Categorised | Columns

When laws are flouted

Corrected on 1 Dec 2009 at 11.45am

A FUNCTIONING community is predicated on its members’ acceptance of the laws of the land, and the fact that these laws are applied fairly and justly to all. In a community such as a nation state, the custodian of these laws would be the various government agencies.

But what if these custodians fail to uphold the tenets of the law they are supposed to administer? Whither society?

Illegal development

The Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) has not always adhered to town planning laws in approving development projects. This is something I have been uncovering bit by bit as I pour through development plans and other documents at the behest of residents and elected reps.

One case that I am presently investigating involves an entire stretch of completed and occupied town houses (two houses on top of one another on the same plot of land but owned by different people), with the words “terrace house” stamped on the Certificates of Fitness (CF).

Never mind that the CF is totally wrong. The requirement for town houses to apply for strata titles was completely ignored, and the insurance for the property may well be rendered invalid.

(Corrected) In yet another case that I’m investigating, low-cost flat residents who complained about the low quality finish of their property led me to discover how MBPJ issued the CF for their development. The MBPJ did so without ensuring that the developer had fulfilled most of the CF requirements that were listed in the site plan. Since the CF has already been issued, does that mean there is no longer a need to comply with these requirements?

I cannot name the projects or the associated wrongdoings. To do so would be an admission of the MPBJ’s fault or guilt or incompetence, which could lead to legal consequences.

Of course, this could also possibly be just my viewpoint. Depending on who I ask, there might be a perfectly legal explanation for the mess.

Conflicting interests

While these issues may seem like an administrative matter, there are other implications. As Petaling Jaya is mostly developed, any further development would draw the ire of residents who are in the vicinity of new development.

Residents who are not well versed in how planning laws work usually accept the impending development with little more than a strongly worded complaint. Others will fight to stop the project entirely.

When the residents choose to fight, another group of persons gets victimised: the buyers of the development in question.

Who would you side? The buyer of an MPBJ-approved property, or the aggrieved residents who have been staying in the area for years who suddenly find their peace and quiet robbed by an unwanted development that they insist is illegal?

There are no simple answers. And because of the many differing viewpoints on the MBPJ’s, the buyers’, the residents’ and the developer’s legal obligations and requirements, talks can sometimes bear little to no result in resolving the conflict. The only option open for all parties then is to litigate.

No matter who wins the lawsuit in the end, everyone loses because of time and money spent fighting over something that really should not have happened, had the laws — or the spirit of it, since I am constantly reminded that there can be different interpretations — been fully complied with.

Cartoon image of a gavel wearing a judge's wig
(Pic by Cory Thoman / Dreamstime)
And unlike high-profile political lawsuits which are prioritised to be heard, these civil cases can drag on for years before a conclusion is reached and the legal avenues completely exhausted.

What bothers me the most while I am trying my level best to resolve these disputes is that I am only dealing with the symptoms, and that the root cause remains untreated.

MBPJ councillor KW Mak dislikes making decisions that will supposedly benefit all parties, knowing well that these decisions are anything but beneficial to all parties.

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