More on the Botanic Garden mess (updated)

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A total of RM5 million in federal funds has been approved for projects at the Penang Botanic Garden. But would you accept such funds if this was the result?


Photos by three concerned Botanic Garden lovers – Click icon on bottom right to expand to full-screen slideshow mode

These are the projects under the Ninth Malaysia Plan:

  • Vendor/hawker centre
  • Bambuseteum
  • Eco-stream walk
  • Administrative and visitors’ centre
  • Garden mall

The Penang State Development Office (SDO), which comes under the Implementation Coordination Unit of the Prime Minister’s Deparment (ICU JPM), had given the Jabatan Pengairan and Saliran Pulau Pinang (tasked with implementing the projects) until 31 October to resolve outstanding issues.  Otherwise, it would take back the RM5 million federal allocation for the Garden. That was the reason for the rush we saw around the end of October to push through these projects – never mind that some of them appear worrying.

From what I hear, part of the problem is the project briefs were not submitted for review by the Garden Management Committee, chaired by the state exco member for tourism. Instead, each project appeared to be drawn up independently by the respective consultants and did not integrate with the other projects and the overall Garden environment. It appeared that the various consultants may not have been aware of the Committee’s overall master-plan and its long-term plans for the Garden.

Let’s take a quick look at each project. A couple of people who care for the Garden have helped me to identify the major concerns:

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Bambuseteum

  • Have the land preparation and physical layout alone depleted all the funds?
  • Any funds left for the exhibition structures and facilities?
  • Any funds left for sourcing locally available and endemic bamboo species, let alone exotic species?
  • Did the Jabatan heed the advice of the local expert engaged by NGOs?

Eco-stream walk

  • Did this project, conceived by engineers, receive botanic and ecological feedback?
  • The paved walkway, instead of being laid along the banks of the stream, follows the existing road.
  • Was the realignment of the walkway done on an ad hoc basis? (A stretch of the walkway now cuts through the premises of the Friends of Penang Botanic Garden and the Malaysian Nature Society, Penang branch.)
  • Are there funds left for the planned second bridge and the soft-landscaping of the entire project?
  • Was the missing second bridge included in the specifications? If so, has the RM1 million payment already been made despite the bridge being missing?

Administrative and visitors’ centre

  • The site, re-acquired from the federal government, was originally meant for the Federation School for the Deaf under Social Welfare Ministry. But because of a landslip at the site, the federal government found an alternative site for the school. Does the project brief mention this history?
  • The geotech report done on the pavillion was apparently against any construction on the hilltop but construction work on a hill-top temple is nearing completion. Apparently, the implementing agency was only aware of the problem after a public outcry, and an expert has been engaged to re-do the geotech study. In the meantime, work on both projects continues.
  • The newspaper cutting (photo above) shows damage to the Warden Retention Home, following a landslip at the same site 47 years ago.
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Garden mall

  • Originally conceptualised as the show-piece entry to the Garden proper and to the nearby Quarry Garden/Park.
  • Meant to be a pedestrian mall with water features and other attractions (in accordance with a policy of barring traffic within the Garden).
  • Supposed to complement the adjacent Formal Garden and encompass the grounds now occupied by the Rifle Club and Shooting Range (supposed to be relocated). But this mall could end up marring the landscape. Apparently, no effort to blend the project with the Formal Garden.
  • Can it really be a pedestrian mall when the concrete/paved spaces and roadway could turn out to be massive with even more car park space?

Part of the problem is that some of us have a strange urge to pour concrete and tar on any open green space we can find – even the Penang Botanic Garden, which has stood the test of time. These folks cannot bear to see such open green spaces lying untouched.

To compound the matter, the Garden has been under the care of civil servants, some of whom may not have the necessary expertise. Without such expertise, these civil servants may then take the easy way out by contracting out maintenance and development projects.

Since Chong Eu’s days, the Garden was managed by the Garden Management Committee under a state enactment. But, according to a source, the legality of the Committee was questioned following a reorganisation of the civil service, as the Pengarah of Jabatan Taman Botani reports to the State Secretary and not to the state exco for tourism. So the Committee now serves only in an advisory role. (Submissions for the Ninth Malaysia Plan were prepared by the former Pengarah, who has since retired.)

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The lack of expertise and coordination, the eagerness to accept federal funds at all costs, and the administrative tangle have combined to create this mess.

Some in the state government might want to put all the blame on the federal government (and to be sure, the feds have to share the blame), but says one critic:

… (state) decision makers seemed to have forgotten that the projects were being implemented on their land. If they had taken the interest or (were) aware of the projects – the least they could have done was to find out more details: if not agreeable, then flatly say NO; if they had objections, they clearly would have had the time to impose variations and changes.

Doing nothing infers that the State Government had no objections and had consented; not only that, by not lifting a little finger, they had practically given the civil servants carte blanche to do as they like.

No matter who is responsible, many Penangites won’t be too pleased or impressed with the mess in their precious Garden.

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Akito
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Akito

My last visit to Botanic Garden was last 2 years ago, but after seeing all those pictures i was wondering what was happen to Botanic Garden??…..It’s look like hell now!!

