Bukit Relau scarred, justice not served

The scarred hill of Bukit Relau serves as a reminder to Penangites on how a developer can escape by paying a puny fine of RM30,000 despite causing environmental destruction.

Sahabat Alam Malaysia had pursued the matter with the Public Prosecutor and the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) suggesting that the company, General Accomplishment Sdn. Bhd., should have been charged under Section 19 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1976 (TCPA) if found to carry out development without planning permission.

MPPP’s legal advisor, in a letter to SAM dated 20 August 2013, stated that the company was charged under Section 70A(1) of the Street, Drainage and Building Act (SDBA) as the offence was related to earthworks. For the company to be charged under the TCPA, MPPP states that there has to be proof that development has been carried out.

SAM opines that the hill clearing activity is proof enough that development work has taken place. In Section 2 of the TCPA, interpretation of development is  “… the making of any material change in the use of any land …”. The said land which was originally forest has been cleared and this definitely means change in the use of the land.

In addition, the interpretation also includes “engineering … operation in, on, over or under land.” Under the Act, engineering operation includes “leveling of the land”. There is clear evidence that after the trees were cut down, the land had been leveled. Other activities conducted on the said land included “laying out of means of access to a road.” This also falls under the definition of “engineering operation”.

We believe that there is strong evidence for the company to be charged under Section 19 (1) of the TCPA. It is visible for all to see that “development” had been carried out and this was done without planning permission. To surmise, in this case, evidence of an offense under Section 19 (1) of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1976 clearly exists.

Moreover it is pertinent to charge the company under Section 52A of the TCPA because the director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate, as well as the company, can be held accountable for acts done in the name of the company. Whereas under the SDBA, they can walk free. Hence the authorities should have gone after the human agency, that is the directors, for their violation of the planning laws.

MPPP has lost an opportunity to take decisive action against parties who do not respect the law for the sake of profits. This would have been a good case to set an example and deter other developers in Penang from violating the law.

The authorities call for a greener Penang and initiatives in protecting the environment would be meaningless if the words are not followed by action.

Letter to the Editor, 29 August 2013