Tengku Idaura is new Botanic Garden chief


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.”

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Tengku Idaura
Tengku Idaura
11 Aug 2010 12.15pm

It’s heartening to read the comments about the Penang Botanic Gardens. After working here for 7 days, I feel downright discouraged at the volume of tasks ahead of me. Most of all, can I remove all the unneccesary structures which the officials would declare as “structurally sound” and therefore… Then where are the brains and the brawn ? There’s not a single botanist although there’s a Botany Unit made of clerical staff trying their best at identifying and classifying plants. So, guys who want to volunteer please come forward. As for the brawn, the garden has expanded 8-fold from 72… Read more »

25 Jul 2010 5.34pm

Tungku Udaura’s comment is like a breath of fresh air this Garden needs. Where were you all these years?

25 Jul 2010 5.27pm

Hi Tan Of Tanjong Bungah,
Your comment reminds me of the Adorna case. Land fraudulently sold to a developer and judge made his judgement in favour of the developer when the original owner tried to claim back the land. I don’t know what is the status now.

21 Jul 2010 10.02pm

There’s a lack of Malaysian botanists because they are in S’pore and working for NParks 😛 For the past 30 years, i have seen the growing disparity between how our two countries are managed and developed. Education system seems to be the key. Set high standards, end up with competent people. The state of the Pg Botanic Gardens today is but a sad reflection of how things are planned and carried out in the greater scheme of things here. Malaysia boleh…yada yada… Actually there are capable people around, but they were discouraged and fed up with the bureaucracy. It’s not… Read more »

26 Jul 2010 1.40pm
Reply to  LKH

It is a well known fact why right-minded people in Malaysia would prefer to work and live in Singapore.

So much talk on brain drain but have you ever see the bn government do anythign to arrest the trend?
Instead, they choose to replace the outflow with the brains from Indonesia.

21 Jul 2010 3.21pm

Just to add on the issue of lack of botanists in the country, in the course of work, met a retired botanist and town planner, a few years ago and they revealed that Malaysia virtually has no botanists at all. Apparently, it doesn’t have any properly trained town planners from recognised institutions either. You will be to confirm this. Interesting why there is a vacuum in these fields; given environment and development are issues that we are confronted with constantly. Instead, of giving scholarships to students who are adamant about doing medicine, a discipline that is likely to be less… Read more »

21 Jul 2010 1.28pm

The Botanic Garden arches did not spring up from the ground. It is part of the BN-Umno’s mentality of wasting scarce national resources on building monuments. The Botanic fiasco has cost the people RM150,000. It is right and proper for Lim Guan Eng to hold Nik Ali Mat Yunus responsible as the officer-in-charge in supervising the project. This episode shows the arrogance and high-handedness of the federal government in ramming its agenda down the throats of the people without any prior consultation, and then disclaiming responsibility and blaming others for the problems. Nik Ali deserves to be publicly reprimanded for… Read more »

21 Jul 2010 12.31pm

Hi Anil, The issue of the arches at Botanical Gardens is only one example of the whole issue of Federal-State relationship in Msia. First and foremost, Malaysia is a Federation of States – just like the United States. By that, I would imagine that each State has overall authority over most of their own affairs … and the affairs of a Botanical Gardens is surely something that can be, and must be, solely under the purview of the State ! Surely it must be the responsibility of the Federal Govt to provide sufficient funds to each State according to some… Read more »

tan, tanjong bungah
tan, tanjong bungah
21 Jul 2010 10.46am

Hi Pearl and everyone, It is not that the Malaysian authorities are not aware of the successes of planning and implementation of projects by the Singapore Govt. It is more of planning so well by M’sian Federal Govt that seemingly there is mismanagement, which facilitate cost-overun, leakages, etc, to benefit the political elites and their cronies! They may conveniently let us think that there is lack of brains, but I would venture to say that such a poise is to facilitate maximising the ‘loot’ from direct negotiations projects, privatised projects, a blatant ‘robbery’ of taxpayers funds. In the Kg Buah… Read more »

21 Jul 2010 10.34am

Botanical Gardens:
The perfect person to get professional advice is Mr. James Kingham, planter/environmentalist who keeps a beautiful forest in Tanjong Malim. He is honest, sincere and loves the forest deeply that he laboured without anyone’s help to preserve lots of rare species of trees over a period of 15-20 years. Truly a man worthy of respect and a genuine Malaysian. The fact that his staff love him to bits and have worked for him for 30-40 years speaks volumes about this wonderful personality. Refer to the Star of previous years for more details.