SpeakUp
Guest
SpeakUp

Anil … yes he is BUT are you? Looks like you are not in his view. Hahahahaa … I love it, you are now a BN sympathiser. That is such a joke. I mean fair is fair la but don’t get so personal. All his press releases are full of hatred and hammering.

DO NOT question the CAT! I wanna question S76 … will you be writing into that now that the minutes are to be released? 🙂

SpeakUp
Guest
SpeakUp

Looks like someone does not like Anil … heheheehee … simple matters are getting very personal now:

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/index.php/opinion/breaking-views/43751-penang-government-is-people-centric-jeffrey-chew

Penang Bolih
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Penang Bolih

Wow, I had no idea until now. Thanks Anil for all these details.

hello, hello, the silence is deafening…

Ong Eu Soon
Guest

The Manual Saliran Mesra Alam (MSMA) is the baby of DID. DID is in charge of this project. DID should implement the guidelines from MSMA. Why DID refuse to do so? To sabotage Pakatan state government? Why LGE allows DID to deviant from trhe MSMA guidelines? LGE has no rights to blame civic servants of sabotage if he can not ensure DID comply to the guidelines of MSMA.

Angela Ooi
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Angela Ooi

Typical of the BN Federal Govt to be creatively (squandering) our money. If there were no projects, how to make money? The usual way is to build as cheaply as possible, charge as high as possible, then let the structure fall apart months later. Then there will be another round of ‘expensive’ mantainence jobs dished to the ‘right’ people. This is Malaysia Boleh La La Land!

Ong Eu Soon
Guest

Angela,
You are right! Problem here is there is clear guidelines from Manual Saliran Mesra Alam on any type of development activities. Being a CAT government, shouldn’t LGE ensure that the guidelines are implemented to avoid the mess created now. Who is the culprit that help BN to squander our money creatively?

K
Guest
K

Angela

Stop being an apologist for the Development Above People of LGE.

If the money is being squandered, why is that LGE is happily helping BN to do that ? Why LGE is not asking the money being channelled to other more useful projects ? Is it because the contractors are politically-connected to PR/DAP ??

Penang Bolih
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Penang Bolih

Like other Penangites who frequent the place every day — WE want the B O T A N I C G A R D E N — the place with some decent air for exercise without being run over by the cars that is. In the first place, Chief Minister do you have any clue as to how congested the garden gets? People are already walking into one another at Penang’s botanical garden. Well, now I am telling you — so you can put it in your press statement — ‘all these constructions is for the expansion and betterment of… Read more »

Apex
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Apex

Maybe i can clarify to LimBC…

The new temple is being built above the old temple on one side of the hill…

But the pavilion is planned on the OTHER side of the same hill, behind the new temple, directly below at the foothill of the cliff.

sptay
Guest
sptay

Federal Funds for Botanic Gardens should be welcomed!!!

The Feds threatened to take back the money!!!!

So the money is under Federal Control and not State Control….

What then….let the Feds take back the RM 5 million….then Penang get kosong lah….

Be patient…let the work be done first..I’m sure the damage is temporary only….

just like the “High Court Building”…when the Govt renovated it…everybody start to scream…but later…the building completed…not too bad mah..the new building fitted in nicely into the heritage area….some more got place to put the Logan memorial….so don’t jump the gun first lah…

LimBC
Guest
LimBC

Yes, the state government or the federal government should be given a chance to finish the whole project before you start making comment. Sure is a mess because it is under construction.
Most of us who frequent the Botanic Garden welcome this expansion. On your concerns, please forward it to the relevent authorithies to get the revelent answers.
According to Ravi, new Shree Balathandayuthabani Temple being constructed about 100ft above the present one but Anil says the proposed visitors and administrative centre is to be located below. Now which is which?

teh ewe leng
Guest
teh ewe leng

Dear Netto, How about giving the State Government a change to finish the project first before we pass our 2 cts worth. Definately there will be some disruption to nature if we want to improve the Botanical Gardens. It is not like what happen to Bukit Cereka.

Ravi
Guest
Ravi

Will do, Anil. I have brought this to the attention of a member of the temple’s committee. Thanks for the headsup.

Ravi
Guest
Ravi

Hi Anil, there seems to be a mistake here. The third picture in the gallery of the massive concrete structure is the new Shree Balathandayuthabani Temple being constructed about 100ft above the present one. I visit the site quite frequently to see for myself the progress being made there. Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think this new temple’s premises which include its surrounding grounds infringe upon the Botanical Gardens in any way.

Gerakan K
Guest
Gerakan K

This is so unusual because it happens under the management of DAP which champions the concept of CAT. No competency happens in this issue. Someone must responsible regarding to this mess. Another example of the so called PR angel failure to govern in Penang.

sarah
Guest
sarah

Which part of “Federal Government” did u not get?

LBJ
Guest
LBJ

Come on. This is the economic stimulus for Class F contractors. The Botanic Garden is just an excuse to spent the money. No other approvals needed as these would slow down the project. There are so many projects all over the country in trouble right now.

So what is unusual about this one.