Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Reps in public spat over land row

Two rival elected state representatives got involved in a public spat today over the controversial conversion of a seafront land from leasehold to freehold by the Penang government for a commercial entity.

Komtar assemblyperson and Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng’s political secretary Ng Wei Aik drew first blood accusing that Umno’s allegation that Lim had lied in the state assembly over the land issue was no different from a “thief falsely shouting thief.”

He accused Umno as a party with an ingrained corrupt culture and was running scared of Lim’s decision to declassify the official minutes on the conversion of 3.5 acres seafront land in Lebuh Farquhar in George Town.

‘This is probably the first time that an irresponsible and undemocratic party like Umno did not welcome declassification of minutes to throw light to the issue.

“The Pakatan government initiative to declassify minutes made without any pressure from the opposition clearly showed that it upheld transparency and had nothing to hide.

“Why Umno is so frightened of the truth being told from declassifying the minutes?

“Are they afraid that the truth from declassifying minutes will expose Umno and BN’s tactics of using their control over mass media by repeating a lie 1,000 times until it becomes the truth?

“People now can know who has the courage to tell the truth and who is scare of the truth being told,” said Ng in a statement today.

In immediate response, Umno assemblyperson from Pulau Betong Muhamad Farid Saad slammed Ng of shooting aimlessly and arguing a case without facts.

“We did not accuse Lim a thief or anyone else in Pakatan of stealing.

“We are not afraid of the declassification of minutes either.

‘We just wanted Lim to clarify and explain on whether he had misled the assembly sitting with his written answer to my question over the controversial land conversion issue.

“Ng is actually shooting without direction.

“He should substantiate his accusations with facts.

“He should not be making statements for the sake of it and hurl senseless accusations,” rebuked Muhamad Farid.

He said Lim can easily end the public row over the issue by admitting he had erred in his answer and apologise for it.

“I am not trying to become a champion here.

“Lim just had to admit his mistake and carry on with his work. It’s as simple as that,” said Muhamad Farid.

In his statement yesterday, Lim said he would propose to the executive council during its weekly meeting this Friday to declassify the exco and state land committee minutes on the decision to allow the land conversion from leasehold to freehold status.

Muhamad Farid has dismissed the declassification of the minutes as irrelevant to him.

Lim said the declassification was imperative for the public to know the background and the truth behind the decision to convert the land to its owner the Penang Heritage Hotel Sdn Bhd (PHH).

PHH is jointly owned by Penang Development Corporation (PDC) (49%) and YTL Hotels & Properties Sdn Bhd (51%).

Opposition Barisan Nasional leaders, including state legislative assembly opposition leader Azhar Ibrahim, have criticised Lim for not being honest and transparent about the PHH land deal.

They claimed that Lim had misled the assembly sitting in August when he gave a written reply that the state government has not approved any conversion of land from leasehold to freehold, and that it was waiting to bring up the matter with the National Land Council at the year's end.

Penang Umno Youth treasurer Aziaan Ariffin has even challenged Lim to either quit as chief minister or admit that he had lied in the assembly for claiming that the state government has not approved any land conversion.

In the August sitting, Lim was replying to a written question by Muhamad Farid on approval of applications for change of land status from leasehold to freehold between April 2008 and June 2009.

However, confusion arose following recent news reports that PHH would build a luxury condominium and seafood restaurant on Lot 408, Section 19, next to the E&O Hotel.

Ng accused Umno of making baseless and false attacks on Lim to undermine the credibility of Pakatan government, which was recently praised by Transparency International for its anti-graft efforts.

“The declassification is in line with our CAT motto on competency, accountability and transparency.

“Why didn’t Umno question BN for never declassifying minutes on project approved to protect public interests and accountability?” he asked.

Muhamad Farid said neither Lim nor Ng had categorically denied in the statements that the assembly sitting had been misled.

“Their statements failed to answer to the prevailing question on whether Lim had lied in the House.

“Indeed, they seemed to imply that the chief minister had actually misled the assembly sitting,” chided the Umno assemblyperson.