Saturday, August 8, 2009

Kampung Buah Pala - "Not a matter of race"

Buah Pala residents agree in principle, but...

By Anil Netto,

In the confusion that surrounds the Kg Buah Pala crisis, a different version of events over the last 24 hours has emerged.

About 80 per cent of the villagers participated in a meeting last night along with several activists. The villagers are understandably upset – there is a strong sense that they have experienced a grave injustice.
The meeting was witnessed by Sungai Siput MP Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj, who revealed some of the villagers’ main reservations over the developer’s offer.

According to him, the villagers have agreed in principle to the developer’s proposal – but subject to further fleshing out and clarification to ensure they are given a decent deal that protects their interests.

They are willing to dialogue and negotiate further with the developer and the state government on these points.

  • Their main reservation centres on the number of houses: 24 terrace houses is simply not going to be enough given the number of extended families, which could be over 40 families (perhaps not as high as the 60-odd families mentioned by some villagers). So they need more terrace houses.

  • They are also asking for temporary rental reimbursement for each family of about RM1,200 until the houses are ready.
  • They want the offer to be made in a proper legal document to each family, that is enforceable with details such as the housing specs and delivery date (two years?) shown.
  • They also need to know what happens if Nusmetro goes bankrupt or turns into a shell company or is unable to complete the project. What happens if the company doesn’t get all the necessary approvals? Will the state government stand as guarantor or could there be another mechanism to protect their interests? This should not be impossible to accommodate.
  • Some alternative grazing land provided for their cows.

Now, if for some reason the developer is unable to accommodate some of these points, the villagers are urging the state government to allow them to use the 2.4 acres of adjacent land, which is state reserve land. This could be divided into 24 lots (a similar number to the existing lots in the village) and the money that the developer was going to use to build the 24 terrace houses could be given to the villagers to build their own homes.

The state government, however, appears to be reluctant to allow this for fear that it would set a precedent – a fear that may be legitimate.

But what sets this case apart are the alleged elements of fraud in this particular deal – several MACC reports have been lodged. The state government could cite these as extraordinary circumstances that deserve an extraordinary solution – a real win-win solution.

If the Penang government is really interested in seeing justice done and the villagers’ interests protected, then it should seriously look into these reservations to ensure that an acceptable and just settlement is reached.

The residents agreed that Jeyakumar would convey these reservations and recommendations to the state government for it to consider. This he has done: this morning, he submitted a letter containing some of these points to the Chief Minister (Guan Eng was not in, so the letter was passed to his office) and personally to Deputy CM Ramasamy.

All is not lost if the state government could only look at the issue from the lens of the villagers and really understand their fears and insecurities. Few outsiders can feel their anguish at being wrenched apart from the land they have called home for generations – and all because of a land grab under dubious circumstances.

“They must be given a decent deal,” says Jeyakumar. “There are so many different people saying different things. I would take last night’s meeting, which was well attended, as reflecting what the villagers want.”

The above need not be seen as absolute demands but as the starting point or building blocks for further negotiations to arrive at a more just solution.

Meanwhile, the developer should be told once again that if there is forced eviction/demolition, the state government would stick to its pledge of revoking the development order.

High Chaparral rejects 'double-storey house' offer - Malaysiakini

Kampung Buah Pala residents did not meet a noon deadline to accept the 'double-storey terrace house' offer made by developer Nusmetro Ventures (P) Sdn Bhd

Kampung Buah Residents Association chairperson M Sugumaran said they are rejecting the offer as it is riddled with unacceptable conditions.

One of them, he pointed out, was the villagers were asked to withdraw all their court cases against the land deals pertaining to their village.

Another demanded virtually all 24 house owners in the village to vacate the land and handover possession to the land owner, Koperasi Pegawai Pegawai Kanan Kerajaan Pulau Pinang.

"One must understand that we are not fighting against Nusmetro, the state government or the cooperative society.

"We are challenging the land alienation marred by fraudulent land deals," said Sugumaran (above, left) at a press conference in the village this afternoon.

He said the offer letter was issued to all house owners during last Tuesday's meeting between the villagers and state government leaders in Komtar.

The villagers were given until noon today to accept the offer.

Sugumaran, however, said perhaps two residents may have accepted the offer, without naming them.

Villagers face demolition of homes

Kampung Buah Pala is also commonly known as Tamil High Chaparral due to its population of cowherds, cattle, goats, other live stocks and lively Tamil cultural features and festivities.

Despite the land being sold by the state government to the cooperative society last year, the villagers have refused to shift from their homes.

They, instead, demanded the authorities gazette their village as an Indian heritage living human village in Georgetown city.

They also submitted a memorandum to the Unesco heritage unit in Paris last week to add more steel to their struggle.

Georgetown and Malacca were given a combined world heritage city status by Unesco in July last year.

Armed with a court order, the developer warned residents that the village would be demolished and flattened if the residents failed to meet its Friday noon dateline by accepting its offer.

The developer plans to build a luxury condominium project called Oasis in the area.

Sugumaran said the state government should not have allowed Nusmetro to make the offer given that Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng had said that the land alienation exercise carried out by the previous Barisan Nasional administration was tainted with fraud.

"When the chief minister himself has raised such allegations, it's only logical for the state government to right the wrong.

"If the state government continues to facilitate Nusmetro's offer, then the current government was clearly colluding with the previous administration to endorse the fraud.

"This is unbecoming of a responsible government," he told newsmen.

Ramasamy asked to explain RM500,000 claim

Meanwhile, the villagers adviser A Thiruvenggadam demanded the state government to explain its claim that villagers would be made owners of RM500,000 worth of properties through the Nusmetro offer.

He questioned how the state government can possibly assess the property value when the proposed double-storey terrace houses were yet to be built and given to the villagers.

The former councillor of Petaling Jaya municipality said the state government was wrong in evaluating a land that is yet to be developed.

"This is blatant act by the state government with a malicious intention to portray the villagers as greedy people.

"Truth is the villagers are the legitimate land owners and their village had been stolen from them by the state authorities," said Thiruvenggadam.

He was commenting on a statement by Deputy Chief Minister 2 P Ramasamy (left) in Tamil daily Makkal Osai yesterday.

Ramasamy was quoted as saying that "due to the relentless efforts by the Penang government, the villagers have been upgraded to owners of a half-million ringgit worth of property."

Malaysiakini could not reach Ramasamy for comment despite several attempts.