Take off your kid's gloves on developers! (Posted on 01.56pm Aug 27, 2001 )

During the last few weeks, I spent numerous hours daily reflecting on the social and political development and changes that affect the Malaysian demography.

I tried to reason out why certain politicians, civil servants and policy-making bodies work and respond to community complaints and feedbacks the way they do.

I tried to understand why certain local government enforcement units are being alleged for harassing petty traders at our 'pasar malams'; why there are allegations of 'rough house tactics" on restaurants having chairs and tables in vehicle density-free areas while "avoiding" others on busy streets; why the allegation that some are allowed to operate food stalls without council licenses while others on the same row with similar status are left untouched...

I also asked myself whether the present crisis management on community issues is really effective, and whether the government has brought about a holistic change in responding to the so-called "tyrannical and political bullies" alleged by civil and consumer action groups.

The answers to many of these questions are indeed hurting and difficult.

One thing certain in my mind is that some decisions are made without seeking the rakyat's views but by political persuasions. Obviously, some interest groups with economic and financial agendas and 'project hand-outs' must be at work!

I, for one, am not surprised if some controversial politicians and civil servants continue to head government agencies or ministries despite much public outcry!

I am also not surprised of news that some personalities are presently using their cronies - lallang journalists - to write favorably about them, or of parties buying huge advertising space in business weekly and newspapers using ratepayers' money. Such things have been done to project the same propaganda of how great, visionary and competent they are or have been! Perhaps, someone is obsessed of being the first "Datuk Bandar of Subang Jaya"?

We are aware of the identities of these lallang journalists. Some of them even claim to be "representatives of the people" by professing their allegiance to certain civil servants and politicians!

Among the things written by these lallang journalists are flatteries about how great certain local councils are. In fact, reading from the articles we should congratulate one particular local council for claiming that the expensive kerbs can really minimize accidents.

Taking that cue, a politically well-connected contractor can put up a billion ringgit proposal to build similar kerbs nationwide. The road planners can also conduct an intensive/extensive research on such claims to promote an accident-free nation! We can then make preparations to enter the Guinness Books of Records for being the nation with expensive and high kerbs without first understanding the fundamental functions of a culvert in road construction!

The effort may give some political desperados some mileage in line for 2004!

However, whatever said and done, I am convinced recent events have put fear and anxiety into the minds and hearts of some people. They include the arrogant civil servants, politicians and appointed councilors who must be aware that their every move and decisions is being watched in the run-up to the next general election.

But, what actually troubled me during these weeks was witnessing a grown man, Terrence Chan, weep uncontrollably at a recent press conference after learning that his recently purchased "RM230,000.00 dream house" was indeed developing huge cracks and sinking!

My team and I accompanied by the media visited the site. We were nearly assaulted by thugs masquerading as security guards.

Only the intervention of my bodyguards had prevented an ugly episode befalling the media photographers.

Two days later, we visited the site again. This time, the entire area was condoned off and guard dogs brought in!

Why all these rough house tactics, no one really knows!

Incidentally, Terrence Wong was among the 40 who faced such problems after having paid progressive payments and waited patiently for his unit built by a high profile developer and public listed company!

Due to the pressure exerted by the initial media coverage - both local and international media and Malaysiakini - the developer was forced to call a briefing session to address the issues.

I had met the developers on numerous occasions since then, and appealed for a win-win situation.

The appeal centred on three main principles: One, the Defect Liability Period is to be extended to 10 years. Two, the developer is to issue an official guarantee on the structure and safety of the said buildings. Three, a discount of 20-35 % of the purchase price is to be given in goodwill to the affected buyers.

They disagreed without a blink of an eye, but extended the defect liability period by 6 months! They also agreed to two options namely, purchasers are given a choice to terminate the SPA and monies paid in full, and to terminate the present SPA to swap for future house project launches!

Though senior government officials - including a senior Minister - told me what a great negotiator job I had done in getting this high profile public listed company to come to agree to these options, I was aware that, morally and factually, I had failed.

You must remember that these were not equitable options - "ringgit for ringgit, share for share, future house launch for house"!

One must remember that these houses purchased were homes planned and saved for over two years by the affected house-buyers.

Plans were made on the eventual transfers in jobs and schools for children. Decisions were made to have a baby, a maid and the sale of present homes, fixtures and fittings!

What about the sleepless nights, anxiety, shock and sadness of the purchasers - the inconvenience caused? Is there no monetary value to these, in goodwill, in accountability, in corporate governance and responsibility - without a court battle?

Will the local authority say that they are "only middlemen" and cannot assist to find an equitable settlement?

What about the much publicised Housing Act? I say and still say, due to the lack of punitive sanctions and proper enforcement, it remains a toothless tiger!

Will the local state assemblyman and member of parliament work hand in hand to protect purchasers' interests?

Will the YB Minister of Housing, Local Government 'turun padang' to see for himself the claims made by those affected, or is he too busy?

What about the other government agencies, interest groups, professional bodies representing the architects, contractors, engineers? What are they doing?

Do they not have a 'duty of care' towards these purchasers or at least do something to uphold the professional pride?

Or is it going to be sacrificed on the altars of "obese profits and greed"?

Are they waiting for my letter before, yes you guessed correct, setting up a committee that perhaps will take forever to come a conclusion!

For the record, I am initiating a quiet and private visit to this site by a high profile leader of this nation. Perhaps, after his visit, there will be all round 'red faces of embarrassment' and perhaps, just perhaps, some good may come out for my friend Terrence Wong and the other 39 innocent purchasers!

Dr. Jacob George
Subang Jaya