The much criticised Penang Botanic Garden arches, one of which is tilting, are to come down, the Tourism Minister announced today.
Apparently the decision was made after another survey in USM revealed that 71 per cent of 1,225 respondents surveyed at the Garden wanted the arches removed. I am told Ng Yen Yen also said that in future, all Ministry projects affecting Nature and the environment would require consultation with civil society. I don’t think she mentioned the tilt at all.
The decision comes after weeks of public complaints and disquiet expressed in opinion polls and civil society protests.
The whole saga provides several salutary lessons for us; in fact, the decision to bring down the arches is highly symbolic.
Never underestimate People Power in influencing decision-making and even in over-turning decisions that seem irreversible. (Witness how the government also had to back down on sports betting.) People Power has now overcome the formidable arches, which even the mighty armies of imperial Rome would have had trouble bringing down!
It also illustrates the importance of public consultation when making decisions at the local level so that a broad cross-section of views can be heard and local sensitivities understood.
The arches also symbolise all that has gone wrong with our development process, which seems to emphasise mindless projects that pour concrete all over the place and damage the ecology. It is time we become more sensitive to the ecology and treat Nature with the reverence it deserves.
It is also time to hold those who decided/agreed to build the arches and constructed them accountable for the mess they created. Who will foot the bill? The culprits? or will the people once again be asked to subsidise the clearing of the mess through the use of public money?