The Penang government’s decision to not proceed with a land reclamation deal with Boustead Holdings Bhd (BHB) as compensation for having to scale down the height of a hotel project in George Town has raised many eyebrows.
Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has said the decision was made after public consultation and it also took into view that BHB had sent a letter of defamation to one of its assemblymen over public remarks in defending the interest of his constituents where the proposed reclamation was to take place.
Some view Lim’s decision as one that was right and indicative of the state government’s preparedness towards listening to the public, but investors are saying that such a stance could put their future commercial interests at risk.
Some investors were worried that the state government’s latest move may be an indicator of how it will react in all future deliberations between commerce and being popular.
Recent issues have put the state government’s transparency into question.
Among others, it did not inform the public that the state had inked a concession deal with SP Setia Bhd for the RM300 million subterranean Penang International Exhibition and Convention Centre (sPICE) project. It was only after pressure was exerted on the state that it was forced to divulge details of the project.
Individuals and special interest groups can also attest to writing to the state with questions and concerns on any potential plans to develop Penang Hill, only to find Lim failing to allay concerns or even respond to questions on the future of Penang Hill and whether there were plans for massive development there.
Months after George Town was listed on Unesco’s World Heritage List, four property developers with projects in the city’s heritage core and buffer zones were told to scale down the height of their projects.
They were told to do this as George Town was at risk of losing its World Heritage Site status because the height of their projects had exceeded a 18-metre or five-storey restriction.
BHB, along with Asian Global Business (AGB) Sdn Bhd, Eastern & Oriental Sdn Bhd and the Low Yat group, had received approvals to build above the 18-metre and five-storey limitation ahead of July 8 2008 when George Town was included on the World Heritage List.
BHB is not the only firm to be adversely affected by the state government’s directive.
In the case of AGB, the company had to halt works on its proposed heritage restoration project known as the Rice Miller when the Penang Island Municipal Council did not renew its lapsed planning permission and withheld the building plan.
The company, at the time, had alleged that it was not informed by the council of the height restriction affecting its project when planning permission was given in 2007. The project has since broken ground.
It was in September last year that Lim confirmed that the state and BHB were in advanced stages of negotiation and that it would announce details of the solution and compensation later.
He had also confirmed a media report that BHB would be allowed to reclaim land as part of compensation for having to scale down its Royal Bintang Hotel project from 12 floors to five.
These were inconsistencies, elements hated most by investors when making their investment deliberations.