Some questions about the quiet ‘corporatisation’ of Penang Botanic Garden


Update (15 November): The bill to corporatise the Penang Botanic Garden was passed yesterday with barely any prior publicity.

One BN state assembly rep reportedly questioned why the general manager reports to the chairman (who will be the chief minister) rather than to the board of directors.

Concern was expressed that the bill allows for the collection of fees: a DAP exco member conceded that fees should not be charged for entrance into the gardens; but then he suggested that fees could be charged for a certain ‘product’ within the gardens.

Uh-oh, if the Penang Hills Corporation is the model to be used, then we have reason to be concerned.

Original post (14 November):

With the Penang public largely unaware, moves are afoot to ‘corporatise’ the Penang Botanic Garden and turn it into a Penang State Park (Botanic) Corporation.

A committee looking into a special area plan for the garden had made several recommendations after holding public hearings and discussions a few years ago.

One of the recommendations was to turn it into a corporatised body like Penang Hills Corporation. The idea was to give the garden greater autonomy in decision-making, staffing and salary scales, and to reduce red tape.

Funds used to come from the federal government (for development, later via the ministry of tourism) and the state government (for operations and wages).

Garden staff used to be appointed by the federal Public Services Department and then seconded to the Botanic Garden Department. Recently the directors have come from the Agriculture Department.

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In the past only one graduate was appointed. Several more were appointed more recently, but these lacked experience in botany and horticulture and were graduates in other fields. The lack of experienced botanists was a major shortcoming.

The state government resorted to hiring consultants as contract officers.

After the ‘leaning arches’ fiasco, the federal government said it would not release any more development funds without a masterplan for the garden. Hence the move for a special area plan for the garden. Presumably with the controversial cable car plan in mind, the SAP for Penang Hill was believed to be linked to the SAP for the garden.

With corporatisation, which is separate from the special area plan, more experienced people in relevant fields can be recruited.

In the early 1990s, an accounting firm reviewed an idea to privatise the garden. The plan was not accepted. Some are worried that corporatisation now could be a prelude to privatisation – though Penang Hills Corporation could be a more likely model.

While the intentions may be noble this time around, what are the safeguards to prevent certain parties from commercialising the garden and turning it into a for-profit venture?

Some questions arise:

  • Will the corporation be a non-profit or for-profit venture?
  • What is the financial model and plan for the corporation? What are the revenue sources?
  • What about the alarming plan for a cable car at the last moment – a move that was not among the recommendations by the committee? Is a base station for cable cars planned within the garden? If the cable car was included at the last moment, shouldn’t the entire Special Area Plan be put up for public display and public feedback again? Does the corporatisation proposal allow for a cable car station in the garden?
  • What happened to the Special Area Plan for the garden (which is separate from the corporatisation proposal)? The report was submitted to the state government two years ago. Has it been accepted or rejected? (The need for SAPs was used as an excuse for holding back the Penang Island Local Plan.)
  • Who will become chairman of the corporation? What are the checks and balances to ensure that the chairman and the board cannot do what they like with the garden? How will they be accountable to the public? How do we ensure that a single person does not end up dominating decisions on the garden?
  • From what I hear, the proposed corporation allows for sale of assets. What are the checks and balances in place to prevent any sale of land in the expanded 580-acre garden?
  • Will the nature of the botanic garden be changed into a “park”?
  • Will more cafes and theme park-like attractions be allowed in the future, turning it into a “tourist attraction” with a corresponding rise in visitor numbers?
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  1. Japan has many many beautiful gardens, temples etc and most of them requires entrance tickets. We can try with this idea in Penang, initially only free but if more and more projects and staff in future, ticket selling is reasonable…

  2. On the 19th of October, reported that a user was selling the personal data of MILLIONS of Malaysians on their forum. Shortly after, the article was taken down on the request of the MCMC, only to put up again, a couple of days later.

    Lowyat later reported that a total of 46.2 Million phone numbers were exposed, and the data included IC numbers, Addresses, IMSI, IMEI and SIM numbers as well. In short, a lot of data from a lot of people.

