‘Blurry’ Sabah govt ‘defends wrong decision’

By Michael Kaung, Free MalaysiaToday

KOTA KINABALU: The state government only understood the consequences of its decision to approve a 16-storey commercial complex bordering the iconic Atkinson Clock Tower after it was pointed out that it may be against the law.

Said Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun: “It will be irresponsible for the government to defend a decision knowing it is manifestly wrong or is unsure whether all the regulatory requirements have been complied with. “

He was responding to an unprecedented attack against him by Sabah Housing and Town Development Authority (SHTDA) chairman Rubin Balan.

The cause of the fallout within the government is the massive SHTDA-linked project involving the construction of the commercial complex, hotel and car park.

The plan hit a raw nerve in the city with many questioning the need for yet another mall and shopping complex within the city limits, while many such structures approved by the government lie half empty and under-utilised.

The outcry has shaken Chief Minister Musa Aman’s administration to the core and forced both him and his Cabinet ministers to issue statements assuring that they would review the development plan put forward by the SHTDA.

Balan even urged Masidi to step down for the blooper and allowing the project to be derailed following a public outcry over plans to shift the clock tower.

Masidi, in response to Balan’s diatribe against him at a Hari Raya function on Saturday attended by Musa, acknowledged that his ministry had been unaware of the ramifications of the development plan next to a state heritage site.

“During a state Cabinet meeting on Sept 8, I raised the issue of the controversial commercial development on the land belonging to SHTDA next to the clock tower, a gazetted heritage structure.
“Although the Cabinet endorsed in principle the development plan last year, it is on condition that it must comply with all regulatory requirements,” he said.

Two-faced decision

Pinning some of the blame on the Kota Kinabalu City Hall (KK City Hall) for not informing the government (of the ramifications), Masidi said: “After all, the approving authority of any development plan is the local authority, in this case KK City Hall.

“I raised the issue of the development plan on the basis that certain legal implications on the SHTDA project may not have been fully explained and understood when the Cabinet endorsed the development plan last year.

“For instance, there is a relevant enactment that specifically prohibits certain acts within and in the immediate neighbourhood of a gazetted historical building.

“The Cabinet then decided to refer the development plan to the central board for a review to ensure total compliance with all the regulatory requirements.

“My stand basically is consistent with the latest decision of the state Cabinet, that is, to let the central board review the plan to ensure compliance with existing and relevant laws, ” he said.

Balan, whose statement was widely carried on the front pages of the local newspapers yesterday, is particularly indignant that the state government had earlier approved the mixed-development project next to the 105-year-old clock tower and has since backtracked.

Balan said he was upset that the state Cabinet and Masidi had approved the plan earlier but was now questioning the project.

“I have no problem reducing the side of the development if it is blocking the clock tower, but what I am upset about is the minister had approved it in the state Cabinet but he is objecting to it in public… I don’t agree with that.