IN 1974, a bright-eyed teacher’s training college lecturer moved to Bangsar Baru with his wife.
The couple, Datuk George Joseph, then 35, and Datin Lucy Lai Siat Lian, went on to have two children – Elaine and Jonathan.
Johor Baru-born Joseph led a colourful life.
A renowned football referee, he shared the pitch with Diego Maradona at the 1979 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Tokyo.
An active member and president of the Bangsar Baru Resident’s Association, he has been championing the people in his neighbourhood and Kuala Lumpur for over 40 years.
But the now 80-year-old grandfather of three admits his mission to saving Bangsar has not been successful and he has given up on the authorities for failing residents in his neighbourhood and KL generally.
Joseph’s frustration centres around a 0.2-hectare plot on Jalan Maarof, opposite the Saidina Abu Bakar As-Siddiq mosque. The land was earmarked as an open space in the Draft Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2020.
However, Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor and city mayor Tan Sri Mhd. Amin Nordin Abd. Aziz said the plan was outdated and that it would not be gazetted.
“We’ve been fighting for over 40 years for this land. And it has now come to this,” Joseph vented.
Here’s the background to the fiasco:
In 1977, Bangsar Baru developer Eng Lian Enterprise Sdn. Bhd. surrendered the land as an open space as stipulated by City Hall but the KL Land and Mines Department did not gazette the land as an open space, claiming it was not notified by City Hall.
In 1999, a company known as Melor Travels Sdn. Bhd. paid a premium of RM2 million to the land office and obtained a 99-year lease.
Melor Travels previously rejected offers by the land office and Federal Territories Ministry for a land swap deal in a bid to return the land to the people after I brought up the issue following a series of articles in 2008.
Car showroom operator Aman Razak Auto had been running its business on the plot since 2004 up until recently.
Residents now claim the land, valued at RM17 million in 2008, has changed hands and City Hall had received and approved an application to build a four-storey commercial building.
“We objected to the development but they still went ahead and approved it,” said Joseph.
“It’s sad. At the end of the day, decisions seem to be made based on connections and money,” he said.
Bangsar is not the only place where land grabs are taking place in KL. There are many others, just like Joseph, who have vented their frustrations in recent months.
Taman Tun Dr. Ismail residents are baffled how half of Taman Rimba Kiara, a public park, has been quietly taken away to build condominiums.
Taman Desa residents are fuming and have taken the mayor to court after a piece of land meant for utilities and also proposed to be gazetted as a green lung in the Draft Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2020 was approved for another condominium.
Last March, Taman Tiara Titiwangsa residents claimed that land meant for public use was transferred to a third party developer who had applied for a change in the land use to build two high-rise condominium blocks.
It is understood that at least two reports had been lodged with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission over these deals.
How it is that land meant for the public is quietly being transferred to third parties for development? On what grounds is the status of the land being converted?
Why are ratepayers in the city deprived of their open space? Why is City Hall, the very authority advocating more open spaces, allowing a bad precedent to be set?
City folk are growing frustrated. They are also wondering where the checks and balances are despite eight of the 11 Members of Parliament in Kuala Lumpur being from the opposition DAP and PKR.
People deserve to live peacefully in their neighbourhoods, especially if they are in their golden years. They should not be forced to slug it out with the authorities and dig into their savings on issues which could have been easily settled decades ago through proper governance and transparency.
Those in power cannot just close their eyes and behave like they own the nation’s capital.
They must remember that KL belongs to everyone. Every action taken, especially regarding land matters, should reflect the voices of KLites and benefit the people in the long run.
Award winning journalist Pearl Lee was formerly news editor of Malay Mail. She is now a media and communications strategist. She tweets at @pearllee22 and can be reached at [email protected]