    So Malaysia joined the ranks of The Phillipines, Turkey and South Africa to have data on their entire population leaked on the internet.

    You can head over to a site … to check if you’re part of the breach.

  3. Who knows. ‘Such prime land lying idle’, say the capitalist property developers. ‘In our hands, we can turn this gem of land into a goldmine with high-rise condominiums, perhaps with a name like Kondo Botanik, in with apartments going for RM2 or RM 3 million each’.

    ‘Getting hold of this prime land, which is state land will be difficult as it will also come up against public opposition, especially from those pesky NGOs, so we first have to convince our executive committee to gradually let go of the land, first through corporatisation, next through privatisation and then it can be sold off to us to do what we want with it – ha ha!’.

    This article in The Star back in March 2017 contains a chart showing retrenchments by state in 2016 and 2015 and retrenchments in Penang increased by 10 times in 2016 over 2015, which makes one wonder as to whether the Penang state government is so desperate for sources of revenue, that it has to kow tow to the property developers and let them build, build, build….., build,…

    UOB reportedly forecast FDI especially in the electronics and semiconductor sector increasing by 30% in the 12 months from April 2016 but has it happened and is so, why the need to build, build, build, build.

    • The unsold completed residential units rose by 40% to 20,807 units (worth RM12.26 billion) in the first half of 2017 (1H17) compared to the same period last year.

      Condominiums and apartments costing over RM500,000 dominate the overhang homes in Malaysia.

    • Rumour has it that most DAP politicians love a particular song from ABBA called “Money Money Money”. Anyone here like this song? Lol

      • [email protected] zombie,

        As the former DAP member, Shamsher Singh Thind wrote recently, “PH in its current form is destined for failure”. His own words ya, not me. So rest assured that it won’t be a ” Waterloo” for BN next GE.

      • Rumour, you are spreading rumour. Of course no shame is in your vocabulary. Where is your Singh now? …

    • Well said. Capitalism depends on collusion (fascism), exploiting public wealth at public risk, and a bribe-friendly international financial system. If one attempt fails, they bide their time and try again with minor changes. If they cannot even give a credible statement (explanation, or future plans) on for the floods, mudslides, related losses and other disasters, how will they handle an undersea tunnel? Can a government that cannot elimiate deadly potholes regulate and oversee a nuclear plant? Yes, I am referring to the next level of government.

    • Real estate veteran Ernest Cheong predicted (once again!) that the property market will take a terrible hit in 2018, with developers and house owners facing one of the toughest times to find buyers, leading to a market crash as consumers do not have the financial capacity to own homes with some failing to even pay their monthly instalments.

      “The panic (within developers and house owners) might start after Chinese New Year in February or later if the government decides to pump in money to strengthen the market,” he told FMT.

      • Shiess, Lucky you. If no developer or development in Selangor, you will be still staying along the border as half thai. Now staying in Selangor like petaling or Subang, jungle and forest land are cleared for building houses. If one does not like some development better go back and stay along the border.

  4. My condolences to MCA youth leader.. As mentioned earlier, old heritage houses could be a killer, a fire trap. In past, we do not have so many combustible and inflammable material. Also less thieves and being small, everyone knows everyone and doors and windows have less or no padlock.
    See pg forum remains dumb and silent.
    Now modern management and organisation structure, we move ahead trying to get efficiency, value for money and better organised.
    No one complains or complement free shuttle buses from state which had to pay to the central gomen as they control everything. In China, thai, Australia, transport belongs to the local or state gomen
    Why local transport to be controlled by central?
    Again. Pg forum never raise this issue prefer to keep quiet like Gilakan.

    • With so many electrical appliances in each household, the risk of a fire is always there and the onus is on houseowners to make sure their homes are safe.

      It is also vital that each household is equipped with the three most basic fire safety equipment – smoke detector, fire extinguisher and fire blanket.

    • Penang Forum too engrossed in syiok-sendiri topics and has ignored the plights of those living in potential fire hazard heritage or cluster homes.

