In a surprise development, a prominent Penang Turf Club member, Tan Sri Tan Kok Ping, said he will, together with a group of members, “requisite for for an EGM to be convened as soon as possible to pass a resolution mandating the Turf Club committee to take immediate steps to submit application to the authorities to reclassify the racecourse back to its original open space for sports and recreational land use”.
This is to ensure once and for all that the racecourse shall forever be preserved as a green lung for the Penang people, he said in a press statement today.
If his call is heeded, it could present a way out of the Penang state government’s current predicament. Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng had indicated that the state government was concerned that if it initiated a move to reclassify the land back to recreational status, it could expose the state to claims of compensation.
Tan said he had been personally against the decision to sell the Batu Gantong land and build a new racecourse in Batu Kawan. He said he voted against the move during an EGM in 2002.
He also disagreed with a recent proposal, mooted by some members, for the Turf Club to consider selling the land to members and subdividing it into bungalow lots for members to profit from.
“I strongly believe that the racecourse be preserved as open space or green lung,” he stressed, adding that there should not be any form of commercial development for monetary gain to any group.
If one traces the history of the racecourse, the 260 acres of land was acceded to PTC by the Straits Settlement Government for a “nominal sum” in 1935 for recreational use as a racecourse, he pointed out.
“Since it was intended for recreational purposes from the beginning, PTC should safeguard and honour the trust bestowed upon the club at all times.”
The club cannot simply sell the land for commercial activity or financial gain, he said.
He questioned how the club could allow the land to be turned over for a mega project for the benefit of “a small group of politically connected individuals to rake in billions of ringgit in profit without considering the massive social, cultural and physical impact affecting the lives of Penang people”.
He said it did not make commercial sense to throw away the existing buildings and facilities that cost nearly RM50 million to acquire over the years and to give up the club’s “first grade” land in the heart of the city in exchange for 300 acres of 60-year leasehold land in Batu Kawan.
“The Batu Gantong racecourse is a well-known landmark in Penang and it is a real shame to destroy the iconic heritage, particularly as the Government is trying to get the UN to designate George Town a heritage or historic city,” said Tan. He noted that other well-known racecourses in the world, including the HK Jockey Club, are located within city limits.
He said if the Turf Club wanted to raise funds to upgrade its facilities and racetrack, it could expand its membership from the current 580 to generate additional funds through new membership entrance fees.
Tan had stood for election to the Committee in 1992 but was not successful. He said he was no longer interested in running for the presidency or for a committee position.
Instead, he now prefers to focus on serving the Chinese business community through the Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce and “closer to my heart, community service through education in Han Chiang High School, Han Chiang College and Han Chiang Primary School in Penang”.
Tan is the current chairman of the Board of Governors of Penang Han Chiang Associated Chinese Schools Association, a non-profit organisation. The Han Chiang school authorities allowed the DAP to hold a mammoth 60,000-strong rally a couple of days before the 8 March general election – a move which helped catapult the party to power in Penang.
Critics of the PGCC deal have urged the state government to investigate the background to the shady deal, in particular to discover who was really responsible for pushing for the relocation of the racecourse to the mainland and and to find out how over 1,000 acres of Batu Kawan land was allotted to Abad Naluri Sdn Bhd.
Tan is now expected to file a court case tomorrow on issues related to the sale of the Turf Club land.