The Penang state government has appointed Tengku Idaura Tengku Ibrahim as Chief Controller of the Botanic Garden in a move seen as a positive development after months of wrangling over controversial ‘upgrading’ projects.
Victoria Amazonica lilies at Kew Garden: One suggestion is for the dug-up area between the two soon-to-be-demolished arches at the PBG to be converted into a large pond for giant water lilies and other water-based plants
The present Director of the garden, Nor Wahida Hassan, is expected to report to the new Chief Controller, who will in turn report to the Chief Minister and the State Secretary.
In recent months, the Botanic Garden has hit the news for all the wrong reasons after ill-conceived federally-funded ‘upgrading’ projects marred the lush garden surroundings.
The last straw was the debacle over the ‘Leaning Arch of Penang’. Opinion polls showed that a large majority of the public wanted both the monstrous arches to come down.
The Garden has also been the focal point of bitter disputes and confusing jurisdictions between federal and state in terms of management of the garden, appointments of key personnel, and funding for projects.
Several activists have already welcomed Tengku Idaura’s appointment, under a contract. She is the past president of the Friends of the Penang Botanic Garden Society, ex-council member of the Penang Heritage Trust and retired deputy general manager of the Penang Development Corporation. She is also on the steering committee of the Penang Forum, a coalition of Penang-based civil society groups.
”It is the first step in the right direction and we will all be there to support her in her very difficult task of cleaning up the mess,” said one civil society activist.
Her appointment could lead to other experts chipping in to volunteer their time and energy to restore the Garden to its past glory.
Here are Tengku Idaura’s comments from a Star report dated 30 May:
FOPBGS vice-president Datuk Tengku Idaura Tengku Ibrahim reminisces about the “good old days” when the Gardens evoked a “sense of calmness and tranquillity”.
“It was so cool then – the trees were large and shady, and in much better shape. Now they are dying, slowly withering away because of poor maintenance.
“We used to have a fantastic collection of flora and fauna but these have depleted through the years. Every time we have some money to spare, we use it to build something and the plants are neglected.”
This passionate environmentalist says it is important to enrich what we have by replacing the trees that have died and developing new areas of the Gardens.
“The road leading up to Penang Hill needs to be realigned to the Penang Municipal Park nearby. We can have a multi-storey car park there without disturbing the Gardens. Local plants must be brought back and given priority rather than those that are not native to Malaysia.
“It’s not that we are not appreciative of allocations from the federal government. We welcome it but the money must be used properly and in line with the original purpose of the Gardens,” Tengku Idaura adds.
Years ago, the NGOs lost a battle to prevent this replica of the Penang Bridge from being built in the Gardens.
Members of FOPBGS, set up 15 years ago, worry that the green lung will be turned into an “artificial landscape park”. They claim that the older generation now refuse to visit the Gardens because they see it as a “desecration”.
Tengku Idaura says at least half the number of visitors to the Gardens today are youngsters, who view it as a park for jogging.
“You can’t blame them because we are so lacking in open spaces these days. But it’s important to remember that the Penang Botanic Gardens is among the most unique in the world because of its location.
“It is so much more than a park – it’s a natural rainforest for scientific research and education. It’s rare to find a natural rainforest just minutes away from the city. We need a lot of money and a comprehensive, eco-sensitive Master Plan (to be) put in place, but the Penang Botanic Gardens can be of international standard.
“Gaudy decorations like hanging pots, stone lions, huge clocks and animals in cages will only mar the place. The public can contribute by adopting the trees and plants,” she suggests.
Some parting words from Dr Liew Kon Wui, a former professor of biological science in USM, in the same Star report:
Dr Liew adds that it’s better to have no development than bad development.
“There are three things Penangites hold very dear – Penang Hill, the Batu Ferringhi beaches and the Botanic Gardens. For the Gardens, all we want is to go back to what was envisioned by its first Malaysian curator, Cheang Kok Choy.”
In an article titled How the Penang Botanic Gardens Survived the War, Cheang wrote:
“The pre-war policy of the Gardens Committee of Management, with the British Resident Councillor as Chairman, was to preserve the aesthetic values of the Gardens in harmony with the unique natural landscape. All signboards, concrete or wooden structures, garden seats and plant houses which tend to betray it as an artificial or a man-made garden were kept to an absolute minimum. If such items were considered very necessary, every effort would be made to camouflage or obscure them.”