GEORGE TOWN: A civil society group is worried that any move to manage the Penang Botanical Gardens through a state government-linked company (GLC), might be exploited for profit or later see the public attraction end up in private hands.
Aliran Kesedaran Negara (Aliran) said their concerns were not “far-fetched” as many GLCs were eventually privatised, such as the Penang Port and the Jabatan Bekalan Air Selangor before.
“The concern over the future of the Botanical Gardens arises from the model of development both the Penang state government as well as the federal government have embarked upon.
“We hope it will not result in profits being put before people and the over-commercialisation of what is now a cherished public facility.
“We should never forget how precious the Botanical Gardens is to the people of Penang,” Aliran said in a statement.
The Penang State Park (Botanic) Corporation Bill 2017 on setting up a GLC to manage the gardens, was passed at the recently concluded state assembly.
Chief among Aliran’s concerns were the possibility of the sale of land or assets in the Botanical Gardens by the new state GLC.
The group was also “disturbed” by the lack of a Special Area Plan (SAP) for the gardens as the SAP would help restrict development in the gardens.
However, Aliran said it has since learnt the SAP for the gardens was already approved by the Penang government last year but was yet to be shared with the public.
“Among others, does the approved version (of the SAP) contain provisions for a cable car project that lands in the vicinity of the gardens?”
Aliran did understand and accept the positive side to having a state GLC manage the gardens, compared with the situation now where a state statutory body manages it.
It said the Botanical Gardens under the state body was “perennially short of funds” and had officers under federal government control.
The new law also allows the GLC to enforce regulations and fines, to set up its funding through grants received from the government and private donors, to charge fees, to enter into contracts and even to borrow and lend money.
“The assumption would be that the corporation would have easier and greater access to funds to conduct its operations and importantly manage the garden more effectively,” Aliran said.
According to the state government, this new law replaces the Penang Waterfall Gardens Enactment 1923, which had, despite various amendments in the past, proven to be inadequate in ensuring the proper management and development of the Penang Botanical Gardens.
The gardens, also known as the Waterfall Gardens, is the largest and oldest botanical garden in the country.
The 122-metre high waterfall remains the spotlight of the gardens and was once the sole source of fresh water for the people of George Town.
The 243ha garden was established by the British in 1884, and it was converted from an old granite quarry. Some 300 indigenous and imported species of flora and fauna have been planted there ever since.
As early as 5am, locals take in the lush greens by frequenting the gardens for recreational activities like jogging and tai chi or qi gong exercises.
A 1.5km tropical rainforest jungle track is also training grounds for avid adventurers to take in the gardens in its original and natural form.
Besides rivers, streams and greenhouses, many flower houses including the bougainvillaea, cactus and fern are also among the main features of the gardens.