      Our condolences to fire victims.

      May Margie’s prayers be extended to those in griefs.

    • Does your boss a.k.a. Lim Gone Eng … have any … or not? You guys are the state government of the day for almost 10 freaking years, yet every now and then, Zoro aka Shriek keeps mentioning the bygone era of Gerakan. You know how to write the word shame in Chinese or not?…

      • You orso no shame and wants amno to cone back? You know the English shame and yet your boss no 1 has no shame.

      • Zoro a.k.a. Shriek,

        Ask your “Melaka reject” boss to resign first la since he is charged with corruption in the first place.

      • People like you no shame to find fault and charge people. Most opposition are charged by your boss and paymaster

      • Yes 10 years longer than freaking 65 years with Amno. You love every minute and sec of the 65 years.

      • NO SHAME, to the #1 Engineer of putting in jail a popular politician accused of backside nonsense for paying him a PR hospital visit recently. Very thick face indeed!
        No shame b’cos of an apparent threat to his position comes another nightmare GE?
        Or will it be another NO Shame Plotting of Sodomy 3?
        No shame to all those in BeeEnd including the #1 Engineer & no shame engineers for the no shame deeds which Allah is watching very closely their very evil deeds.

  5. New law on Botanic Gardens queried in Penang state assembly

    The State Legislative Assembly passed a bill last night to allow the 133-year-old Penang Botanic Gardens to be corporatised, but the move was questioned by the opposition (BN) and backbenchers.

    Muhamad Farid Saad (BN-Pulau Betong) called for the bill, tabled by state executive councillor Jagdeep Singh Deo (DAP-Dato Keramat) be postponed and for the clauses in it to be reviewed and refined.

    “Even the existing pre-war houses in Penang have disappeared. They were not taken care of properly and the same goes for the Botanic Gardens.
    “Why do we need a corporate body to manage it? Can’t we do it some other way, like putting it under the Penang Tourism Committee?” Farid asked.

    “The last public consultation regarding this was done in 2012, so can a final one be carried out now? Since NGOs have protested against this move, can it be reviewed?

    “A special committee should be formed to study the views of the NGOs,” Farid added.

    Farid also expressed concern for the position of the current staff of the Botanic Gardens, asking if anyone would be sacked for “holding different views” after the park becomes corporatised…

    Q: Why the need to corporatise a botanic garden which not only belongs to Penangites but also all Malaysians?
    Q: Why table this Bill when there should be pre-consultations among all state political representatives?
    Q: Penang Botanic Garden, a status equals to national parks should not be held under any corporation. What is the real purpose of corporatising it?
    Q: What is the intention of CAT Gomen to pursue & push thro’ this Bill of contentions? To make more money?
    Q: As a national horticulture asset of historical importance & environmental interest, what has the Federal gomen to say about this? Wait till public uproar reaches a heated hate (of CAT Gomen), then do something about it?
    My Observation: State assets / national assets like Pg Botanic Garden are eternal heritage treasures not to be bastardised by corporations, which to all intents & purposes are geared towards making profits (according to the fancies or greeds of CEOs + shareholders). Where can you find a corporate mission + purpose to serve public interests foremost above all else?
    My Angst: Penang assets are increasingly sold off to foreigners. Now with this corporatisation idea in the push (not consultation), my fear is many of Penang famous icons will be sold off just for money-making by the state ever hungry for more money.
    My Reminder: Penang belongs to Penangites. Don’t play the fool with us. It will definitely cost a regretful lesson comes GE14. Jagdeep Singh Deo, I don’t think you have learn well from your father. Or you are merely following the money-wishes of Tokong.
    My 6th sense: There could be a big time developer waiting for the Tokong AOK to take over Pg Botanic Garden.

  6. If corporatized it should be a non-profit with association with the University. A professional botanist/horticulturalist should be on the board, as should appropriate NGO’s (Penang Heritage Trust, Penang World Music Festival, conservation groups). The Penang State government should allocate a proportion of the amount they do now to maintenance (roads, sanitation, etc.) recognizing that the gardens act as an important watershed buffer and is essential to the water supply and to prevent flooding. The area could be important for training students in a variety of important areas…forestry, engineering, architecture and conservation.

