THE contentious proposed commercial development of vacant land on Jalan Maarof in Bangsar earmarked as a green lung in the original Kuala Lumpur Draft Plan 2020, prior to current amendments.
The land is now back in the limelight. Recently, there was a notice put up near the perimeter of proposed construction of a four-storey commercial building with 3 floors of underground car parking.
The development order issued by DBKL in 2017, notwithstanding strong objections from the various residents’ associations in Bangsar and the mosque adjacent to it, citing traffic congestion and increased pollution to the already packed surroundings.
However, the main contention remains that it was originally earmarked as an open space.
It was used by a private car showroom for more than a decade.
Distressingly, the plot was issued a new land title and lot number, and was sold by DBKL to a private entity.
To add insult to serious injury, the land status was also redesignated from green to commercial, despite it being earmarked strictly for recreational purposes or tanah lapang.
It is a mystery as to who in the local authority was responsible for the sale and issuing the title in what can only be best described as a clandestine act to be firmly concealed from the public.
Equally perplexing is where any project approved under the Kuala Lumpur Development Plan 2020, and subsequently 2040, from now on will no longer use the requirement under Rule 5 of the Federal Territory Planning Act 1982, which allows for public participation in planning and development control by the government.
This denies the public the opportunity to raise any concerns or objections and provide their feedback on the sustainability and progressive development for Kuala Lumpur.
Pakatan Harapan’s Federal Territories Minister Khalid Abdul Samad said that as a result of this directive, Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) would no longer hold public hearings and developers would only now have to present their Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and Traffic Impact Assessment (TIA) reports to residents or stakeholders after a development has been approved.
This goes against the principle of public engagement and the chance for people to voice their resentment and air their grievances over any disputed developments affecting their livelihood.
The sole intended purpose for Rule 5 was a mechanism for use when there was no gazetted plan because, at that time, development was undertaken without following any guidelines.
Previously, under this rule, all proposed developments could be questioned, but when a plan is gazetted now, there is no longer any need for a public hearing.
Why is this so and why did the minister decide to deprive the people of having their say?
A minute exception to this is when a project contradicts the Kuala Lumpur Development Plan.
For example, if the developer exceeds the plot ratio, then a public hearing would be required to explain the increase of density to the residents.
This is a poor reflection of DBKL’s role to act as an enforcer for developers and a clear example of its lack of responsibility where enforcement powers are concerned.
The well documented examples of Taman Rimba Kiara and Bangsar disputed plots are just two appalling scenarios where development orders were issued for commercial or residential development, despite receiving strong objections on the grounds that such development will be detrimental to the environment, increase population density, will have an irretrievable impact to the livelihood of residents and drastically change the landscape of its surrounding areas.
These cases are just a tip of the iceberg and have been going on for a very long time.
These blatant issuance of development orders in already congested areas must be strongly opposed and a revocation order be issued immediately.
Town and urban planning experts must toe the line and adhere to areas allocated as green lungs.
This creates a negative public impression, which demands local authorities and approving agencies be more accountable, compassionate and uphold the principle of good governance.
It is comforting to see that there are still citizens who would speak up and campaign hard to preserve the shrinking forests and open green lungs in the Klang Valley.
However, people need to be more proactive and question decisions made by the local councils and approving bodies.
It is very important to get to know your elected representatives and continuously engage with them because they are public servants entrusted to provide the best service to the people.
Residents must hold political parties accountable, especially when we were promised transparency and proper governance during the last general election.
As such, the Kuala Lumpur Draft Plan 2020 must be carefully scrutinised again with no further delay and elected representatives or in Kuala Lumpur must be more vigorous in getting this done.
For too long, people have left the responsibility of town planning to local councils and on many occasions, decisions are made by people well connected with property developers.
This is in contention to their promises made to the public to serve the best of his or her capability for the benefit of those who put them there.
If our citizens do not organise themselves and engage with their elected representatives, the policymakers will implement plans without consultation.
We must build an active, working relationship with local governments, so we can keep public servants on their toes.
DBKL can definitely benefit from public engagement where developments matters are concerned.
For instance, public engagement can improve decision-making, and provide more informed and engaged residents.
A proposed public action or decision that involves strong feelings and opposing views, or that will benefit by asking residents about the kind of community they wish to have, may be particularly suitable.
A good public engagement process should ask residents for their views rather than try to persuade them to agree with a particular plan, policy or action.
The objective of the now defunct Rule 5 of the Federal Town Planning Act is a testament to this very aspiration.
Local agencies need leadership, clarity and clearly defined roles.
DBKL must be seen to continue to engage. Good intentions and well-run meetings are not enough.
It is important to be clear about how local officials will document and seriously consider public ideas, preferences or recommendations.
This should be part of a consistent and clear message delivered to the public.
DBKL’s decision to gazette a city plan not subject to legal requirements is a glaring error and demonstrates poor judgement on the provisions of existing laws in place for this very purpose.
It is hoped that drastic changes will be put in place by the government and bring back the confidence of the public, especially on environmental protection and sustainable development in Kuala Lumpur.
It is not enough to work only on setting up democratic institutions and processes. They must be put to work creating opportunities for citizens.
Ensuring that government actually works for the public good requires informed, organised, active and peaceful participation of like-minded members of society.
We must demand accountability and constantly push for the government to be fair to its people regardless of creed or stature.
Democratic principles, including engaging in public debates and discussions, depends on educating, informing, enabling and empowering people to participate freely in and benefit from the social, economic, civil and political systems and processes in a country.
The recently gazetted Kuala Lumpur Draft Plan 2020 must therefore be reviewed as serious flaws exist.
Ample time must be given to the public to study the development approvals, particularly to those given when this emended version was rushed through without a proper consultation process.
The initial plan, which was prepared in 2013, should have been given the green light.
Initially, plan was to have been gazetted in 2011, later moved to 2012.
It was then planned to be in 2013 but again delayed pending a review from the previous government.
The law is very clear. If the Federal Territories Ministry made a bad misjudgement in this respect, it can still be revoked as all approvals must be made in accordance with the provisions of legislation in place.
If a land was indeed transferred and transacted under dubious circumstances where there clearly exists elements of fraud and corrupt practices involved, let the relevant agencies responsible look for such abuses.
The rule of law must always prevail and it is only fair for it to be applicable to all.
* Prem Kumar Nair is honorary secretary of the Bangsar Baru Residents’ Association
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.