many different species that I have from all over the world. And I had spent the past 15/16 years in The Chinese Garden.

The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew had also visited us and had tried to offer help, but I had (stupidly) rejected because he had already done so much for Singapore, how could I, or rather, who am I to seek his help. I would never have guessed it is so difficult to do this unique business in Singapore, or I would have accepted his help.

We do not have any savings as the entrance fee, kept low for past many years, is used just to pay for the overheads and we were blessed with good, kind-hearted helpers and staff who helped took care of the turtles. It would be wonderful if we can continue to stay at The Chinese Garden.

I have been told by most civil servants (whoever I meet, so I presume they don’t want it as their problem), to go to Malaysia.

I am a proud and staunch Singaporean. My main work is being a Creative Director at my events, logistics & management company for more than 25 years, and, I have set up a company in Myanmar and worked in projects in many different countries and have defended my country to those people who do not understand us.

I do not wish Singapore to lose something that is the only one in the world and being appreciated by many foreigners instead of my own countrymen. But now, I am rejected even to have a place to be in. My turtles do not have a choice of place to go. I want to make good this business, have it nicely done up, with a good friend’s offer to lend me the money to re-build it, and have more education tools and application in the museum. I need a space, one that I can serve to the community at a reasonable cost. I can build it in ORTO, in Sembawang, but SLA rejected it (yes, they did explain to me why they can't), saying it is for Recreational Fishing, Recreational Horticulture, Campsite, Adventure Training, Plant Nursery, Sport Facilities (e.g. Paintball, Remote Control Car Racing) and ancillary F&B, ORA and Offices only. But if they have only 3 years for me, it will also be a loss of money for me, as to meet ROI, I need a place for at least 6 years.

I am currently trying for a place in Sungei Tengah area. I pray that everyone will allow me to be there.

So turtle museum in the form of display & exhibiting, cannot be within this. Please allow me to stay at The Chinese Garden after its renovation. Even if I have to save money to get through the years while The Chinese Garden is renovating and be in Malaysia (cheaper land option), please let me come back to Singapore.

I do not fall under any other agencies that can help me, neither do I want to be taken over by the zoo and lose my whole business. I have exhausted whatever contacts I have, to help me with this. And due to the date being close to get out of Chinese Garden, I had made a decision to wind down my events management business of more than 60 years (my late dad started the business), to try make space at the office I owned, to put the turtles there temporarily. So meaning, from April onwards, I am without a proper income. I am at a dead end.

Please, please, allow me to stay in Singapore without so many difficulties as I really don't want to be one of those who gave up fighting to stay in Singapore and left to go to Malaysia or other countries. I have done my best and spent much time to look for people and places. Please allow my dad’s and my hard work to be successful.

Please help me. Thank you.

Yours sincerely,
Connie Tan