Monday 6 August 2012

No fireworks after all at 'Penang Forum'

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng breezed through a dialogue with NGOs and concerned citizens on issues of development, despite intense criticism in the media of his administration’s decisions on hillslope projects.

Before the event on Saturday, DAP supporters - believing several media reports - were prepared for a showdown or rally by their rivals, but this did not take place and the two-hour session was a rather tame affair.

NONELim himself was prepared for an onslaught, saying he expected to be “criticised and even roundly abused”, but that this was part of participatory democracy which the four-year-old Pakatan Rakyat state government had initiated.

He gave himself a pat on the back, saying that outspoken activist Lim Mah Hui (right) who is often “so critical”, continued to serve at the Penang Institute (a pro-government think-tank) and as a Penang municipal councillor, which is “never found in BN-controlled states”.

“Criticise us for the right reasons, not for the wrong ones. We will admit honest mistakes but not bear the sins of the past,” he told about 500 people at the Penang Forum themed ‘A Public Dialogue with the CM: A Vision for an International Liveable City’.

“We will act against corruption and abuse of power but will also react strongly against the false allegations about our integrity,” he said, referring to but not mentioning several legal threats against the media.

There were shouts of “Penang leads” and “Thank you for a new Malaysia”, while he was speaking.

Lim was accompanied by Mah Hui and another state executive councillor, state DAP chief Chow Kon Yeow, who helped respond to current issues on hillslope projects as he oversees the local government portfolio.

NONEWell known social activist Anwar Fazal(second from left in photo),  who was presented with the ‘Global 500' Award by the United Nations Environment Programme , moderated the event  at Penang’s Caring Society Complex.
Lim also aimed a shot at the previous BN state government, saying that over the 18 years of its tenure, the motto ‘Penang Leads’ has fallen away from the lips of Penangites.

He lamented the lack of cooperation and financial support from the federal government and said the state was helpless when it came to resolving certain problems, such as traffic congestion.

Concerns expressed

Issues raised from the floor covered spaces and facilities for children; the environmental future; high-density development; traffic dispersal system; brain drain and “monstrous” developments near beaches.

A Sungai Ara resident, whose area is currently facing hillslope development problems, asked Lim to clarify his stand that banning such projects could lead lead to bankruptcy of the Penang Municipal Council.

“Does this mean that hillslope projects have to be approved so that the government can collect fees?” she asked.

NONEConsumer Protection Association president Koris Atan reminded Lim (left)that “a certain chief minister in the past” had to vacate his post due to the perception that he favoured a developer.

There were also cheerleaders of the state government who criticised those who opposed hillslope projects.

Asking “How can we build roads without cutting down  trees?”, one noted that people only objected to development when it took place around their homes.

However, a resident of Pykett Avenue, clearly unhappy about the situation in the vicinity of his home, shouted “No public consultation!”, after Chow had addressed a related issue.

Calvin Tan ended the event on a positive note by proposing a landmark to attract tourists in the state, to which Limn said there was a plan for a heritage square.

The event ended with the passing of a resolution - part of an eight-point charter - that included demands for local authorities to review the new high-density policy which allows for a maximum density of 87 housing units per 0.4 hectare of land.

‘Pent-up emotions’

Met after the session, state Gerakan local government bureau chief Teh Leong Meng said he observed that “strong, pent-up emotions and frustration” were evident among the crowd over hillslope and density development.

NONE“Unfortunately, (Lim) and Chow did not address the concerns. They were evasive,” Teh (left) toldMalaysiakini. 

“The Penang Structure Plan 2020 explicitly prohibits hillslope development above 250 feet but Chow did not give proper answers. Instead, he pushed the blame to the previous (state) government and used the excuse of special projects.

“The special project status is not really for housing development. It is for limited projects (and) should be interpreted with the intention of protecting the environment.”

However, Teh said he felt the pressure from the public did produce some “positive results” as Lim had said that the state would review the 19 hillslope projects with special status.

“This is a direct admission that they have done wrong. We hope the people will express more of their concerns on hillslope and density development so that we can maintain a developing city with quality and environmental protection,” he added.

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