  7. They did it quietly, just like the Speedy Gonzales Fridge Train of Penang Hill.
    The same with the Tilting Arch in front of Botanic Garden.
    Before today, they still did it quietly with Botanic Garden to corporatise it.
    Quietly so no Penangites can come to know about it.
    But then, did the CAT CM know about all these quietly endeavours???
    Or should I presume with money glowing from the corporatisation idea, he might as well keep it to himself quietly, lest Pg Forum, FOPBGS, MNS, Sahabat Alam Malaysia, CAP & many others with great concerns breath down his neck.
    Quietly, quietly, quietly, …
    Many thanks to our own Sherlock Holmes of Unravelling Penang’s Quietly Deeds, Mr Anil Noel Netto.

  8. Expect more green lung areas to be stripped bare in the name of development and modernization, and those who object will be labelled as “anti development only good at providing bullets for opposition”. In the end the public has no say in whatever the state want to do .

    305 millions spent on undersea tunnel study report that has brought no benefit whatsoever to the penangites, and the tiny green lung left in the botanic park need to be corporatized because the state want to make big profit to pay for more useless study reports in the future.

    In the meantime the drainage system in the state continue to be clogged by mud and silt with no plan for any study to modernize it.

    • When monkeys in botanical gdn are getting more, you want them to get more aggressive and attack visitors? Even no development, why more monkeys
      Meanwhile the roads are clogged with cars. Will pg lang give up driving cars? Will central gomen introduces electric buses like Shenzhen and xiamen ban motorcycles and use elect bikes?

      • Marketing tourism gurus can promote Penang Botanical gardens monkeys as See no evils, hear no evils, speak no evils species.

  9. Right now the Botanical Garden and the ‘Youth Park’ are accessible by the public free of charge. It should remain so, as part of the privilege of living in Penang state.

    If corporatized with better management, one can expect revenue must be raised for its upkeep. We may end up buying a ticket to go for our morning walk! The main idea of a botanical garden is the preservation of plants, and serves as a research centre and propagation of the rich natural fauna and flora of our tropical heritage. At present the garden streams are not being properly cleaned, as there are empty mineral and drinking plastic packs and bottles stuck on the banks. On the land side, there are left overs of picnic materials, bottles, plastic packs, wrappers all over. Admittedly some of these may have been the result of monkeys raiding the dustbins and scattering the left overs. Then with the use of fuel air blowers, the smoke and sound kill the quiet serene ambiance of the morning atmosphere. This contraption should be banned from use in the garden. We have stopped smokers, yet the Garden management is spewing smoke making a mess of the clean environment!
    One suggestion is to employ guards to patrol the garden, advise those picnicking, not to throw left-overs anywhere. There should be regulations and laws to fine such people. I find it a disgrace to tourists that we can have such things happening in our serene garden. It only gives the idea that there is a lack of management and control on the part of the Garden management. Perhaps under corporatization, there may be more control on such matters. However it is important that with corporatization, there should be a strict control over the way the corporation is going to run the Gardens. It cannot be on a commercial basis, where profits and dividends come to the fore. The powers that be cannot allow it to be a private commercial enterprise, where the directors do what they think will enrich the corporation and its shareholders. We may one day find luxurious bungalows built there with the commercial tag of ‘Come Live In Penang’s Shangri-la!”
    Good of you to bring this matter up to the public and your readers.

    • The authorities can impose a deposit on all those bringing in any package: food, drink, tissue, etc. This can be returned after verifying that the user left no rubbish behind.

      Small motors produce the most pollution by far compared to road vehicles, poisoning especially their users. In descending order, the leading ones are leaf blowers, lawn mowers and 2-stroke motorcycles.

    • Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak said the internet has become the swing factor in elections as politics and political campaigns are now more dependable on the online and electronic media.

      So will be influential in the coming election.


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