TANJUNG Bungah on the northern tip of Penang island was a picturesque, leafy coastal suburban
town, once home to Australian air force staff who were based in the state. True to its name bunga (flower), the place was a choice residential area, given its proximity to the white sandy beaches and the undulating hills that rise from the bay.
Today, most of the 30,000-odd Tanjung Bungah residents are up in arms against the DAP-led state government over indiscriminate development of high-end and high-rise condominiums on the hillsides, raising deep concerns over the danger of landslides and flooding.
One irate resident, who commented on a blog posting, summed up the sentiment: "It is a known and foregone conclusion that we are losing our hills (see Google Earth) at a rate that will soon doom our attractiveness as a tourist destination, not to mention quality of health for Penangites. These will be lost forever, gone like the nowextinct dodo."
The fingers inevitably point at Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who has found the state administration coming under attack from one of its own. A sitting DAP assemblyman has brazenly voiced out how certain developers were practically destroying the island with little done by the state government to stop it.
The less than impressive track record of Lim's administration in safeguarding the environment since coming to power in 2008 has infuriated outspoken Tanjung Bungah DAP assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu. Teh, who has broken ranks with the party over the issue, took a New Straits Times reporter recently to view a hill behind the wet market in Mount Erskine, which he said "was being killed" with little or no monitoring of what was going on. Gone were the trees and the highest point had been levelled. The hilltop was littered with granite rocks, which were blasted and dug out in preparation for the construction of posh apartments and villas.
"It is puzzling why the developer has piled all the granite at the top of the hill. It is a disaster waiting to happen," Teh said.
He was rebuked by Penang DAP chairman Chow Kon Yeow, saying that Teh should explain his remarks to the party and that he should not air his grouses publicly. Teh has shot back, saying he would continue to speak up as it is a matter of public interest.
A Penang island municipal councillor, who was recently slapped with an order not to speak about hillslope development, has defied the gag order and spoken of how the Penang people have been "marginalised, ignored and pushed over" by the DAP-led state administration.
"If we are serious about promoting democracy, we must begin at the local council where people should be given the chance and encouraged to participate in decisions that affect their lives," Dr Lim Mah Hui said.
"A 30-storey apartment has been approved in a low-rise residential area, where house owners have difficulty in getting permission to build three-storey houses."
Dr Lim noted that residents felt the planning and approval process in Penang was "top-down, bureaucratic and developer-centric, with little concern for the interests of ordinary citizens and residents". The chief minister, who was vocal on national issues such as Lynas, has so far kept a deafening silence over the issues that have been raised over the haphazard hillside development in his state.
Ordinary Penangites are also questioning the state government's penchant for high-end condominium development while ignoring the basic bread-and-butter issues such as lowcost housing. According to the 2010 Auditor-General's Report, not a single low-cost house was built by the Penang state government from 2008 to 2010. Lim has all this while been blaming the previous Barisan Nasional government for the approvals made before March 2008, but made little effort to check uncontrolled development that has resulted in property prices shooting up to levels beyond the reach of many.
Recently, the Federal Government announced plans to provide affordable housing to enable Penang Malays to own houses. For a start, some 250 units of low- to medium-cost houses will be built at Kampung Permatang Tok Subuh in mainland Bukit Minyak, Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has announced.
Shortage of land has led developers to build high-rise buildings, some at exorbitant prices, forcing the low-income earners to move out of the island to the mainland, and sometimes to neighbouring states.
More politically significant, the fallout from the hillside development issue has led to the chief minister coming under fire from a first-term assemblyman from his own party. He might have succeeded in quelling dissent within the party before but with the upcoming general election, where the stakes are much higher, he may find it harder to keep the house in order. <* email@example.com The chief minister... has so far kept a deafening silence over the issues that have been raised over the haphazard hillside development in his, A Jalil Hamid The top of Mount Erskine near Tanjung Bungah is 'being killed'.
Resource: New Sunday Times, Page: 20
Date: Sunday, 1 July 2012