GEORGE TOWN (May 11, 2008)by Himanshu Bhatt
Some 104ha of prime land, earmarked for the RM25 billion Penang Global City Centre (PGCC) project, was mysteriously converted in the latest Penang Island Structure Plan, becoming the biggest land impropriety to be noticed by the current state administration.
Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has asked his predecessor Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon to explain why the land around the Penang Turf Club was converted from "open ground and recreation" to "new development" by the previous government when the structure plan was gazetted in June 2007.
"Let the people of Penang know. Was this in public interest? Why did you do it?" he said in a press conference today. "Do not try to mislead the people of Penang again which you have done before."
"Even the prime minister was misled to launch the project," he added, referring to Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's launch of the PGCC last Sept 12.
He called on Koh and former state executive councillor Datuk Dr Teng Hock Nan to apologise to Abdullah for not informing him that he was launching an "illegal" project.
"Why did they not inform the prime minister that no approval had been given for the project?"
Lim said he has requested to meet Koh on the matter, but was told the acting Gerakan president was not available.
When the land was bought by Abad Naluri Sdn Bhd, an associate company of Equine Capital Bhd, in 2002 it cost only RM488 million.
"Once rezoned, the whole development project was RM25 billion," Lim noted. "At the stroke of a pen, at a mere gazette, what was worth RM488 million became RM25 billion."
He asked Koh to explain whether the zoning could now be re-altered to the original. "What are the consequences of rezoning it again back to the original designation?" he said.
"Show me you are on top of your job. You have been chief minister for 18 years. You tell me what are the consequences."
"You think you can 'main-main' ah? What are the consequences?"
The altered zoning has been a source of contention by local NGOs and civil society groups who want the area to remain a green lung, and be accessible to the public for recreation.
Lim told reporters that this was the most major of the land indiscretions that he had sought explanation on from former deputy chief minister Datuk Abdul Rashid Abdullah.
Abdul Rashid had been given until today to respond to the state.
"This is the biggest one. This is the cream of the cake," Lim said. "The issue at hand is zoning."
Lim said this after launching the Bukit Bendera DAP’s new service centre here.
In his speech, Lim explained the government’s focus on competency in administration to complement accountability and transparency.
"You may be a nice guy, but if you are not competent, please-lah, step out of the way," he said.
On Teng’s assertion that the draft of the structure plan had undergone public exhibitions and hearings in 2006 and 2007, Lim said that even the NGOs were not aware of this.
In a statement issued yesterday, Teng stressed that the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) under the previous state administration had not approved an application for planning permission by the developer.
He added that the formulation of the structure plan had followed proper provisions and procedure under the Town and Country Planning Act.
"The previous state government has also not made any decision as yet on whether and how much premiums or charges were to be levied on the developer relating to the proposed PGCC project," Teng said.
"In this respect, the structure plan did not specify the type (residential or commercial or "mixed") and the scale (density, plot ratio, etc) of ‘new development’ zoned on that site."
"The MPPP can still decide whether to reject or approve any development proposal, including the type and the scale. It is also up to the State Planning Committee chaired by the Chief Minister to provide guidance."