Categorised | Columns

Who protects PJ ratepayers?

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.

Bend them

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.

The site in Phileo II (Pic courtesy of a Sec 16 resident)

The selected site for development (Pic courtesy of a Sec 16 resident)

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:

MBPJ logo (source: mbpj.gov.my)

MBPJ logo (source: mbpj.gov.my)

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?

Protests ignored

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?

Paramount View (olx.com.my)

Paramount View (olx.com.my)

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.

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11 Responses to “Who protects PJ ratepayers?”

  1. Eileen Lim says:

    Bravo Mr Mak, we the residents of PJ are behind you all the way. Thank God for people like ex Councillor Mak. Maybe a blessing on disguise.

  2. Pei Ling says:

    Oops, just realised we don’t have a button here for me to “LIKE” the article!

  3. Poh Soon says:

    Thank you very much for this. I have informed Sec 12 residents of your experiences in protesting against development projects and suggested that its RA should consult you in their protests against the new large Medical Centre which UM is proposing in the area.

  4. KW Mak says:

    @ Eileen Lim / Pei Ling

    Thank you. :)

  5. Well, you may all wish to re consider the re-election of the Selangor state government at the next general elections perhaps.

    On a more serious note, there is no obligation on the part of the city council, the planning authority or the developer to provide “on the spot answers” to something that’s as diverse in its objections and in its planning structure as the Phileo plan (for want of a better name).

    It is idiotic to turn up at a public meeting and to expect answers to a variety of questions that are technical and complex even to planning engineers and town planners.

    The lawyer in question was rather sensationalist in his approach as were the environmentalists and some residents agitating for a different plan thant that proposed by Phileo which leads any prudent observer to make the point that there were other agendas at work there on the day.

    The plan could be changed to accommodate certain other features or alterations to design which would in the end benefit certain neighbouring landowners. And their property values would sky rocket if they are able to strong arm the developer and council into making their desired alterations to the plans for the development of the area.

    What ought to have been done by the objectors to the plan was to have a properly drafted memorandum to council supported not by legalese and laypersons’ wish lists, but by sound legal and technical arguments supported with compelling technical information and advice sufficient to convince the council to alter the plans and to entertain the objections more seriously.

    Government, after all, is sovereign and it would have the power to override any objections if it needed to do so if the overall benefit to the community and the state is served and warranted its purpose.

    • KW Mak says:

      @ Gopal Raj Kumar

      The lawyers and residents were asking for documentation that the Town and Country Planning Act specifically states that the developer must prepare when applying for planning permission to develop their property.

      They were not asking for a change of plans like, as per your accusation.

      Also, why were there environmentalists in the meeting? I certainly did not mention that there were environmentalists involved.

      Regards.

      • There is no accusation but a proposition I advance when reading the article on the subject of my response.

        Quote:
        “The lawyers and residents were asking for documentation that the Town and Country Planning Act specifically states that the developer must prepare when applying for planning permission to develop their property”.

        But does the Act state that the the council must produce these documents to you or your lawyer at a public meeting on demand? That’s my point. You are free to ask, but where in the Act does it say it must be produced especially under the conditions and the circumstances the council was faced with at the meeting?

        Confidentiality and qualified privilege because these documents are commercially sensitive demand that those who seek to access its contents for whatever reason apply the proper standard and a logical and appropriate approach to accessing it. A lynch mob is, in my view and supported by the council, certainly not the way to go about it.

        As to the assertion that there were environmentalists present, I obtained the information from another lawyer and not from Mr Fernandez who had been the chief agitator at the meeting.

        In short, there were many agendas and a variety of inquiries and purposes to be served and not that which you and your cohorts alone chose to agitate and report on.

        • KW Mak says:

          @ Gopal Raj Kumar

          It’s a basic concept – if you are allowed to object (which the Act allows for), you need access to all relevant information to object. Making comments in the absence of information is to make assumptions, something that you seem to be doing a lot of in your comments.

          By Mr Fernandez, I would assume you are referring to MBPJ councillor Derek Fernandez? He was not present at the meeting, so how you came to that conclusion, too, is perplexing. If it was not Derek Fernandez you are referring to, then I know of no resident / lawyer / council officer / developer representative named Mr Fernandez who was present at the meeting.

          As for the information you obtained from another lawyer about the presence of environmentalists, please ask your source to name the so-called environmentalist and identify the environmental organisation he or she supposedly represents.

          I, too, am curious who among the residents that day were environmentalist and did not declare so.

          Regards.

          • If it was a basic concept, there would be no argument. If you are allowed to object, you are allowed to object to a planning proposal. That does not mean that any request or demand you make must be responded to in the manner in which you perceive the council should have respond to your question, request or demand.

            As to the rest of it, I think you are desperately looking for a distraction to your embarrassment. I have no obligation to indulge you with the rest of your demands. That presumptuous mind of yours is no master of my destiny. If you are convinced of the correctness of your assumptions, you make stick by it. End of debate.

          • KW Mak says:

            @ Gopal Raj Kumar

            There you go again with more assumptions about my state of mind rather than clarify what I asked.

            If you can’t even get the facts right, how is it a debate to begin with? This is more like an exercise of verifying the statements you are making and passing off as fact. Choosing to say end of debate is a rather cowardly way out.

            As the author of this article, I did not shy away from engaging you when you started making all your accusations, even though you appear to be basing your information from third party sources. It really isn’t so difficult to ask your informant to post here directly to clarify everything.

            Regards.

  6. zamorin says:

    KW Mak,

    This Gopal fella is an expert in changing conjecture, insinuations and fiction into truth. Now he’s been caught out by you with the real facts and all of a sudden he doesn’t have any obligations to counter his nonsense and lies. [...]

    Rajesh


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