22 Jul 2010 12.55pm
Reply to  annq

He certainly sounds like a interesting fellow!


Can anybody find the original version of this document? I’ll do what’s necessary to add it to the Internet Archive / Wayback Machine if someone can link to the PDF.

tan, tanjong bungah
tan, tanjong bungah
21 Jul 2010 10.10am

Hi everyone,

Can we revisit the issue of the replica of Pg Bridge that is still standing in the Gardens? This structure does not enhance the serenity of the Gardens, on the contrary it’s rather out-of-sync with the natural ‘goodness’ of its surroundings. Would the Garden authorities consider taking-down this structure, maybe, replacing it with a wooden bridge or rope-bridge?

Congrats to Tengku Idaura on her appointment. Hope that the Ministry of Tourism and other federal ministries/agencies would liase with her when planning projects for the Botanical Gardens, which is a natural asset to Pg and Malaysia.

21 Jul 2010 8.12am

I found Penang Botanical Gardens is more like a child playground compared to Sri Lanka’s Kandy Botanical Garden.

ng wei keong
ng wei keong
21 Jul 2010 12.11am

last sunday i visit the contractor is using soil contaminated with debris as base for the turfs.in normal situation they should using good topsoils.

20 Jul 2010 11.51pm


How can you compared Singapore to Bolehland!
Our dollar used to worth twice as much as theirs, now it is just the opposite…give you any indication?

20 Jul 2010 11.48pm

Monkeys, They are gone!… when ‘humans…” came to disrupt their habitat…Arches, huh!

20 Jul 2010 10.58pm

How about a botanical library for research purpose.
Maybe even a digital photolibrary of plants, flowers and trees.
Photographers can also chip in to the library. And make it available online.

At the moment, there are too many concretes (eg the ugly concrete gazebos being built) which should be minimized. And the gazebos’ cement and sand spills on the grass leaving sand/cement patches which make grass rehabilitation doubtful.
No environmental consideration on the part of the contractors.

Nowadays, you can hardly see groups of monkeys. Where have they gone?

21 Jul 2010 12.44am
Reply to  tunglang

I was going to suggest they work on and publish their own field guide. I haven’t seen a good one since I came to Malaysia. I guess if they’re as short-staffed as Anil says, that’s not a likely venture.

Perhaps USM or someone could send over Huey, Dewey and Louie and we could take it in turns to operate them? I just fancy a bit of Joan Baez:

20 Jul 2010 7.59pm

Does the botanical gardens have any full-time botanists working there? Perhaps that’s where the money could be better spent. You can’t have a garden without gardeners!

Yeni Leong
Yeni Leong
21 Jul 2010 9.51am
Reply to  Anil Netto

Hi Anil,

If only PBG is willing to take in more Botanists, I will be first to do so, many forestry students are not working in their field of study at all..

21 Jul 2010 1.29pm
Reply to  Yeni Leong

Is there no scope for volunteering? Many biology/ecology/environmental graduates in the UK start their careers that way. Perhaps Tengku Idaura could identify some small projects that could be established by volunteers. I’d worry otherwise that there might be something of a chicken-and-egg situation: the place will be no good without the right people and the right people won’t want to work there because the place is not the best.

22 Jul 2010 1.45pm
Reply to  Anil Netto

Why not benchmark the success of Singapore Botanical Garden?

Even Andre Bocelli had a concert there, sponsored by a malaysian tycoon who chose not to contribute to malaysia.

26 Jul 2010 12.04pm
Reply to  Yati

Don’t forget Indonesia’s Bogor Botanical Garden near Jakarta that consistently wins praise from modern writers of travel, botany, and lifestyle. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bogor_Botanical_Gardens The Penang, Singapore, and Indonesian botanical gardens were established around the same time for the same purpose of developing agricultural economics (still important today, plus the additional issue of ecological sustainability). But the Penang garden is the one that keeps going down hill, like its port, free trade, FDI, public transport, and many aspects. It is good that the unworkable federal-state tug of control and resources are coming to the surface. So many of Penang’s problems stem from this… Read more »