Monday, September 12, 2011

MRT: SPAD Concedes Underground Land Acquisition Possible

The Land Public Transport Commission (SPAD) has finally admitted land underground can be acquired under the National Land Code without affecting existing landowners in the cases affected by the MRT tunneling project.

The Chief Executive Officer of SPAD, Mohd Nur Kamal has conceded as much in its letter to the press where “all affected individual land owners [can] apply for stratum titles to be issued to the Government”.

This is because as highlighted many times during the controversy, the National Land Code 1965 had been specifically amended in 1990 to allow for the acquisition of underground land without affecting surface property by inserting Part Five (A) (section 92A to 92G) under Clause 3. The amendment enables the disposal of “underground land”, which can then either be alienated or leased for the use to construct tunnels, car parks and to lay pipes.

SPAD then claimed in its letter that in the interest of expediency - “criticality of the project timetable, the benefit of the Government instead of each individual owner handling the process” – the Government has chosen to acquire all land first, and decide whether to return the surface land later. SPAD emphasized specifically that the government “is in no position to make guarantees of the return of these properties”, the properties referring to those being acquired in Chinatown.

Hence it is clear from the above admission and convoluted explanation that the Government’s actions stink of bad faith and ill-intent. When the law clearly enables the Government to acquire the stratum or underground land without affecting the surface, it still chooses to acquire all land – surface and underground – at one go. Expediency is not a valid reason to abuse the law, especially when the rights of the property owners are significantly jeopardized.

On top of that, on the one hand, SPAD argued that the acquisition process is just a matter of convenience. But on the other it says that it may not want to return the land after acquiring it – how more hypocritical can one get?

The reasoning provided that what was most important was that the government had “listened” to feedback from the affected parties and had agreed to a mutually acceptable outcome rang completely hollow in the light of the above, as it showed that the “listening” was just merely a public relations exercise.

All the various untenable excuses being raised leads only to a single possible conclusion – the land acquisition exercises proposed in Chinatown, Bukit Bintang and other prime locations are nothing but poorly masked attempts at profiteering and land grab.

They are in breach of the spirit of the Land Acquisition Act 1960 where the Government is only to acquire private land, and only that which is necessary for public use and benefit, and not for profit.

SPAD should stop tunneling a deeper hole for itself and stick to its role of independently regulating and ensuring an efficient and effective public transport system. It should not become a partner-in-crime for the Government to justify its “land grab” exercises, which is completely irrelevant to the planning and design of the MRT system.
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