Tears well up in the eyes of Sugumaran, the residents committee chairperson – Photo by Anil
2118: “I can really see sincere tears rolling down the faces of some of the villagers,” says a Penangite. “The fear of losing their shelter; kids can’t prepare for exams. This is life. Imagine if we are in their shoes.”
2053: Talks are still ongoing between the Penang state government and the developer. The state government finds itself in an unenviable position, hemmed in by residents’ demos, the developer apparently willing to negotiate but the Cooperative playing hardball, Umno(?), and what it believes to be political opportunists making use of the villagers. Much is at stake, for all sides.
2031: The villagers held a candlelight vigil and have now ended their gathering. Guan Eng was not in.
“We heard on the eight o’clock news that they are coming in tomorrow to demolish,” says a worried villager.
2021: About 50 villagers, many of them children, are now gathered outside the Chief Minister’s residence. This has upset the Chief Minister’s people, who believe they have been trying hard to resolve the crisis and that certain quarters are making use of the villagers for their own ends.
The villagers, meanwhile, are desperate as the Cooperative has said it will carry out demolition tomorrow.
1700: Radio news announces that the developer has “rescheduled” its demolition to tomorrow to “allow residents more time to leave”.
But the residents appear to be standing firm and they are not going anywhere. Between 50 and 100 activists and residents – some of them sitting on swings in the porches of houses, others chatting under a canopy near the main lane cutting through the village – are keeping watch. Others have called it a day. A short distance away, plainclothes police are keeping an eye.
Asked about the compensation offered, one villager said they had never been formally offered RM200,000 each, as often claimed. “All that was just talk – we have never seen anything in writing to that effect,” he said. What the villagers were offered earlier was an apartment worth RM75,000, along with a temporary monthly rental, or RM90,000 cash.
A few of the residents appear resigned to the prospect of co-existing side-by-side with the project. But there are also worries that the proposed double-storey terrace houses which the state is said to be trying to arrange with the developer as compensation could turn out to be small cluster ‘matchbox’ houses that would be too small and crammed for their extended families. (It is not uncommon for each village house here, with spacious compounds, to be shared by several families.)
Many are still waiting for the final outcome of the state investigative committee’s probe into the Kampong Buah Pala land transfer. How was land held in trust for the villagers (as beneficiaries) sold to the Penang Government Officers Cooperative under the BN administration? Who was the mastermind behind the sale-cum-joint venture property development deal? Who was involved in sealing the land transfer on 27 March 2008, under the new Pakatan administration? What are the political interests (if any) and developer connections behind Nusmetro Ventures (P) Sdn Bhd, the Oasis project developer? Who is the main shareholder, Mohamad Faridz Karim of Balik Pulau, who has an 80 per cent interest in the developer’s parent company, Asia Link-up Sdn Bhd? And who is the contractor for the Oasis project likely to be?
1142: About a hundred demonstrators from Hindraf, MIC and PSM are at Komtar now. They have just handed over a memo for the chief minister.
1050: Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has just announced that if demolition proceeds, there is nothing more to talk about: the state government will not give the green light for the project. This is the stand of the Penang state government, a source in Komtar informs me.
1020: Meanwhile, talks between the developer and the state government are believed to be ongoing. The state government now has the added difficulty of dealing with the hardline stance adopted by the Penang Government Officers Cooperative. But it is unlikely that the demolition team will be coming in today, predicts a source.
1012: About 200 people are still in the village. Some of them appear to be heading to Komtar, according to an eye-witness at the scene.
0830: Between 100 and 200 activists and supporters have gathered in the village, as residents wake up to an uncertain future. Most of the crowd appear to be from Hindraf, PSM and MIC.
Police patrol cars have been cruising around. The situation appears to be calm.
One eye-witness says the demolition team may not even turn up today. They could come tomorrow or days later, when the crowd, some of whom are from out of town, dwindles.
Folks, keep praying for a peaceful and just resolution.