The Botanic Gardens, often referred to as the Waterfall Gardens, is Penang’s unique natural heritage. It is situated in a valley surrounded by jungle clad hills and is a popular tourist destination for both local and foreign tourists. Besides being a repository of flora for the region, it is also a “green lung” frequented by Penangites to walk, jog and exercise or simply to breathe nature’s clean and fresh air amidst lush greenery.
Although civil society groups had protested the latest development here, their pleas have been disregarded. The Ministry of Tourism was quoted by a daily that there is no turning back as the project has been prescribed in the 9th Malaysia Plan. Nevertheless, the Ministry reportedly said that there is a possibility of reviewing some of the structures.
But isn’t the review too late because the harm is already done and precious public money has been wasted? In the first place, the plans for development at the Botanical Gardens, which is a sensitive ecological and natural heritage site, should have been subjected to public participation and scrutiny. Outsiders would not know on the ground conditions and sentiments in the way locals do.
Were there any attempts to consult locals, regular users and tourists to find out what attracts them to the Gardens and what improvement is needed? Or is this another project which was borne out of the whims and fancies of the people in authority?
Why did the State allow such a ghastly development and not insist on public participation and decision-making even if it is a Federal funded project? The Penang State Government as the custodian of our natural legacy the Penang Botanic Gardens, should have insisted that any development at the Gardens should be natural and maintain a pristine garden, not grotesque concrete arches.
Many questions will remain unanswered, while uncontrolled development would continue to afflict the State of Penang. The people of Penang have the right to know what measures the Federal and State Government would take to reinstate the glory and green panorama of the Penang Botanical Gardens.
For future developments, it is imperative that the government seeks public opinion. Meaningful public participation in decision-making processes will be of great value for a more green, sustainable and sane future for all of us.