CM defends rapid development, wants Penang habitable for people

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GEORGE TOWN: Amid the criticism over the frantic pace of development and the loss of heritage communities in Penang, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng says it is needed to make Penang habitable for a larger population.

He also hit back at critics, saying the state has mechanisms for approving the right projects and protecting residents facing eviction.

Penang needs to be able to house “a larger population” and to provide adequate affordable housing, Guan Eng told The Malaysian Insider.

Developers are required to fulfil a lengthy list of requirements, he said, and must tick these off in a “check-box” system that the state has introduced.

Guan Eng said this has improved transparency and accountability, and cut down on the possibility of “hanky-panky” or corruption in the approval process. It also holds municipal councils accountable if any project is approved before meeting all the requirements.

“But at the same time, if all the checkboxes are ticked, and approval is not given, they have to explain why they did not approve [the project],” he said in a recent interview.

Penang’s fast-paced development returned to the limelight recently when Penang PAS land bureau chief Iszuree Ibrahim raised the matter in his speech at the party’s muktamar on Sept 19.

He said the grassroots believed that Pakatan Rakyat leaders were favouring developers more than looking after the people’s interests.

Iszuree was subsequently ejected from his posts of all the committees in the Penang Island Municipal Council. The PAS land bureau described the squatter eviction problem as serious as about 25 villages are affected, with the latest being the 150-year-old Kampung Siam in Pulau Tikus.

Guan Eng said the state was just as concerned about the loss of communities and heritage to development. “We have tried to arrest that pace [of rapid development] by not giving any development orders where there are squatters,” he said.

Lim said the policy is also to compel developers to come up with a reasonable settlement for the residents. — The Malaysian Insider

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on October 14, 2014.