Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lessons from Kg.Buah Pala

Goliath trounces David

After years of tussle ,Kg.Buah Pala, popularly known as the High Chaparral of Penang, was finally destroyed and it will soon become just a name in the history of Penang. It is to be replaced by a RM200 million luxurious condominiums ironically called “The Oasis” that is expected to give Penang a more pleasant, modern and luxurious outlook to boost its image as a tourist destination.

It is a well known fact that evicting long-term occupants of public land had always been a very thorny problem that is closely inter-twined with emotional, social and human rights issues which are easily sensationalized by the media and exploited by political opportunists. Kg.Buah Pala was not any different, where the controversial acquisition and sale of the land, negotiations for compensation and the subsequent forced eviction of the residents were handled in a very high handed and inhumane manner that leaves much to be desired.

Unreasonable promises by certain parties raised the hopes of the residents to emotionally high levels that led to the unpleasant encounters between them, the government, developer and finally the demolition team and police. The whole saga revealed that in business and politics there is no place for compassion and humanity towards the underprivileged even by the state.

The issue of Kg.Buah Pala is not something that cropped up overnight but has been going on for some years from the time of the previous government. I am sure the government, owner and developer were well aware of its ramifications, yet the way it was handled and finally demolished does not speak well for a government that puts the people’s welfare above all others.

The villagers were accused of being too greedy in not wanting to accept the quantum to be paid in compensation. By the way in our materialistic society who is not greedy these days? Who doesn’t want a better deal? Why was the land sold to a third party in such a controversial manner when it should rightly be offered first to the occupants? What was the reason for the erecting the luxury condominiums in that place? Is that what Penang needs most now? If these were not done out of greed what is it then? It is ironical that in a society where everything is driven by greed, these poor villagers and cowherds are being branded as greedy for not willing to give up their homes.

Like in all cases, there may some residents who were out to take advantage of the situation for monetary and political gains. However we forgot that there were also among them who were genuinely desperate and lived in fear of losing their livelihood and homes. To them the government has failed in its duty to protect their interests regardless of who caused their hardship and predicament. It was more interested in monetary gains in deciding to sell the land that would make way for luxury condominiums which is the last thing that Penang needs at the moment.

The Kg.Buah Pala saga should be a lesson for all to prevent the repeat of such incidences in the future. The government should be more accountable and forthright in its dealings with the people. The truth must be revealed and not submerged by false promises made for political gains. The truth, that the residents will have to finally vacate the premises, may be bitter but will eventually be accepted by the people if it is handled with tact and care.

The government must review all development projects in the state and stop all unnecessary ones. Over development has resulted in the unnecessary loss of beautiful beaches, hills and recreational parks and fields that were once the attractions of Penang. The so-called development projects should not be carried out solely for the sake of spinning money for the state and big co-operations but for the benefit off the people at large. It must strike a balance between development and the all-important preservation of natural resources, the environment and our heritage.

Meanwhile occupants of government land should realise that they are only temporary occupants who may be required to vacate one day and they must plan their own developments and activities in advance and not wait till forcefully evicted. They must understand that developments are inevitable with time and negotiations for compensation and relocation must be carried out well in advance in accordance with the laws of the land.

The Kg.Buah Pala dilemma leaves bitter memories in the minds of the residents and Penagites. It may have been a political issue for some and a legal or commercial one for others, which they had to win at all costs. For the genuinely desperate residents, especially the elderly, it was an emotional and hear-breaking issue that affected their livelihood and the very existence of their homes where they have been living for over a century.

It is sad that in the enthusiasm to win the battle,the interests of this poor group of Malaysians were overlooked and they became the real losers in the tussle. To them all that remains are memories of scenes of the unpleasant and brutal ways their dwellings were demolished by heavy machinery and demolition workers under the watchful eyes of the police, leaving them without the places which they called their homes for over a century.

The feelings of the residents can be summed up by the comments of a 84year old resident that was quoted in the NST. “… my children were born and bred here. Now, I have to live to see the day everything that we built being smashed to the ground” said the elderly man with tears in his eyes as he watched his partly wooden house being pulled down by the workers.

Dr.Chris Anthony

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