I AM glad that Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow had stopped issuing statements justifying the PDC’s sale of 556 acres of land in Byram, Sebarang Perai Selatan to Umech Land.
Twice he sought to his justify the land sale – but on both occasions – the answers he provided raised more questions.
Following the failed attempts, he has said that he would refer the controversial land sale to the PDC Board meeting for a decision. It is not sure when this meeting will be held.
Perhaps Chow realises that controversial sale to Umech Land not to Umech Construction has raised questions that remain to be answered.
I am not sure whether the new PDC Board has the knowledge about the controversial issues surrounding the land sale. Before any decision could be made, I am not sure whether the current PDC management will be able to present the facts objectively and honestly.
This is why in the interest of transparency and accountability, the actual date of the approval of the land sale must made known. In other words, the date of the PDC board meeting that gave the approval.
Not only this, why was there the switch from Umech Construction to Umech Land and why two days before the S&P (sale & purchase) agreement, Sunway was brought in to hold 70% of the shares of Umech Land which is the buyer.
The other shareholders of this company are Cheng Pei Kwan and Nathaniel Rajkumar. I understand that they are the other shareholders of Umech Construction. Umech Construction and Umech Land might be two different companies but with the same shareholders.
Why no direct deal with Sunway?
The question is why did the PDC management never divulged the details as to why the land was sold to Umech Land not Umech Construction and why the last minute arrangement to bring in Sunway.
It was through the entry of Sunway as the majority shareholder of Umech Land that the sale of the land was actualised. If Umech Land had such a good financial reputation, why the need to bring in Sunway?
If Umech Land did not have financial strength, PDC could have struck a straight forward deal with Sunway, not in the present convoluted manner. Sunway is a famous company with sound financial credentials.
I am sure the PDC management must been aware of these developments. Was critical information withheld in the PDC Board meetings? Was Chow fully appraised of the financial standing of Umech Land?
In fact, Chow even commented on Oct 3 that he was not aware of Sunway’s involvement. He might have instructed PDC to get more details on the last minute entry of Sunway.
Surely, a land development project was valued at RM3.5 bil with the creation of thousands of jobs is of great interest to the public in Penang.
I was informed that hundreds of multinational companies are keenly watching how the Penang state government is going to manage the present land deal controversy.
Land for industrial development is a scarce commodity in Penang. PDC is under tremendous pressure to make industrial land available for foreign and local investors. It is the lack of industrial land that is one of the main reasons why many foreign and local investors are seeking greener pastures for the availability of land in other states.
Thus, given this land scarcity, there is no excuse for PDC not to have transparent dealings with investors and land purchasers.
Act against errant PDC officers
This is not to forget that the land that was sold to Umech Land was acquired property of the PDC. In other words, land taken under compulsory acquisition are meant for public purposes.
I wonder what would be the reaction of the original owners of the said land? Can they take legal action against the PDC and the state government for violating the terms of the land acquisition?
Anyway, it is not too late for the PDC and the state government to put an end to this land sale.
I am sure that there are provisions in the S&P that would allow the PDC to come out of the deal provided that Umech Land did not divulge the full details of the requirements of the PDC in effecting the land sale.
On Oct 10, I requested Chow to suspend the land deal indefinitely before a thorough investigation could be conducted on the land sale.
However, as more questions and queries are coming to the fore on the land sale, I suggest that both the PDC and the Penang state government undertake the unpleasant task of cancelling the land deal with Umech Land.
It is simply not worth pursuing the present land deal that threatens to put to shame all the good work done by the Penang government for the last 15 years.
Once cancellation is done, action should be taken against those individuals whether in PDC, or in the state government or outside responsible for this shoddy mess.
Once this is done, PDC rather than selling raw land to private investors, should develop such land by itself. By doing this, PDC can return to its core activities. – Oct 15, 2023
Former deputy chief minister II of Penang Prof Ramasamy Palanissamy was also a former Penang Development Corporation (PDC) board member.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.