This is an interesting view that suggests – and I tend to believe – that state governments could do a lot more to protect the interests of long-time settlers and established communities from the onslaught of property development, especially the high-end variety catering to the well-heeled.
This was written by University of Malaya law professor Gurdial Singh Nijar and published in the Malaysian Insider:
Published: 13 October 2014
Penang Chief Minister (CM) Lim Guan Eng has complained of the state government being unfairly targeted for approving projects for developers although it has gone to great lengths to be transparent and to balance the various competing interests involved.
In particular the CM says that “squatters” affected by state-approved developers are evicted by court orders and that the state is powerless to do more than be proactive in assisting the “squatters”.
All this is commendable, especially as noted by the CM, compared to what happens elsewhere in the country where little help is extended to those affected by the development.
But the question – is this all the government, voted in on a wave of real change, can do? More particularly, is there nothing else it can do to maintain an even balancing hand to ensure that the weaker members of society are not marginalised?
Else the protest voices by communities adversely affected by development will continue to plague the government.
Land is a matter within the exclusive jurisdiction of the state under the Federal Constitution. The state is therefore in a position to enact laws and rules to its land laws. It is these laws that will then be upheld by courts in any dispute. These laws could be more protective of those families and occupiers who have lived on the land for a long time, as well as people living on heritage sites lands.
As a preliminary step, the state government could initiate a wide stakeholder consultation process to discuss these changes. Some of the key issues that could be discussed include the following:
Whether development approval should be given in respect of areas where communities have resided for a continuous period of a given number of years;
The need to require a process to secure the full and informed prior consent of the communities who will be affected by the approval of the development application;
The terms and conditions upon which such approval will be given.
This process and its outcomes will blaze a new pathway for dealing with an issue that has long plagued the weaker sections of our society throughout the country.
Communities who have lived a peaceful life and contributed to society through providing a pool of workforce for the development of the state deserve more than an eviction order or a fistful of ringgit.
Admittedly, developers provide amenities and improved lifestyles but their quest for profits must not be at the expense of throwing out families from areas they have known and called “home” all of their lives.
A government’s success is measured not by what it does for the advantaged but how it treats it’s disadvantaged.
An opportunity now presents itself to the Penang state government to show how it is different, caring and balanced in its governance.
Such action will have the added advantage of silence the recent allegations against the state that its action is at the behest of developers and directed against its communities.