Friday, June 18, 2010

Kg Baru, Jangan Terburu-Buru!

We all know the history of Kg Baru, how it was designated as Malay reserve land for agricultural purposes. We know too how in its century old history, urbanization and the so-called 'development' had enveloped Kg Baru, making it indeed a very valuable piece of real estate, I understand 222 hectares of it with individual owners, while about 80 hectares more owned by the goverment. There's a move now to 'develop' Kg Baru, part of which is to convert its agricultural status to 'commercial' one. The goverment, through the Federal Territory and Urban Well Being Ministry has broached its ideas and suggestions to We know of the history and background of Kg Baru. It was originally designated as spearhead this process.

I find some of the ideas thrown up by the goverment, mainly through the minister concerned, Raja Nong Chik, puzzling and not very assuring it terms of the future of Kg Baru, be it in economic or 'developmental' sense, as well in preserving its valuable historical heritage and tradition. Allow me to jot down some of my reservations. Initially in the earlier phase of the move, the Minister seemed bent upon the following plan,its main aspects being: the magic formula was to be a division of Malay and non-Malay ownership on the basis of 60%-40% respectively. The reasons given for the arrangement were that it is necessary to make it possible for non-Malays to own properties in Kg Baru. This is to assure the ‘viability’ of the idea of developing and commercialising Kg Baru. It was also emphasised that the involvement of the non-Malays and the private sector is important since the government ‘does not have the expertise’or to this effect. The minister also opined that without non-Malay ownership and involvement, the development of Kg Baru would not be feasible. The minister underscored that the value of Kg Baru would not be high if ownership is confined only to the Malays.

In my opinion, the governments thinking and approach to the ‘development’ of Kg Baru is erroneous on the following grounds. Firstly, the government has overlooked the fact that Kg Baru has become valuable today despite its agricultural and Malay reservation status precisely because the spontaneous and ‘natural’ course of development had enveloped it. What had protected and insulated it from becoming part and parcel of ‘main stream’ capitalism or laissez affair sector sector is its agricultural and reservation status. Hence, it is clear that Kg Baru can be ‘developed’ and ‘commercialised’ without tampering with Malay ownership or reservation status. What is required is simply some imagination and creativity. There is really no magic in non-Malay ownership, or vice-versa there is no jinx or natural curse to be stigmatised on Malay ownership. The prospects and escalating value of Kg Baru derived from the spontaneous and natural dynamics of development and commercialisation of the surrounding area, and not to some immature ‘intervention’ or ill-conceived machination of government agencies arrogating itself the role ‘reformer’, ‘transformer’ or ‘developer’, ‘moderniser’, what have you.

In this respect, the development status of Kg Baru should not be conceived as a kind of ‘ghetto’, a pocket of ‘underdevelopment’, a resistant spot to development and commercialisation due to the ‘curse’ of Malay ownership. Instead of being credulous to this old obsolete idea which is tinted with racial stereotyping, the government should use its imagination to realise the great prospects of Kg Baru and its owners, conferred by a century of the nation’s ‘development’ and ‘commercialisation. In short focus on its prospects and strategic location, rather than entertain its grossly distorted image of a ‘ghetto’ to be ‘rescued’ or ‘salvaged’.

The least acceptable reason given by the minister of Federal Territory for its formula of 60%-40% is that ‘we don’t have the expertise’! Now to me this is something we should not hear from government leaders within the context of the issue. We are not talking of highly sophisticated technology like nuclear power or mega world class projects, but simply developing Kg Baru. To me it sounds like a pathetic admission of impotency. Of course we don’t expect our leaders or the public sector to know everything, but they have all the resources and expertise at their command. It is only leadership that is required of them to avail of these massive resources at their disposal and harness them well, managing and overseeing them rationall of course This is the path taken by all other progressive nations, instead of abrogating their role of leadership by simply pledging ‘we don’t have the expertise’. I am commenting on this because I sense that the motifs of ‘60%-40%’ and ‘we don’t have the expertise’ is becoming stock in the thinking of leaders, as evident in the Railway Land Deal with Singapore, and other projects.

Several days ago, there is another phase to the Kg Baru puzzle. Amid protests from land owners, Malay interests groups, NGO’s, meeting leaders apology of ‘nothing is cast in stone’, the Ministry concerned had made some statements. Now the formula 60%-40% formula is to be applied only by the government in handling its 80 hectares of land in Kg Baru. In this connection, all my comments in the above should apply. As for the land with individual owners, the Ministry said it is entirely up to them. There is also the ambivalent and unclear statement that the ‘tradition and heritage’ of Kg Baru would be maintained by the Ministry and those concerned. I think this can be problematic in the long run as we know once ‘development’ and ‘commercialisation’ has made inroads, it is a pledge that could prove to be elusive.

Has there been some back-pedalling or rethinking on its ideas as far as the Ministry is concerned? In the case of which, I hope the government would think through its ideas well before embarking on controversial pronouncements and campaign. It will save the nation much unnecessary conflicts and agitations, as we know issues of ethnic significance will invariably generate much ill will and misunderstanding. I might add too, I hope the whole idea of ‘commercialising’ or ‘developing’ Kg Baru has not been motivated or inspired by the vested interests of Malay corporate sector, oblivious to the wider interests of the Malay community. I must admit there is a familiar ring to the ‘60%-40%’ quota centric formula, as well as the pledge of ‘we don’t have the expertise’. It is reminiscence of the old Ali-Baba ethos of ill fated NEP, except the magic chant of ‘30%-70%’has now evolved into ’60%-40%’. I really hope it is not the old syndrome of taking the easy way out of passing the work to others, in the hope of making quick easy money, on the ground of being ‘owners but alas with no expertise’.

Concerning Kg Baru, considering its rich history and cultural heritage, we should move creatively and rationally. There is no need to tamper with variables unconnected with developmental pre-requisites, such as ownership etc Many of the problems being raised by leaders and planners seemed to be only their head.Focus on its prospects and great promises, rather than misconceived ‘problems’. Never give in to the short term interests of individuals, while sacrificing long term interests of the Malays at large and that of the nation. The pioneers and early settlers had steadfastly resisted the temptations and allurements of 'development', and maintained their rich heritage.It would be sad indeed to see the their later descendants succumbing,'selling out' for great, albeit short term gains.