We refer to several remarks made at a press conference by Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng last month - a day after a public forum on hill development was organised by Penang Forum, a group of NGOs.
These were 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 was previously reported as having said that the development was approved by the previous BN administration, and that it had not approved any such development.
Furthermore, he stressed that comments should be based on facts, adding that this credible NGO “has fallen into the misinformation trap set up by 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 representatives at the state assembly.
The recent decision of the state Appeals Board - which deals with objections by land owners in respect of approval of development projects - also confirmed that planning permission for such developments had been 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 why the Penang Forum had addressed these concerns to the present state government.
Moreover, the board had set aside this approval as it was flawed - it was neither a “special project”, nor a “limited development”.
Hence, Penang Forum has been vindicated; the aforementioned grounds were largely accepted by the board. We note that the state government had 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.
This is because it undermines the fundamental values of a functioning democracy and the 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.
GURDIAL SINGH NIJAR is deputy president of the National Human Rights Society (Hakam), and AMBIGA SREENEVASAN is its president.