Monday, July 9, 2007

ISA HK/China --- The Singapore Experience (Episode 2)

*** Station Mail is for the information of Station Members only. Comments from non-Station Members will not be entertained.***
Dear Station Members,

Thank you for your patience to await this important Singapore Study Tour Report of Dec 16 - 19, 2006. To keep it simple & concise, there are 4 major areas of investigation to focus on this report:

(A) Feedback on the Certified Arborist (CA) training at the National Parks Board of the Singapore Govt (Nparks) & future Arborist training programs at Nparks for beginners & CEU
(B) Impression of the first-ever Equatorial Flower Show, the Singapore Garden Festival (SGF)
(C) The myths behind the success of the Greenery Program in Singapore
(D) The role of CA in Singapore

Each subject of discussion can be a sensitive issue. As Station Mail is circulated in several countries & pirated in China nowadays, the Station Manager is under pressure to present this report with his best abilities in accuracy, but would not be complacent in claiming this report as a perfect description of what is going on. This report is supposed to be factual & objective, with the observation of the Station Manager of the events in situ. Readers please do excuse the Station Manager for his incompetence & unintended mistakes.

(A) Feedback on the CA Training & future Arbor Programs at Nparks

When the 2 week CA program was initiated back in Sep 06, there were complaints all over the Station for it being too long. Most of the CA trainees said the same thing before departure & the Station Manger was under pressure to advise Nparks to shorten it to just 7 days.

But, to the surprise of even the Station Manager, every candidate he met reported to him that the 2 week CA program was not long enough !! Some said 3 weeks or longer would be a better arrangement. Some said the CA exam should be delayed or be taken in HK afterwards instead of right after the training. So, why ?

The CA candidates at Nparks were trained by specialists in their own field for each individual domain. They were not just confined in the classroom to study power point but were taken to laboratories & field to have hands-on experience. For Tree Biology, they were taken to the forest to study tropical trees in situ. For Climbing & Safety, each candidate was required to wear full PPE & body-thrust to a side branch for limb walking. The students were shown Pruning in action with chainsaws & they were shown nasty diseases & pests in the laboratories. They met experienced Practicing Arborists in their work site & they were guided round the world-famous Singapore Botanical Garden for various topics. 14 days would definitely not be enough for all these. That's why the students wanted longer.

Maybe a month is better for such complete training if we need well trained CA for HK. Maybe we think we can provide the same at home but do we have a world-class Botanical Garden like Singapore with so many Arboricultural experts? Do we have their well maintained trees & healthy attitude towards trees? Would our local candidates have the same determination to learn as hard as those who have paid & travelled to Singapore? Would not our local candidates develop a 'territorial instinct' if the learning is given at home instead? Could they develop bonding with overseas counterparts by staying at home?

An Evaluation Form provided by the CA candidates & comments from some of the candidates are attached for the judgment of our Station Members. Both have reflected the success of this program. The Station Manager felt that he has not wasted his time to organize the Nparks training & HK needs a complete program for our future Practicing Arborists. HK would need the best & we always aim for the best.

So said all the nice words but those who have not been there may doubt. HK seems to prefer the fast food culture when it comes to collecting credentials & this attitude has been made clear to Nparks for their future training arrangement for us. In summary, this Station has asked Nparks to split the future CA training program into two parts. The first part of 7 days will be a fundamental program for anyone who has limited knowledge in Arboriculture (Pre-CA Program). Practically anyone from HK is recommended to attend this, no matter how good they think they really are as discovered in the last CA training. Then the proper CA Program of another 7 days will be given to anyone who has, or has not, joined the Pre-CA Program. Exam at the end of the training will be optional. It can be taken right after the CA Program or be taken at the regular intervals of every April/Oct in HK. The candidate will have to state clearly on this option before joining. The Station Manager would actually encourage the exam to be taken in HK for better revision time, as suggested by the last lot of CA trainees.

Besides the CA Program, this Station has also been fighting for our Station Members to join the general Arbor training sessions of Nparks designed for their local candidates. Most of these programs will carry CEU for our CA/CTW, & they will be open to any of our Station Members with or without experience in Arboriculture. Participants from other ASEAN countries may be present. Programs will include Basic Tree Climbing, Chainsaw Uses, Diagnosis & Treatment, Tree Mechanics, Fungal Diseases in Trees & many others. It is to the understanding of this Station that Nparks will arrange international experts, & not just Commonwealth experts, to lead these programs. It will be a great opportunity for our HK candidates to obtain world class knowledge in these sessions. The opportunities will be announced in Station Mail when received.

(B) The Singapore Garden Festival (SGF)

In the opinion of the Station Manager, the SGF is beyond the level of appreciation of our common HK citizens who are used to browsing annuals & herbs in our own flower shows. SGF is much more sophisticated than that. It is designed for the inspection of landscape professionals. It is like the Director's choice for a movie & commoners may be lost.

International gardening experts competed with each other in presenting their best in this excellent show. Every minute detail was attended to in an imagination seemingly fit for the masters. The visitors would have to study & analyze what the designers was trying to put forward in an intrinsic thinking beyond what was visually observed. This is the depth of the SGF & that 's why it is worth seeing.

