THE Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) hit the headlines recently. “Who in MBPJ changed the status of a field in Kelana Jaya from recreational to commercial?” the Select Committee on Competency, Accountability and Transparency (Selcat) asked the mayor and council officers.
The case revolves around the Petaling Jaya Local Plan 2. Two versions of the book where the plan is published were discovered. One book was officially gazetted by the Selangor government and the other book, published by MBPJ, had 210 documented changes.
For many, the issue’s relevance and importance may not be all that obvious. However, the discrepancy in both published versions of the Local Plan 2 is critical. Why? Because the council uses the local plan to justify development projects, and the council has before this used the local plan to silence public protests of development projects.
Round and round
Of course, there’s never a simple and straightforward answer to a seemingly simple question. When asked who was responsible for the land use conversion of the Kelana Jaya field, MBPJ town planning department senior assistant director, Faiwos Abd Hamid, said: “No one gave specific instructions. It involves many departments.”
When that answer was not acceptable, Faiwos reportedly claimed that the Selangor town and country planning department was the one who instructed the change in land use. This was immediately denied by the department’s deputy director, Norasiah Bee Mohd Haniff.
All this is reminiscent of my experience at MBPJ meetings when I raised similar issues. No one wants to admit to being at fault and no one wants to explain how the mess came about. Of course, my experiences were behind closed doors, so it mattered little how much noise I made.
Veteran journalist R Nadeswaran, who is better known as Citizen Nades, has expressed doubt that finding the culprits will be straightforward. Indeed, he believes that there will likely be an outright denial of responsibility by department heads.
This is indeed what happened in the subsequent Selcat hearing. At the hearing, Faiwos admitted that she implemented the changes to the Local Plan 2 on her then director Noraini Roslan’s instruction.
Noraini, who was urban planning director from 1 Sept 2010 to 30 June 2011, however said she did not explicitly ask for amendments to be made. She did admit though that she did not stop the process of amending the Local Plan 2. Hence, the central question of who exactly ordered the changes remains unanswered.
Whatever the drama at the Selcat hearings on this issue, the fiasco paints the entire council as untrustworthy. After all, how can the rules that residents and developers were supposed to abide by, to settle disputes over development proposals, be so easily manipulated without accountability?
Although Selcat is recommending for the Local Plan 2 to be revoked and then re-gazetted because the original local plan is assumed to be valid, can the public even trust that the original version is indeed valid? After all, the council officers who prepared the original document are the very same ones who subsequently made the unexplained changes to the plan.
Also not considered at the hearing was the fact that an exercise to replace the Local Plan 2 with a Special Area Plan was carried out by MBPJ early this year. The exercise cost hundreds of thousands of ringgit and was approved by the councillors. The Local Plan 2 was gazetted in January 2011. My question is, why have a Special Area Plan to replace the Local Plan 2 just a year after the Local Plan 2 was gazetted? Was that exercise done to cover up the changes to the Local Plan 2?
All these issues raise questions about the kind of management within the MBPJ. How could something like this happen right under the councillors’ noses?
Certainly, it’s important to find and punish the culprit or culprits. More importantly however is the replacement of department heads, the mayor and the councillors who oversee the approval of development projects. The persons who take over must then outline all the measures that will be taken to prevent such a violation of public duties from recurring. This has to happen if the local government wants the public’s faith in it restored.
While my recommendation to remove these persons in government may seem harsh, I do have my reasons.
I validated my arguments by showing how thoroughly inconsistent the MBPJ is with the implementation of the first local plan for Petaling Jaya. I even presented specific case studies with documented evidence that the paperwork used in a project’s approval were inconsistent.
The fact that I can show all these inconsistencies in the way the local council is operating should have rung alarm bells for the mayor, department heads and the other councillors. Had the MBPJ conducted internal inquiries into these issues, the issue may have been nipped in the bud.
That nothing was done, even when a councillor had raised these issues publicly, demonstrates that the illegal conversion of the Kelana Jaya field from recreational to commercial use is merely a symptom. There is a much wider sickness within the MBPJ and the council’s top management can no longer claim ignorance as more evidence comes to light.
Former MBPJ councillor KW Mak has a whole file cabinet on development projects that the council approved. If he weren’t just one person, he wonders what other hanky panky he would discover.