The development control system should be transparent and accountable, says former MPPP Councillor Goh Ban Lee. “As an immediate move, One Stop Centre (OSC) meetings should be opened to the public so that ratepayers know how their councillors and government officers do their job.”
Now that would be really transparent.
This is Ban Lee’s commentary in theSun:
Towards open systems
Posted on 13 August 2012 – 06:55pm
Goh Ban Lee
THE controversies over hill-slope development in Penang have taken a turn for the worse. The integrity of the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) is now questioned by a former senior officer.
According to him, the MPPP has lost its independence in terms of functions under the Local Government Act 1976 and not protecting the interests of the public (“Ex-town planner makes his case”, Aug 8).
Former acting director to the town planning department, Khoo Boo Soon, was referring to points raised by MPPP president Datuk Patahiyah Ismail, who had replied to his earlier statements in the press. The charges and counter charges between former colleagues have attracted considerable attention of not only people who know them personally, but also those who are interested in town planning and development control.
The spats between Khoo and Patahiyah did not take place in a vacuum. They were related to reports of indiscriminate development on hill-slopes. Instead of focusing on what could be done to mitigate the ill effects of projects and better development control in the future, politicians and their supporters caused the debates to degenerate into who was responsible: the present Pakatan Rakyat state government or the former Barisan Nasional state government.
In an atmosphere of impending general elections, this is understandable although it is doubtful if the accusations could change the votes of Penang voters.
A question that eventually arose was: why did the council renew projects that were approved when the Barisan Nasional was in power in Penang but had not begun development works until the new government took over? Planning application approvals last only one year.
The reply should have been that as a general rule, renewals are given routinely unless there are drastic changes in circumstances. Furthermore, they are solely the decisions of the council. Instead, there were reports that the council would be subjected to hefty compensation claims if the renewals were to be denied.
Khoo’s initial statement in the press was that there should be no compensation if the projects had not started. Unfortunately, in the exchange of views, personal issues were included. What began as a development control issue has evolved into a personal spat.
Hopefully, everyone will quickly realise that nothing can be gained from quarrelling in the press, unless one is a politician. Things said in the heat of the moment can lead to difficulties.
The important task is to search for new development control procedures so that projects that are detrimental to the welfare of the people or the environment will not be approved. They should also ensure that misunderstandings and wrongful allocation of blame will not occur again.
Development projects are usually controversial, especially when there are no well formulated and gazetted development control plans. Making things worse, as Malaysians become richer, they also become more selfish.
The development control system should be transparent and accountable. As an immediate move, One Stop Centre (OSC) meetings should be opened to the public so that ratepayers know how their councillors and government officers do their job.
Ultimately, the whole process of development control should be changed. For example, it is not fair for the head of the town planning department to present applications for planning permission to the OSC. He or she is put in a very difficult position. The professional consultants and property developers should present their plans and answer questions from members of the OSC.
Furthermore, there is no need to classify documents related to the approval of development plans as confidential. Eventually, the development projects are for all to see and touch.
OSC meetings should be recorded and the recordings kept for posterity. Twenty or 50 years down the road, scholars may want to know how the cities evolved and who were the heroes or idiots who played a role in the development of the cities.
It is interesting to note that until the late 1960s, minutes of the George Town City Council meetings were recorded verbatim by stenographers who then typed them on stencils to reproduce copies for distribution to members of the committee and for historical records. With the technology today, it is so easy to have recordings of all meetings. The storage space is minimal compared to the thick folios of verbatim minutes.
Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee was a councillor in the MPPP from 1989 to 1995 and was a member of the committee that approved applications to undertake land development. Comments: [email protected]