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Monday, October 17, 2011

Penang and the green agenda

Politicians and policymakers must determine how entrepreneurship and property rights are utilised to promote and achieve a sound balance in environmental and economic growth.

DURING an international conference on quantity surveying in Penang last week where she was invited to deliver a keynote address, former International Trade and Industry Minister Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz continued to be in her element.

The feisty former minister, who earned the nickname “Iron Lady of Malaysia”, did not miss a beat and held a captive audience.

From highlighting the fact that the facilities at an international beachfront hotel where the event was held were less than satisfactory by saying “your microphones here do not rock”, to amusing her audience by using a term “prawn brain” which she has coined before, referring to government officials who cause bureaucratic problems, there were no dull moments.

The heart of her speech, however, touched on the green agenda, as she spoke on the need for the issue to focus entirely on saving the environment, rather than it being about politics and power.

“The green agenda itself and sustainability issues,” noted Rafidah, “have (also) tended to be hijacked by politicians, in seeking a platform to operate upon and make green issues political capital … and this has already happened in some of the developed countries”.

The green agenda, Rafidah said, should not be politicised, as it would detract from the focus required to put into place, policies and programmes directly linked to sustainability.

“Today,” she added, “sustainability has emerged as an important factor in international trade, as more consumers, especially in the developed economies are demanding that products which enter their markets, have undergone production processes, which have in turn, met prescribed standards and regimes; all in the context and preservation of the environment and human welfare and the eco-system”.

Her call to her audience of the day made up of international quantity surveyors, academicians and several corporate sponsors of the event in being good stewards of the environment to ensure long-term business success, is perhaps a sound and timely lesson which must be taken up urgently in Penang.

Citizen groups are becoming more aware and concerned whether the island state is now seeing a further rise in rampant and unbalanced development as high rises, traffic congestion, reclamation projects, more shopping malls, high-rise dwellings and big-ticket commercial and residential property projects are the order of the day.

In the name of wanting to turn George Town into an international liveable city and lure top-notch talent to work, live and play, it appears that the issue of development has turned into one which is now becoming too property-centric.

With increased permissible density, from 1:1 to 2.8:1 or the density of 87 units per acre, land in Penang is becoming even more valuable.

This is because property developers, who are anticipating higher profits, are making a beeline to the island to buy land, and, as with all businesses, to build up to the maximum limit and maximise their profits.

Penang’s beachfronts, its pristine hill station, Penang Hill, and the state’s “golden goose”, which is the world heritage city status obtained in 2008, have not been spared the indiscriminate construction and proposed construction of high-rise buildings.

Add to this, growing environmental destruction on virtually all spots of the island, amid concerns that the state could head for a housing and construction bubble.

The primary responsibility in ensuring that environmental protection is not spawned by political interests, lies with the state.

Politicians and policymakers must determine how entrepreneurship and property rights are utilised to promote and achieve a sound balance in environmental and economic growth.

Ultimately, it is the people who must remain at the heart of the green agenda, and this calls for consumers to stand up for their belief systems and use common sense along with sound and independent science, to chart their own destinies in choosing the kind of Penang they want.

By Business Times

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