Rapid development: at whose expense?


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.


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In a blog post, Singapore’s National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan noted that Singapore is “quite walkable”, but lags behind cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where “walking and cycling as modes of transport have been honed to be the normal way of life”.

Can walking and cycling be a normal way of life in Penang, now that BN is removing petrol subsidy in stages?

Ed G

BTW, who were the owners of the lands when the first settlers set foot on them? Putting it more succinctly, were they owned by the state or private parties?

Ed G

Let’s assume that the land is privately owned by you and settlers’ moved into it out of your own generosity, or outside your knowledge, or simply because you are powerless to prevent them. After a certain period of time, probably a decade or more, you may decide to make use of the land but found that it has already been inhabited by a community. And in between, some of the inhabitants have even ‘purchased’ their homes from some earlier settlers. Then someone came to you saying that he is willing to buy the land without any obligation on your part… Read more »


Before the settlers, Pulo Pinang was owned by the Kedah Sultanate?
Before the Kedah Sultanate, it was owned by the Datuk Kongs?
Before the Datuk Kongs, it was owned by the Dinosaurs?
Before the Dinosaurs, it was owned by apa nama tu?

Niau Kong?


This shows a very basic lack of understanding of the issue and EVEN WORST the fundamental structure in place that makes suggestions like these nonsense. The issue is not one of land but basic personal property rights. Malaysia laws, it must be Federal, says Squarters have NO right. Using another set of law – state land laws to fight this flaw is throwing a hammer into a working expensive machine in order to fix the problem Penang land regulations already allows the state to impose one of the toughest standards in all the states in Malaysia – it has to… Read more »


yes it is interesting what politicians will say to a foreign audience and not to a local audience. “We are putting ourselves on the map – that Penang is open for business, and you can set up your plants here at very attractive rates,” said Mr Lim. What does this mean exactly? Have a policy of suppressing wages of factory workers in Penang to enable “very attractive rates”? Tax free incentives, suspended ground rents, low electricity/water tariffs, to enable “very attractive rates”? Both the above exploit local populations, low wages & low taxes mean big profit that will return to… Read more »


Local audience like you do not get to hear this because the mainstream media is controlled by Umno and do not carry such report in favorable fashion.

You need to broaden your understanding of issues beyond the words of NST and The Star.

Aidil Yunus

Penang invites Singapore firms to grow together Penang is vying to become the next hub for Singapore companies’ regional expansion, with the state government open to more opportunities for bilateral partnerships, its Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said on Tuesday (Oct 14). “We are putting ourselves on the map – that Penang is open for business, and you can set up your plants here at very attractive rates,” said Mr Lim, who was in Singapore to unveil BPO Prime, a S$500 million mixed-use development project led by Singapore investment giant Temasek Holdings and Penang Development Corp (PDC) – the state’s… Read more »


Thanks Aidil.

This is not reported on NST and The Star.

BPO will create jobs for the islanders and help to stem outflow of good talents.

Such news really balance the one-sided argument by Michael.

Aidil Yunus

Timbalan Menteri Kewangan Datuk Ahmad Maslan mempertahankan orang kaya daripada dikenakan cukai terlalu banyak kerana bimbang golongan tersebut akan berpindah keluar dari Malaysia.


j sinclair

Aidil has been specific that we cannot afford capital flight. We are like it or not a capitalist country so if no money distributed or rolled the island, we shall see sustained decaying that the less endowed one cannot simply afford! The rich one can afford to take capital out of Penang and if this is sustained, the poor ones will be punished e.g. basic needs jeopardised per modern day economics.


Go everywhere & ask Penangites why CAT gomen goes on development frenzies & the most likely answer is: Penang Gomen bo lui, kho-tit huat-tien-siong lai huat-tien Pinang Su. (Pg gomen has no money, so depends on developer to develop the state) And it’s anybody’s guess why the CAT is soooooo friendly to these developers, most of whom has no human hearts but greed quantum & propensities (to even break the laws in the middle of the night e.g. Botak Hill Rape & Madam Pykett Rape). No point to argue with highly worshipped + idolised Niau Kong b’cos ‘it’ too has… Read more »

j sinclair

Social Reengineering is happening in Penang for political n communal survival in view of BeEnd pursuit of ketuanan driving away the brains…..?

j sinclair

First n foremost I support sustainable growth not expense of environmental degradation. Having said so, I believe current growth (careful not to use the term development otherwise you think I pro developers) in Penang in the long run should benefit new young generations seeking careers locally not have to venture out like in 80s n 90s when BeEnd skewed policies causing decay n tarnish the Pearl of the Orient. Now we are seeing many returning Penangites to operate busunrsdes, and so do foreigners. Many downtown heritage houses continue to be refurbished bringing life to the decay caused by previous ineffective… Read more »

Aidil Yunus

CM Lim Guan Eng defended his administration from claims of being “pro-developers”, claiming that Penang is a “victim” of federal laws on land use and development, He said the state government had done much to help residents facing eviction from their village lands by providing legal aid and through new state policies, but said Umno and Barisan Nasional (BN) continued to tell “lies” about the state. He said some landowners who had close links to the BN insisted on using court orders and the National Land Code to evict squatters. He noted that when BN ruled the state, development orders… Read more »

Seng Hai Tan

Very well said by the writer Prof Gurdial Singh and commentor of blog, Michael.


This article encapsulates what many recent writers have been saying recently on this topic of displacement of long-term residents (Malayasian Citizens of good standing), or as the Chief Minister of Penang State called them “squatters”; a most unfortunate term to be used by a person holding the highest Political Office in Penang State, and grist for the large landowners and/or developers trying to displace them. His defense that he is better than ‘everywhere’ else does not hold water. He is expected to be better than ‘everywhere’ else, that was why he and his team were voted in. The people of… Read more »

Aidil Yunus

You are writing to Penang CM on this blog?
You should forward your recommendations to him directly, unless Anil is able to do it on your behalf.


Well call it an open letter then. I think anything I write to the CM should also be available to others. There is nothing I see in my letter to suggest all Malaysians can’t view it. Its also called political pressure. The developers certainly do it and it is about time ordinary Malaysians do it as well. It is also called participatory democracy, that is, a strong democracy relies on people to engage with the state or national politics on an ongoing basis. It is also called grassroots democracy and really I can’t think of an issue right now in… Read more »


Michael, Cheers Kopi-O kau kau.
More souls like you should come out to challenge what Niau Kong thinks is its birth right since 308 to UBAH Penang. We got only one precious life to live in Penang. Niau Kong got 9 lives to live anywhere else as it pleases.

Aidil Yunus, you confirmed that my long-held hunch about SingLand style transformation of Penang. Pls reveal more than what Niau Kong would want to share without the Penang Local Plan.


Here is a suggestion for the State Government that may help resolve the difficulties of helping residents whose houses sit on land that is not legally theirs. If a developer wants to ‘re-develop’ land in the State of Penang then the State Assembly legislates as follows: The developer must deposit in a secure trust account (no corruption please) a sum of money that will secure for the affected residents apartments of a fair dimension not less than … square feet. The deeds of an allocated plot of land (within the residents own location) not less than that which can hold… Read more »