Taman Desa condo collapse highlights need to address travesty of justice

It has been over three years since residents in Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur protested over land grabs and over-development, including ‘The Address II’ Condominium – part of which collapsed at 3.40pm on Friday, injuring two workers and causing distress to thousands living in the area.

After Pakatan Harapan came into power in May 2018, reports and complaints were lodged with the authorities, including the Federal Territories Ministry and Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, regarding controversial projects in Kuala Lumpur, including those ‘legalised’ through ‘land grabs’. Yet, there has been radio silence from the authorities.

Last Friday’s incident may have been due to many reasons.

It could have been a structural problem, or soil in the area is not suitable to withstand the magnitude of the development. Or there could perhaps also be breaches under the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994 and the Factories and Machinery Act 1967.

Whatever the reason may be, the outcome must be made public in due course.

However, the crux of the matter is bigger than the incident.

Let’s backtrack.

‘The Address II’, which will see two 39-storey buildings sprouting, sits on what used to be Tenaga Nasional Berhad reserve land. It was later marked as a green lung in the Kuala Lumpur City Plan 2020.

But the gazetted plan showed otherwise.

Residents have for a long time been questioning how the authorities validated the land status and allowed this project. Seputeh MP Teresa Kok who visited the site yesterday said the development order was issued by City Hall in March 2017.

According to senior town planner Datuk P. Gunasilan, any land earmarked as utility land such as a Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) land reserve will be surrendered by a developer of a housing scheme to the Department of Director-General of Land and Mines and it belongs to the Federal Lands Commissioner.

“If TNB decides subsequently not to use the land, it does not mean it can be used for other purposes at the pleasure of the state land and mines office or the Department of Director-General of Land and Mines. Neither paid for the land and in principle, it belongs collectively to the buyers of the particular development scheme,” he said.

As such, any alternate use must be for the benefit of the community.

How then did this land change hands to a third party developer?

Last Friday’s incident is the second involving the developer in Taman Desa. The first was in January 2019 when a crane at the site of another project ‘The Address’ collapsed into nearby Tiara Faber Condominium damaging the boundary wall and utility services building.

The Address, according to residents group Protect Taman Desa from Overdevelopment, also sits on what was previously TNB reserve land.

Some may argue there is no point looking back and it is instead important to establish what caused last Friday’s incident. Gunasilan begs to differ.

“If we continue to adopt this mentality, more public land and green space will be robbed as it implies the government can do whatever it wants with a piece of land the moment it is surrendered to them by a private developer.”

“Developers surrender these lands to the authorities following prescribed formulas and calculation made by the authorities.”

He said these lands, once surrendered, will be managed by the state land offices and these departments hold the land in trust and must ensure it fulfills the public purpose for which it is surrendered.

“Buyers of houses and shoplots in the area have effectively paid for these lands by way of the developer grossing all development cost into the price of each unit sold,” he said.

So why aren’t developers speaking up? Why are they allowing their land which they could have benefited from to go into the hands of competitors?

“Developers are afraid as they need the authorities to approve their other projects, so they will remain silent and inevitably, the people will be at the receiving end,” Gunasilan added.

Stakeholders, not just residents, but also developers including the Real Estate and Housing Development Association and the legal fraternity, should voice out as ‘The Address’ and ‘Address II’ are not the only cases of controversial land use in Kuala Lumpur in recent years, Gunasilan said.

“When someone starts voicing out, only then will the decision makers be answerable for their actions.

But will anyone dare to address the elephant in the room?

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