The Telok Blangah Soka Centre (TBSC) was officially opened on 12 Oct 1984. It marks the triumphant victory over the issue of Ichinen Sanzen group in the 1980s. It was also the centre that we received the first visit of President Ikeda in the year 1988. Acknowledging the victory led by Mr Koh Kian Boon, our ex-General Director, President Ikeda commented that it was the “most beautiful centre in the world”. He also planted a pomelo tree to commemorate the event.
Fast forward to the SSA AGM in Apr 2011, it was announced that TBSC would be demolished to make way for a new 4-storey building. The main intention was to construct a building with a revised plot ratio of 1.4 instead of original 1.0. The increase in gross floor area would mean a bigger main hall and more meeting rooms to meet the need of the members. It will also house a Mentor & Disciple Heritage Centre. There was also a provision to have a basement car park to cater to members who drive.
As there are still 31 years left on this prime piece of land, the Management Committee (MC) argues that it makes practical sense to demolish the old building and make way for a new one with a higher plot ratio in order to facilitate members’ activity. This proposal was not met with any resistance during the meeting and all attendees looked forward to a new centre.
The centre was officially closed for activities in February 2012. However, the tender for the building was only awarded on 1 October 2012 and demolition commenced on 19 October. What transpired in the 8 month of inactivity was anyone’s guess! One thing is for sure - as Hosshaku Kempon has reported in May 2012 editorial, the land depreciation for 8 months work out to be about $28,000. The inconvenience caused to members and the loss of opportunity to advance kosen-rufu is beyond quantification.
Perhaps, one can glean a bit more into what transpired from the sharing by one of the ex-Redevelopment Project Committee (RPC) member during the 2013 AGM. He highlighted the events leading to his comrades and his own dismissal from the RPC.
To quote from an article from Hosshaku Kempon published earlier:
Haphazard Planning of Project Team leader
Mano revealed further that when the original model of SPC was published on issue 481 of SSA Times February 2012, the design was not examined by RPC yet. It could be due to the fact that RPC was still not brought into existence. During the 6 months when RPC came on board, they discovered the original design of SPC to be dysfunctional. Numerous issues were not addressed and yet the building was approved by RPC Project Team leader Ong and his supporters. It is disheartening to learn that within this short period of review by the members of ex-RPC, the design of the building was revised seven times.
This was mainly due to the haphazard planning and sluggish attitude of Project Team leader and his assistants. At the stage after the tender was called and even after the tender was bided, the documents were laying in a state of dreadful mess. Concerning this point that was raised by Mano, he wanted the MC to register it and had it recorded in the minutes of AGM.
Poor Planning of MC led to Additional Cost Incurred
Mano continued, “On the issue of the closure of TBSC on Feb 12, we are of the view that it would have been a wrong decision. Because at that time of the closure, none of the plans were ready for construction, none of them were being approved by the URA planning. At that stage, for some reason that management committee decided, to manage this project based on 3 phases of construction – one the demolition, the second the piling and the third, the main construction work. Never in my 35 years of experience, for a 4.5 or 5 million dollar project, it has got to be broken into 3 phases.” To link to full article Click here.
Whatever that was reported here was only the tip of the iceberg. The MC was not transparent in their approach even to the RPC members. The blunders of the Central Leaders in charge were evidently clear.
During the Ground Breaking Ceremony held on 29 December 2012, the final design of the building was revealed. The main hall was much smaller than previously planned. It was obvious that the higher plot ratio initially planned, which warrants a complete tear down of the building, did not materialize. Of course, why this happened and who blundered were again conveniently swept under the carpet. Instead, the focus was on the centre having a special mission to preserve forever the Soka Spirit of being united with the mentor. The key to this was the “Mentor & Disciples Heritage Room” which was going to be housed in the building, differing from the initially planned Mentor & Disciple Heritage Centre originally announced in the 2011 AGM. Eventually, it was renamed the Mentor Memorial Hall (MMH), a setup known worldwide which was officially endorsed by SGI.
So what is this Mentor Memorial Hall? What is its true significance and function?
The following excerpt from NHR Vol 23 Bold Struggles Chapter provides a good explanation:
Shin’ichi had proposed building memorial halls and special display rooms throughout Japan to exhibit the belongings of the past Soka Gakkai presidents. He did so out of his belief that viewing mementos and other objects related to presidents Makiguchi and Toda was an indispensable means for encouraging Gakkai members to study and inherit the spirit and struggle of the first and second presidents….
It was Josei Toda who came to the conclusion that constructing facilities that could forever preserve the spirit of his mentor were also necessary in order to ensure the eternal survival of the Soka Gakkai….
…When that day arrives, in order to ensure that the Soka Gakkai spirit of being united with our mentor is preserved forever, we will have a mentor memorial room to commemorate and honour our founder Makiguchi.”
[Creative Life February 2013 pg 22-23]
So does it mean with the successful completion of MMH, the future of Singapore kosen-rufu is secured for eternity?
The answer is not as simple as that. SGI General Director Oba quoted NHR Volume 26, Chapter 4 “Bold Advance” during his speech at the opening of the SPC:
Only when the fortress of faith, the fortress of courage and the fortress of victory is firmly forged in the lives of each and every member can we say that the fortress for kosen-rufu, that is, our community centre is complete in the true sense of the word. Without the personal victories of our members, there will be no victory for the Soka Gakkai as a whole.
The community centres of the Soka Gakkai are the main bastions of kosen-rufu. It is not a luxurious palace. A bastion exists for the sake of the battle. Henceforth, the greatest way to celebrate the completion of a bastion for kosen-rufu is to win in our battle for kosen-rufu.
GD Oba went on to elaborate that “Only when we plunge ourselves onto the forefronts of kosen-rufu in our chapters and districts, offer wholehearted encouragement to our members and share the teachings of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism can the foundation of Singapore kosen-rufu be forged and the entire organization of SSA will pulsate with refreshing vigour. Only then will our Soka Peace Centre shine as a centre that is imbued with joy and security.”
Mentor Memorial Hall (MMH) is officially endorsed by SGI and only a few countries outside of Japan have the good fortune and honour to house it. It is not too much to say that the whole fiasco of rebuilding TBSC with a higher plot ratio, was saved by the existence of the MMH. One can’t help feeling that SSA central leaders has blundered big time and save again by the intervention of SGI. I believed all these while it is our mentor who is closely watching over us.
Will SSA Central Leaders make blunders again when President Ikeda is not around? The essential phase has already started. It is time the disciples stand up, take action and assure our mentor. It is no longer the time to depend on the Mentor. We believe the true significance of the SPC will only be realized when each of us become the genuine disciples and take the lead for the future movement of kosen-rufu based on what our mentor has taught us without the slightest deviation!