Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Selangor risking public funds in Batu Caves condo row

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 31 — Selangor is risking legal action that will see taxpayers picking up the tab for compensation to the developer of a controversial condominium project that has sparked protests from the Hindu community, by halting construction on the project it had previously approved.

“If the developer has complied with all approvals, it can seek legal recourse. Similarly and irrespective of whether the developer is right or wrong, the buyers can sue the latter if the project is delayed,” Datuk Eddy Chen, a former president of the Real Estate and Housing Developers Association (REHDA), told The Malaysian Insider.

The 29-storey Dolomite Park Avenue condominium project has turned into a political crisis as Batu Caves is the religious focal point of Hindu Indians, who form the majority of the 1.7 million Indians and are a key voting group in many urban seats in Selangor.

On Friday, about 300 Hindu and non-governmental activists joined a “Save Batu Caves” rally in the Batu Caves temple complex to protest against the condominium construction, saying it was an environmental risk that would jeopardise the temple grounds but did not furnish proof to substantiate their allegations.

The project was given the nod by state authorities in 2007, but MIC and Barisan Nasional (BN) have in recent weeks pressured the current Pakatan Rakyat (PR) administration into calling a halt to the project amid a battle for Indian votes.

Chen said there should be a technical or legal basis for the temporary stop-work order, adding that it could “lead to project abandonment” if not resolved quickly, making the buyers the “main victims”.

He said the state government must be “careful” not to “penalise” the developer or its buyer, saying that Selangor should lift the stop work order immediately if all the requirements have been fulfilled.

REHDA also issued a warning that reversals of government decisions due to public objection alone is frightening for business interests.

Delays or cancellation of a valid development order would indicate that technically sound decisions can easily be “reversed” by “popular objection”, a REHDA spokesman told The Malaysian Insider.

“If this country is going to degenerate to a process where objectors overturn the government’s decision, it really frightens me,” the spokesman said.

“At least that is some step forward,” he said, when it was pointed out that Selangor plans to set up an independent taskforce to ensure that the developer Dolomite Properties Sdn Bhd has complied with all regulations.

But he asked whether those who protested would be “prepared to compensate” the developer for its losses, if the findings show that the granting of the development order was “absolutely ok”.

The state government should resolve the matter “very quickly” and not let it “drag into a political affair”, he said.

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