There was one drawback in the SGF & that would be it was indoor. The camera flashlight of the Station Manager was not powerful enough to capture brightly for a lot of the scenery & only the legible ones are presented in this report. It was said that the next SGF may be held outdoor & rain/sun shelters will be provided. This Station is looking forward to that.

During the SGF, the Station Manager was given an outline of the landscape design of the famous 'Gardens by the Bay' in Singapore, which is similar to our Water Front Development in Central District of HK Island as below:

Maybe our Station Members would like to take a peek at the design requirement as compared to ours. Singapore provides an arena for international gladiators to knock out each other with their best, & then the winner will be scrutinized by the Practitioners (not Designers) to ensure the design will work. Maybe this is the secret of success in their landscape.

(C) The Success of the Greenery Program in Singapore

The Station Manager has been deep-probing into Nparks' CEO & Directors to the point of annoyance, to try to discover why Singapore is so successful in their Greenery Program as compared to our own HK. Nparks is the leading agency in driving the Singapore Greenery Program with limited budget & only around 800 staff to manage 300 parks, all streetscape & natural reserves, & most development projects; as compared to our AFCD (Country Parks & natural reserves), LCSD (Urban landscape), Architectural Services Dept (Development projects), Housing Dept, Highways Dept, CEDD (Govt engineering works), DSD (Drainage works), Planning Dept & a string of other committees & appointed agencies. Singapore is now a renowned Garden City in the world & can we call our HK anywhere near that? Are we spending less money or with fewer experts in our many Dept & agencies in our Greenery Program, & are we getting our investment worth?

In simple terms, the Station Manager has been told by Nparks that the Greenery Program in Singapore is Practitioner Driven. Nparks by tradition has been led by Foresters, Arborists & Horticulturists up to this moment. Designers like the Landscape Architects (LA) have been playing only supportive role all the way. Any design by LA in Singapore will be subjected to scrutiny by the Practitioners like the CA & Certified Horticulturist (CH) before execution. If the CA & CH do not find the design working, it will be sent back to the drawing board for revision.

For instance, the Master Landscape Plan (MLP) of a development project in Singapore will be reviewed by a panel of judges at the Parks & Trees Regulatory Section (PTRS) of Nparks for approval. The Board Members of the PTRS consist of CA, CH & Administrators only, & no LA. Yes, the Station Manager asked the same question twice, & he was told both times that the PTRS consists of no LA !! Our LA in HK will scream blue murder to this practice, but this is how the Greenery Program in Singapore works & it is apparently working with great success.

In a way, Singapore would ask the Captain to steer the boat, & not the boat designer. In HK, the boat designer will steer the boat & the Captain will only be called in when needed. We are Designer Driven.

This may be the ultimate secret of success of the Greenery Program in Singapore when compared to ours in simple terms. There are obviously Departmental interest & other factors to consider but this will be the same in Singapore. Any Govt in the world will have red tapes. But from the overall perspectives, the Greenery Program in Singapore, driven by Practitioners & led by a single agency (Nparks), has earned world reputation with a smaller budget & much fewer manpower than ours. Would this not be something that our administrators need to compare & advance upon??

This Station has also been told that the street trees in Singapore are given regular Tree Inspection & regular Structural Pruning, usually once or twice a year, to avoid developing potential hazard. This will be like regular medical check-up of a middle aged person & prevention is better than cure. Would this not be something that HK can copy about in view of our typhoon attacks?

(D) Role of CA in Singapore

It is now a Contract Requirement to employ CA in any Govt Maintenance Project in Singapore for supervision & execution. It is also a strong recommendation by Govt agencies to employ CA in landscape contract or MLP submission in any development in Singapore. If a CA is not involved in any major development in the planning, submission, execution & maintenance processes, it is more or less bound to run into brick wall everywhere with Nparks. Singapore is Practitioner Driven & designs are enforced to work.

The Greenery in Singapore is led by Nparks & Nparks is led primarily by CA. CA is recognized as the major Practitioner & is given the status & respect it deserves. On the other hand, Singaporean CA have been diligently working Singapore's Greenery to a world standard appraised by the international community. CA there work in harmony with other contributors of the landscape industry & contract dispute is far less uncommon when compared to our own. Everywhere the Station Manager saw were smiling faces in project sites & resentment was hardly recognized or felt as much. Could this be the magic of the Practitioner Driven program so chosen by Singapore?

Singapore has 125 CA by Dec 2006 & we have only 13 CA in HK by this time. There will be a few more joining after the exam results are announced from the last training at Nparks.

To conclude, at an expense of HK$3,800 ($2300 airfare + $1000 hotel(3 nights) + $500 sundries, US$1 = HK$7.8)), this Station has achieved its goals of assessing the CA training, visiting the SGF, unravelling the mystery of success of the Greenery Program in Singapore & determining the role of CA in Singapore, within a designated time frame of only 3 working days. This Station has also promoted relationship with Nparks like good neighbours with deeper understanding on both sides. Some say HK competes with Singapore in many areas but this Station would say we can at least collaborate for Arboriculture & Greenery. After all, competition is healthy & are we afraid to compete for HK?

Let's now all of us move forwards.

best regards,

Sammy Au
ISA HK/China Station Manager
ISA Chief Proctor for the HK/China Region
ISA Certified Arborist / Certified Tree Worker (Climber Specialist) no. ML-0174A

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