IN my previous column, I gave examples of how the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) deals with enquiries by giving only verbal instructions. The fact is, there are rules and regulations for everything that falls under the council’s purview.
These rules are, however, not made public, and are sometimes kept from councillors as well. The trouble it causes an individual is certainly frustrating, and when an issue affecting an entire community is at stake, there are far graver consequences.
Here’s a tale about public objections to a proposed development project that illustrates how grave the consequences can be.
In September last year, residents of Section 16, Petaling Jaya were given notices by the MBPJ that a plot of land next to Phileo Damansara II was to be developed. The rules require the local council to provide residents with the development proposal report so that the residents can give proper feedback and raise objections if they need to.
However, the council’s town planning department did not offer the document straightaway even though residents requested for it. In fact, the council only surrendered the report after receiving a letter from the residents’ lawyers. Even then, the report was incomplete.
Under the Town and Country Planning Act, a development must take into account the preservation of its natural topography. To do this, the developer is required to submit, among other things, a description of the land, including its physical environment, topography, landscape, geology, contours, drainage, water bodies and catchments, and natural features.
These items are presented in a geotechnical report. This report would also contain specific engineering recommendations for design, discussion of conditions for solution of anticipated problems, and recommended special geotechnical provisions.
Considering that the proposed development in Section 16 was located next to a hillslope where the residents’ houses are located, it was only natural for them to demand for the geotechnical report. Yet there were specific items in the geotechnical report that were conspicuously missing from the bundle of documents the residents asked for.
At the objection hearing I attended, the residents asked why there was no contour plan for the development site, for instance. The officer replied that all the requested documents had been given to residents.
“Are you saying that if I didn’t ask for it, I don’t get it?” asked a resident. After fumbling with an answer for a minute, the officer simply reaffirmed that what was asked for was given.
The residents’ lawyers then requested for all the missing documents that were required by the Town and Country Planning Act to be handed over. To this, the council officer replied that the developer had not prepared all the required documents. Here is a transcription of the conversation at the objection hearing:
Officer: “Actually, pemaju boleh submit semua sekali … tetapi … risiko pada pemaju. Kalau permohonan ini ditolak, dia dah bayar semua arkitek landscape, semua dia dah bayar.”
Residents’ lawyer: “So, maknanya pada masa ini, ada plan-plan yang belum disediakan lagi?”
Officer: “Ya. Dia boleh submit satu-satu planning [department] dulu and then building [department], and then last landscape [department]. Boleh. Atau dia boleh submit all together. Tapi risiko pada dia lah.”
Needless to say, many of the residents who were present that day were flabbergasted by such a response. It also makes you wonder how the council can even consider whether the proposed design of a development is safe without a complete geotechnical report first being provided.
Other documentation that had problems was the land title and the survey sheet, which contained conflicting information. This should not have been the case because the size of a plot of land needs to be measured before a land title can be issued. Hence, the survey sheet is the first document produced that subsequently allows the land title to be issued.
This particular discrepancy should have caused the MBPJ to throw out the development proposal report and request the state government to conduct an investigation on how this could have happened. And yet the developer was allowed to submit and present this report to the residents.
Onus on residents
Numerous other technicalities, errors and non-compliance with the rules were found in the development proposal report. These were listed in several hundred pages by the residents’ lawyers and raised during the objection hearing.
Obviously, this is a serious problem. What it means is that the onus to check whether the development proposal report complied with government rules and regulations was left to the residents, rather than the professionals employed at the local council.
Thankfully, the Section 16 residents were affluent enough to hire lawyers that could point out all these discrepancies, and succeeded in getting the MBPJ to instruct the developer to withdraw the application. What about other residents who are presented with similarly flawed documentation, who cannot afford to hire lawyers?
That was what happened in the case of Paramount View. The documents presented to the residents did not tally and their protests were ignored. Could it be that the residents living around Paramount View failed to stop the development because they did not have lawyers questioning the development proposal report at the initial stages? Who knows?
I have brought the matter to Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim on behalf of the residents. I still do not have an answer about all the discrepancies in the Paramount View project involving the property land title and other documentation.
In any case, the moral of the stories here is the need to get good lawyers to do the job that the local council should have done in the first place. This is despite the fact that you may be a good taxpayer and ought to have your rights protected by the people who are employed using your money.
That’s not a very good moral of the story, is it? Well, if you don’t like it, maybe it’s time to really start demanding for local government elections to be reinstated. That way, we can compel elected councillors to do what appointed councillors have thus far failed to do – change the way the council works.
KW Mak is a former MBPJ councillor. Residents who need advice on opposing development projects can get in touch with him. He will offer advice free of charge, but he can’t guarantee success.