Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Taman Manggis land issue in Penang, a ‘Robin Hood story' or soap opera?

The twists and turns in the Taman Manggis land issue in Penang is starting to resemble a soap opera but it has also raised the question of whether the legal procedures are observed in the sale of state land.




THE showdown over a plot of land known as Taman Manggis or “mangosteen garden” in the heart of George Town is about to erupt in another slanging match on Nov 3.

Dubbed by some as the “Robin Hood story”, the Taman Manggis land has become one of the most controversial issues in Penang.

It has also become a rather entertaining saga of gamesmanship between Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and his political secretary Ng Wei Aik on one side and the state Barisan Nasional Youth on the other.

The 0.4ha of land had been designated for affordable housing but before the project could take place, Barisan was toppled.

Lim’s administration has since reportedly sold the land for RM11mil to a Kuala Lumpur company that is planning to build a health tourism facility that includes a private dental hospital and hotel on the site.

That was how the Robin Hood thing came about, but with a twist where Barisan is accusing the Pakatan Rakyat government of being a distorted version of Robin Hood by taking land meant for the poor to give to the rich.

When Barisan accused the state government of selling the land at below market rate, Lim challenged it to buy the land for RM22.4mil. Lim probably thought Barisan would not take up the dare. After all, RM22.4mil is not small change.

But Barisan agreed and announced that it had set up a special purpose company to buy and develop affordable homes on the land.

Caught on one foot, the state government was forced to respond and Ng issued an offer letter to Barisan. And that was when the soap opera began.

The Barisan side led by its State Barisan Youth chief Oh Tong Keong proceeded to pay 1% earnest money as is called for in such transactions.

The next step, as anyone would know, is for the lawyers from both sides to draw up a sales and purchase (S&P) agreement.

Once that is signed, the buyer would pay the balance of the requisite 10% and depending on the terms and condition, the full amount is usually paid within three months or more.

This is to enable the buyer to raise funds or secure a loan from the bank.

However, following the 1% payment, Lim demanded that the Barisan pay up the rest of the amount within a month.

The outlandish demand saw a few jaws drop on the Barisan side. First, it is not possible for Barisan to cough up that kind of money in so short a time.

Another was the audacity of the demand.

“There is no S&P agreement in sight and the seller is demanding the full amount. Do they understand the laws of transaction? Without an S&P agreement, no one would want to pay RM22.4mil,” said architect Khoo Boo Soon.

Khoo, who was the former building director of the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP), is quite appalled at the frivolous way that state property is being treated.

He is incredulous that state land is being sold based on an offer letter by a political secretary on the instruction of the Chief Minister.

“I have been a government servant for more than 17 years. As far as I know, land transactions have to be discussed and decided by the state exco, the state legal adviser has to be consulted, the state secretary has to be involved. It cannot be a one-man decision, both parties need to sign an S&P agreement,” said Khoo.

The Barisan side was more direct. “This is government land, it belongs to the people. The land does not belong to the Chief Minister’s grandfather. We are not buying a bicycle or a car, this is about public land costing millions of ringgit,” said Oh.

The Barisan side had on Oct 3 written to the state government requesting for an S&P agreement before they proceed to pay up the rest of the money.

On Oct 8, the state secretary wrote back asking them to refer to the offer letter and to pay up within a month.

To compound this half-past-six state of affairs, rumours abound that the land has actually been sold to the Kuala Lumpur company.

No one can tell for sure because the state government has been tight-lipped about the issue.

Requests for information on the actual status of the land has run up against a stone wall.

On top of all that, the house that Lim is renting in Penang reportedly belongs to the wife of the major stakeholder of the Kuala Lumpur company.

The lady is also the cousin of state exco member Phee Boon Poh. The implication of all this is unclear but it does add spice to the story.

Many people following this soap opera are quite confused but that is what makes soap operas so addictive – there are lots of twists and turns.

The more discerning think Lim has no intention of selling the land to Barisan, hence the conditions and obstacles put in the way.

Some suspect the delay tactics are aimed at making Barisan give up.

But it would be a blow to Lim’s administration if the Barisan people actually purchased it and proceeded to build low-cost housing.

Lim would lose face, particularly given that his administration has failed to build any affordable housing since coming into power.

To make matters worse, this is happening amid an inflated property market on the island and where house prices have soared beyond the reach of 80% of wage earners.

Lim should be transparent about the issue. If the land has been sold, he should admit it.

If it is still in the state’s hands, then he should do the decent thing and use it for its original purpose.

Instead he is angry at being criticised and is punishing those who want to build affordable homes by doubling the price of the land.

A Penang lawyer said he is not surprised about the “Robin Hood issue”.

“What shocks me is the silence on the part of the Penang NGOs. They used to be so vocal on issues affecting public interest,” said the lawyer.

In the meantime, the countdown to Nov 3 has begun.

ANALYSIS BY JOCELINE TAN The Star/Asia News Network

P/S:  Landlady of CM’s residence is not wife of company stakeholder

Regarding the Taman Manggis land, the Star and State exco member Phee Boon Poh clarified yesterday that the woman in question is his cousin, she is not married nor is she the wife of the company stakeholder.

“My cousin and the stakeholder are just business partners,” he said.

The Taman Manggis land which had been designated for low-cost housing by the former Barisan Nasional government, became an issue when the Lim administration decided to sell it to a Kuala Lumpur company to develop a health tourism facility that includes a private dental hospital, hotel and multi-storey car park. 

Related post:
Land sold for a song? Aug 11, 2012

No comments:

Post a Comment