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The shrinking of Kuala Lumpur's remaining green lung

Cynthia Gabriel  |  Published:

C4 Centre refers to the recent statement made by the Federal Territories (FT) Minister, Khalid Abdul Samad, to buy back a piece of land in the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve (BNFR).

The Star reported in March 2019 that the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) will buy back a 0.27ha piece of land which belonged to a private owner who had applied to develop it.

Asked how much it would cost DBKL to buy the land, Khalid said, “Within the RM100 mil range. We have to be fair to the landowner and go by the market value of the land as it is located right smack at the foot of Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve,” he said.

C4 Centre is extremely concerned with the recent developments surrounding the DBKL land acquisitions and/or sales to private developers, where a lack of clarity and opaque explanations from the current FT Minister have left the current status of the land deals appearing suspicious.

This had led our investigation team to research this matter and indeed BNFR has been mysteriously reduced from 9.37ha to 8.39ha!

Overview

BNFR, formerly known as the Welds Hill Forest Reserve, was gazetted in 1900 and is the oldest forest reserve in the country. It is the only remaining green lung in the country’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur.

Over time, the area of BNFR has reduced from 17.5ha to 9.37ha due to several hectares being taken up for building the Kuala Lumpur Tower and other purposes.

Previously, The Edge reported that a Shenzhen-based property developer, China Vanke Co Ltd (Vanke) has won the tender for a 7.4 acre tract in Jalan Raja Chulan, close to the BNFR.

Vanke, through a locally incorporated company, Malola Garden City Sdn Bhd (Malola), paid only RM500 million or RM1,600 psf for the 16 plots of prime tract, which is well lower than deals executed for nearby parcels - at between RM2,000 and RM2,400 psf.

 

Filings with the Companies Commission of Malaysia show that Malola was incorporated in March 2017. Its nature of business is described as stock, share and bond broking. It is wholly owned by a foreign company called Jumbo City Limited. The directors of the company are Malaysian Tan Vin Shyan and three foreign nationals, Zhou Chaobin, Lang Cong and Haiwu Wang.

The initial proposed development on the former Serani Row plot and the surrounding area at Jalan Raja Chulan, close to the BNFR, comprises two 80-storey towers, two 66-storey towers, two 60-storey towers, as well as a 10-storey parking facility and a 3-storey commercial podium.

The estimated Gross Development Value (GDV) of this project is between RM1.5 billion and RM2.5 billion, depending on the timing of the launch, plot ratio, etc.

This high density mixed development project had, in the past, become controversial due to the following reasons:-

(a) The National Heritage Department (JWN) and the public were concerned that the project would have a major impact on the surrounding environment as the project site is just next to the BNFR. BNFR serves as a biodiversity centre, research, education, recreation, tourism, heritage, as well as a good habitat for a diversity of plants and mammals;

(b) JWN and the public claimed that this project would lead to the demolition of several colonial homes on the former Serani Row plot. These pre-war houses were built in 1931 and were previously owned by members of the Eurasian community. Although the houses were not gazetted heritage buildings, they nonetheless have some historical value; and

(c) The National Security Council (JKN) and the Public Works Institute (Ikram) had their concerns since the prime tract is located near to a slope.

Damning Revelations

A search on the OSC Portal indicates that Malola had sought planning permission from Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) in July 2017, and had received DBKL’s conditional approval in August 2017.

The conditional approval granted by DBKL includes the 16 plots (ie. Lot 212 – 217, Lot 223 – 227, Lot 417 – 420 and PT 1074), as well as “Sebahagian tanah kerajaan, Seksyen 57, Jalan Raja Chulan, Kuala Lumpur”.

A recent search on the BNFR at the Federal Territories Director of Lands and Mines Office (PTGWP) revealed that there are two cancellations for part of the public reserve, the first being 1.772 acres (ie. 0.717 ha) relating to a Lot 234, and the second being 0.655 acres (ie. 0.265ha) relating to a Lot 240. Hence, BNFR has been mysteriously reduced by 2.427 acres (ie. 0.982 ha).

Therefore, the 0.265ha piece of land that the FT Minister wants to buy back from the private owner for RM100 million could be where the Galeri Interaktif NRE is currently located.

Questions for FT Minister

In the light of better accountability and transparency, we hope the FT Minister responds to the following queries:-

(i) If indeed the previous government had cancelled part of the public reserve ie. “pembatalan sebahagian rizab tanah bagi maksud awam”, how was this possible without public consultation and the involvement of relevant authorities such as the Forest Department and JWN?

(ii) If indeed the previous government had transferred part of the government land, ie. “sebahagian tanah kerajaan, Sekysen 57” to a foreign developer via its locally incorporated company, was the transaction done through direct negotiations or through open tender?

(iii) In relation to (ii), was the transaction made at arm’s length since Bukit Bintang MP Fong Kui Lun had previously criticised DBKL for selling parcels of land cheaply, through direct negotiations, instead of through open tender, thereby losing billions of ringgit in the process?

(iv) If the transaction was not made at arm’s length, was there any internal investigation carried out on this matter since this highly suspicious transaction took place during the tenure of the former FT Minister, Tengku Adnan (above)? Tengku Adnan has been charged with two counts of receiving RM3 million from property developers;

(v) If DBKL had sold part of the government land, and now plans to buy back the land from the developer and the cost is expected to be more than RM100 million, was there any cost-benefit analysis done?

(vi) In January 2019, the Edgeprop reported that Vanke is planning to launch its first mixed development in Malaysia this year with an estimated GDV of RM5 billion.

Hence, C4 would like to enquire if there was any study or assessment conducted to address the following matters:-

(a) detrimental impact on BNFR since the project site is just next to it;

(b) environmental impact since the project is located near to a slope;

(c) possible effects of this project on the transportation and traffic system; and

(d) negative impact of the presence of a foreign developer on the local housing industry.

C4 is extremely concerned at the high level of encroachment of the BNFR. Thus, C4 reasserts our call for greater scrutiny over sale of government land, and demand the right to know, and the right to greater information over the dealings of government land.


CYNTHIA GABRIEL is the executive director of C4 Centre.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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