It was just recently, on a beautiful Sunday morning, that a whole lot of Kuala Lumpur residents came together to protest the fact that Taman Rimba Kiara in Taman Tun Dr Ismail would be replaced by yet another condominium project.
The park is a green lung that is enjoyed not only by the neighbourhood’s residents but also nearby communities. It is home to 43 species of birds. Families enjoy the space on weekends while elegant garden party weddings have been held there too.
While awaiting a decision on the project, we were pleasantly surprised when it was announced that the area surrounding Tugu Negara near the Kuala Lumpur city centre would be turned into a central park to be named Taman Tugu. This sounded promising.
But then when it was likened to Central Park in New York and Hyde Park in London, it got worrying. We were taken aback that Taman Tugu would cost a whopping RM650 million, of which RM500 million will be borne by our sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional Bhd and the rest by the government.
With the people still reeling from the effects of reduced subsidies, the Goods and Services Tax, higher toll rates, ever-increasing electricity bills, rising food prices, lower oil revenue, unaffordable housing and budget cuts for healthcare and tertiary education, the immediate reaction to Taman Tugu was disbelief and whether it was even necessary at this point in time. There were even public accusations of cronyism, corruption and patronage.
Khazanah quickly arranged a series of townhall meetings — nine in all — not just to gauge public reaction but also to talk about the planned park and to allay any concerns. We were assured that Taman Tugu was not a trade-off for Taman Rimba Kiara, that spending would be stringent, that it was a corporate social responsibility (CSR) undertaking and, most importantly, that RM650 million was the limit.
Accountability and transparency are core values that Khazanah holds dear, we are told and we believe so. But for now, we should not launch any more monumental projects, not until the dust settles.
As for Khazanah, it has played an active role in promoting education. For example, 68% of its funds (recently boosted by the issuance of the world’s first ringgit-denominated sukuk of RM100 million) via Hasanah Foundation goes towards education, largely for 70 trust schools and 200 Pintar Foundation active schools. This is over and above the RM13 billion spent by the Ministry of Higher Education and RM54 billion by the Ministry of Education respectively.
Taman Tugu is an interesting plan as far as education is concerned. While the space is now secondary jungle, the plan is to create an urban, 66-acre rainforest park by preserving 1,000 existing good trees and planting up to 5,000 rainforest trees.
The park will boast campsites, a rainforest education centre, an 800m education trail, an 800m forest trail, a 500m stream trail, an 80m-long hanging bridge, a learning and innovation centre and endless green spaces connecting the park to popular places of interest, such as Muzium Negara, Taman Botani Perdana via KL Sentral at one end and the Bank Negara Malaysia Komuter station at the other, transforming the area into an enormous pedestrian walkway.
Children in Malaysia, notably those living in the cities, will be able to experience the importance of a rainforest and appreciate the need for biodiversity and conservation efforts, and to understand discussions on the need for a country to be carbon-negative. Their environmental consciousness will thus be awakened.
While we openly criticise the education system for its weaknesses and peculiarities, this is one approach to effective learning — taking the students out of their classrooms and into a nearby rainforest. Schools could organise camps and their activities could be taken outdoors and not be confined by boundaries. Families, youths and pensioners can enjoy and bond in a safe outdoor setting.
At the end of it all, Taman Tugu will be transferred into a public trust, which means that ownership will be by the people, and it will be held in perpetuity as a public green space. The threat of any condominium coming up in Taman Rimba Kiara’s place will vanish forever.
Except for its exorbitant bill, Taman Tugu is welcomed by the public, which needs to be assured that the contracts are awarded openly. We do not want the norm — leakages, overpricing and little accountability, if at all.
We want to see Khazanah lead the way in conducting fair negotiations and to be seen to ensure that public monies are well spent. There is no better time to improve the public image of the government than now. Just keep the cost competitive. Let us keep public spending crisp and clean.
As we celebrate Malaysia’s 53rd birthday, another park in the city will make Kuala Lumpur more vibrant, sustainable and liveable.
Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim is the chairman of Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia, which is an educational lobby group that serves as a channel between concerned parents, the Ministry of Education and other educational stakeholders