We refer to the remarks made at the recent press conference by the Penang Chief Minister (CM) on 13 December 2015, a day after a public forum organized by the Penang Forum on hill development. These related to the approval of development projects on sensitive hill land – 250 feet above sea level and/or with a slope of greater than 25 degrees. Development is prohibited on such vulnerable land except for ‘limited development for special projects’.
The CM at this press conference said that the development was approved by the previous BN government and that it had not approved any such development. Second that comments should be based on facts. He then went on to say that this credible NGO “has fallen into the misinformation trap set up by the BN and some media who are anti-government”.
The Penang Forum’s information relating to development on sensitive hill land between 2008 and 2015 was provided by the State Government Exco to the ADUNs at the State Assembly. The recent decision of the Appeals Board – which deals with objections by land owners in respect of approval of development projects – also confirms that planning permission for such development was given during the tenure of the present government. In this case, the application was made by a developer on March 2011 and approved in February 2012 for condominium development on sensitive hill land in Sungai Ara. That explains the Penang Forum addressing these concerns to the present State government. Secondly, the Board set aside this approval as it was flawed. It was neither a ‘special project’ nor a ‘limited development’.
The Penang Forum has been vindicated. Their grounds have been largely accepted by the Board. We note that the State government approved some 55 blocks of high rise development on delicate hill lands between 2008 and 2015.
With the benefit of hindsight we are sure that the Penang Government now realises that they should not so readily malign civil society, howsoever obliquely – for the legitimate and well-founded articulation of matters of great concern to civil society.
For this undermines the fundamental values of a functioning democracy and fundamental human rights of the populace at large.
The government is now presented with an excellent opportunity and basis to implement, and if necessary defend, the Appeals Board’s decision in the public interest. We urge them to do so.
Issued on behalf of the HAKAM Executive Committee by
Prof. Gurdial Singh Nijar
Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan
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