Lim Mah Hui’s reply to Penang state officials

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To YAB Lim Guan Eng, the Chief Minister of Penang and YB Jagdeep Singh Deo, exco member for Housing and Town & Country Planning.

When I returned from overseas at the end of August I read two articles in the Aug 16-31, 2016 issue of Buletin Mutiara accusing me of backstabbing the Penang state government and having much to answer to Penangites.

In early September, I wrote a reply to the Buletin responding to YB Jagdeep’s urging for me to answer to the Penang people. Until today, the Buletin has not seen it fit to publish my reply.

I had spoken to the senior management of the Buletin and requested a right to reply - an editorial policy practised by reputable newspapers. In fact, the chief minister of Penang has rightly criticized and berated newspapers for not practising this policy of right of reply and has even prohibited some news agencies from covering state and local councils events for this reason.

It is for this reason that I am forced to send my reply to all the press outlets for publication.

Below is a slightly edited version of my article that I sent to the Buletin Mutiara that was not published.

The purpose of my reply is to explain to the public why Penang Forum wrote to Unesco, why it is merely following the Unesco guidelines in its actions and not taking any shortcut, and the consequences of Penang Forum’s letter.

After Unesco received Penang Forum’s letter, it informed Jabatan Warisan Negara (JWN) who then arranged a meeting between the George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI), the Penang Heritage Trust (PHT), State Flood Disaster Management Committee (JPBN), the Penang Development Corporation (PDC) and myself on July 29, 2016.

At that meeting, in which Dr Ang Ming Chee, the general manager (GM) of GTWHI, was present, no complaints or accusations were made against me. On the contrary, the discussion was positive in finding a way forward. After that meeting, Dr Ang requested a copy of my letter, which I gave her the same day. This proves I had nothing to hide from the state.

I was therefore surprised why Dr Ang issued a strong open accusatory letter about a week after that cordial and positive meeting.

Allow me to summarise the main complaints of the state and city officials who criticised me.

Dr Ang’s main complaint is that I did not copy her on my letter. She also said that there was no need to contact Unesco because the proposed LRT line and station at Sia Boey was mere “speculation”. Furthermore, they lie outside the George Town heritage site.

City councillor Chris Lee simply parroted and regurgitated the same arguments.

YB Zairil Khir Johari questioned my motive because I bypassed local authorities and did not engage with the state beforehand.

YB Wong Hon Wai repeated that I did not have the courtesy to inform the state government. He also insinuated that I misused my positions in government to divulge classified information.

‘Accusations totally unfounded’

YB Jagdeep Singh Deo did the same when he said I did not disclose my position in the Penang Transport Council. These accusations are totally unfounded. I ask them to identify what confidential information did I divulge? If they are unable to do so, they should apologise for the scurrilous insinuations and desist from such further accusations.

SRS Consortium’s proposal, pointed out in Penang Forum’s letter, to construct LRT and monorail lines and stations near or at Sia Boey is public information.

Jagdeep further stated that I should not refer to Clause 172 as it was not relevant; and that it was premature for me to write to Unesco because there was no intention or decision to undertake any construction and nothing has been “cast in stone”.

I quote verbatim, Clause 172 of the Unesco World Heritage Operational Guideline:

“The World Heritage Committee invites the States Parties to the Convention to inform the Committee, through the Secretariat, of their intention to undertake or to authorise in an area protected under the Convention major restorations or new constructions which may affect the Outstanding Universal Value of the property.

“Notice should be given as soon as possible (for instance, before drafting basic documents for specific projects) and before making any decisions that would be difficult to reverse, so that the Committee may assist in seeking appropriate solutions to ensure that the Outstanding Universal Value of the property is fully preserved”.

First, Clause 172 talks about intention, not decision. Second, let me put it to Jagdeep: if there was no intention, why did SRS and the state exco, which had approved the SRS plan in December 2015, apply to seek the Land Transport Commission’s (Spad) approval for the LRT project?

Isn’t it clear enough in Clause 172 that Unesco should be informed as soon as possible and before any decisions are made that would be difficult to reverse? Does Jagdeep propose to inform Unesco after the decision has been made, signed, and cast in stone?

Jagdeep knows well that once an agreement is signed with SRS, the state would be liable for compensation for any substantive amendment, as was the case of the Penang Island City Council (MPPP) versus Boustead Holdings where the Penang city council had to compensate Boustead Holdings RM20 million.

The consequence of Penang Forum’s letter in taking preventive action is to save Penang from having to face any costly liabilities as argued above and to prevent any possible risk of delisting of its heritage status.

Having heard my side of the story, the public should now be in a position to judge for themselves.

DR LIM MAH HUI is an economist and former international banker.

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