Rule meant to empower people weaker now under PH, says lawyer

Derek Fernandez. (YouTube screengrab)

PETALING JAYA: A local government expert says the gazetted Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2020, which includes elements not contained in the original draft, has made a rule meant to empower the people more “hollow” than it was in the Barisan Nasional-era.

Lawyer Derek Fernandez said Kuala Lumpurt City Hall’s (DBKL) Rule 5 – to empower the public – was flawed even earlier and had failed to meet its objective. Now it was even more so under Pakatan Harapan, he added.

Speaking to FMT, Fernandez said Rule 5 was designed to allow public participation in local government, especially in the areas of planning and development control.

“Rule 5 is a rule which is supposed to provide the public with the right to give their opinions, objections and ask for hearings on proposed developments around them.”

But in 1994 this was watered down so that objections to a new development was limited to developments which involved a change in land use and density, further eroding the right of the public to be involved in planning and development.

Fernandez said Rule 5 was ineffective as DBKL did not provide copies of relevant documents, such as development, traffic and environmental impact assessment reports of the new development or documents on the land use to objectors.

“These documents are critical to the people to make an informed objection.”

He also said that in certain cases, the hearings for Rule 5 were saddled with conflicts of interest when they involved projects linked to Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan, chaired by the Federal Territories minister.

“In the case of the huge mixed-development project in Bukit Kiara, Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan entered into a joint-venture with a developer who then applied for a planning order, and when the nearby residents or landowners objected under Rule 5, the hearings were heard by DBKL.

“So a land owned by DBKL is transferred to Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan, which enters into a JV and the hearing for this development is heard by DBKL. This is wrong and yet it continues today.”

But Fernandez said the gazetting of the Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2020, with the inclusion of 273 questionable approvals which were never in the draft plan, had made the situation a lot worse.

These approvals, he said, included matters like increased plot ratio and density levels which were beyond KL’s carrying capacity.

“I am in full support of the gazettement of the city plan but not the one which includes approvals the public never had a chance to view.

“Essentially, this permits unsustainable development. So it makes Rule 5 and the right to object illusionary because when there is a Rule 5 hearing, DBKL will refer to the gazetted plan.”

Fernandez said the government should remove the 273 questionable approvals and not allow any development which was in violation of the 2012 draft plan.

“These approvals can be included when it is time to amend the plan, but the public must have the right to view and object to these amendments.

“The government must also restore meaning to Rule 5 by providing objectors access to relevant documents.”

He added that DBKL should not chair Rule 5 hearings for projects involving Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan or other bodies linked to the Federal Territories ministry. These hearings should be chaired by third parties such as MPs.

Meanwhile, Bukit Bandaraya Residents Association president M Ali said Rule 5 needed to be reviewed as it was now a mere formality.

“Right now after a hearing DBKL does not have to explain its decision on why a development is approved or rejected. This has to change. Otherwise, Rule 5 hearings are a toothless exercise.”