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Drama as backhoes clear Customs quarters in Penang

 | August 23, 2017

Seventy-year-old Customs quarters being cleared for a PR1MA project in Gelugor sees man arrested for repeatedly trying to stop the demolition.

VIDEO INSIDE

clear-Customs-quarters-in-PenangGEORGE TOWN: Drama ensued today when a man was arrested for trying to stop the demolition of old government quarters to make way for new public housing at Kampung Kastam, Bukit Gelugor here.

Md Munawir Md Noor, 41, was arrested by police at Jalan Lembah just outside the former Customs quarters here for preventing a public officer from discharging his duties.

Munawir, who claimed to be a relative of one of the 100 Kampung Kastam residents mostly comprising retired Customs officers, repeatedly stopped three backhoe operators from demolishing the buildings this afternoon.

He had earlier argued with police and officers from the Federal Land and Mines Director-General’s Department (JKPTG), asking them to stop the clearing works immediately.

“There are young children and old people who still live here. Why can’t you give us some extra time to find a new place to stay? Why are you in a hurry?

“The sound of the crashing buildings, dust and shaking ground is causing children and old folk to live in fear,” he was heard screaming at the officers.

Officer in charge of the Jelutong police station, ASP Rohizat Halim, advised Munawir to stop interrupting the clearing works, and warned him that he risked arrest otherwise.

However, Munawir refused to obey and was arrested by two officers for stopping a backhoe from clearing out rubble for the fifth time.

JKPTG officers are in town to clear out the eight-acre site which used to house the quarters of Customs officials in the state.

A total of 114 single-storey quarters had been built there in the late 1940s.

Two years ago, the residents were told to vacate the quarters to make way for Penang’s first 1Malaysia People’s Housing (PR1MA) project.

Reports indicated that at least 2,000 units will be built under the project, which has been granted approval by the Penang government.

The Customs officers who lived in the quarters have moved to a high-rise condominium next-door.

Today, 20 houses were demolished under the watchful eyes of 60 policemen, with the rest to be vacated tomorrow, officials said.

Another 37 houses are still occupied while the remaining 77 have been vacated.

Notices served two years ago, and again two weeks ago

JKPTG’s Enforcement and Federal Revenue Division principal assistant director Mohd Rashidi Ruslan said all the residents had been served notices to leave the premises two years ago.

He said another “final notice” was served two weeks ago, informing residents that the demolition process was about to take place.

Rashidi said the current residents were considered squatters as they were illegally occupying the quarters.

“The land and the properties at Kampung Kastam are owned by the Federal Land Commissioner. Those staying there are squatters.”

When asked if Customs officers or their families could continue to stay there after their retirement, Rashidi said this violated the general orders of the civil service.

“It is illegal for them to continue staying there,” he said.

Residents claim some were renting the former quarters

Resident Muhammad Musa Ramli, 50, said the developers in charge of the housing project could have spoken to the remaining residents before going ahead with the demolition.

“We are not against the clearing, but at least show us some sympathy. We are only asking for another month for us to look for a place. We need time to move out,” he said when met by reporters.

Another resident claimed that he had been paying rent for his unit without knowing that it was actually owned by the federal government.

The 56-year-old man who refused to be named said he thought the quarters were owned by a Customs officer and that it was “okay” to rent them.

It is learnt that the residents were offered compensation of RM30,000 and a discounted rate on PR1MA homes but refused to take these.

Instead, they had allegedly insisted on a “home-for-home” compensation. FMT is trying to verify the authenticity of this claim.

Meanwhile, the Penang government said it would inform the federal authorities that they could only tear down vacant quarters, not those that were occupied.

Seri Delima assemblyman R S N Rayer said checks showed that those occupying the quarters included existing and retired Customs officers.

“As a representative of the place, I have lodged a police report to ask for the area to be secured, to ensure that peace is maintained.

“The state government was not informed by JKPTG that they were coming. Nor did they tells us that these houses were occupied,” he said at a press conference in Komtar today.

Rayer added that it was “odd” for Malaysia Makkal Sakti Party president R S Thanenthiran to threaten self-immolation if the clearing took place.

“This morning, Thanenithran in a press conference threatened to commit suicide by burning himself if the state government did not stop the demolition. This is so weird. I believe this is the work of Barisan Nasional and Umno.

“These are wild accusations towards the state government. Apparently we do not care about ex-Customs officers,” Rayer said.

When contacted, Thanenthiran denied Rayer’s claim that he had threatened to commit suicide.

He said he had negotiated with JKPTG to delay the demolition by three months to allow the existing residents to find a place to stay.

“Initially they agreed they would hold off the clearing, as I insisted the residents there must be given a chance to negotiate.

“I also told them, you cannot clear the empty units as well, as the electricity supply and water supply for those staying there will be cut.

“It would also traumatise them if you clear the vacant units while they are staying next-door.

“It was disappointing that they went against an agreement I had with them this morning,” he told FMT.

Thanenthiran said the state government had the power to stop JKPTG from evicting the residents since they had given planning permission to PR1MA to build an affordable housing project there.

“The chief minister must take care of the people of Penang. Yes, I know it is federal-owned land, but who gives the permission to build in the end?

“Hope this does not become another Kampung Buah Pala Part 2,” he added.

The 200-year-old Kampung Buah Pala was located close to Kampung Kastam. It was demolished in September 2009 to make way for a condominium project.

The issue involved the complex resettling of the villagers, which dragged on through a court battle for many years.


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