ONE year after the 14th General Election, which saw a change of government in Malaysia, people are eager to see the changes that Pakatan Harapan has brought to the table.
This is especially true for city folk who want ongoing issues resolved and to see a new transformation in the Federal Territories, specifically Kuala Lumpur, the country’s capital.
However, the problems and poor practices inherited from the previous government, including dubious land deals and politics of patronage, have plagued the new administration.
These burdens weigh heavily on Federal Territories Minister Khalid Abdul Samad, who has been tasked with resolving a multitude of issues such as the 97 suspect land transactions made by Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) below market price and the contentious Taman Rimba Kiara development project.
The people definitely had high expectations that the ministry could come out with quick decisions to put an end to these issues, but Khalid has taken a more measured approach.
“City folk expected the Pakatan government to decide and resolve these issues fast.
“Some of these issues had been used as platforms in the 14th General Election campaign but at that time, we did not know the true status of these matters and had assumed there would be no repercussion if we cancelled certain projects.
“When we became the Government, some of these cases had progressed to an advanced stage, making it difficult for us to terminate without incurring costs.
“The Government’s stand is that ongoing and signed contracts should be allowed to proceed with a general instruction to achieve some form of improvements in its conditions or value, where we should get at least 10% savings,” Khalid said during an exclusive interview with StarMetro at his office in Putrajaya.
He, however, acknowledged this fact might not be that well understood by the public. “Take the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) project for example. Although we have saved RM21.5bil, there are those who say the project should not have been implemented at all in the first place.“But they do not realise that if we do that, we have to go to court and probably need to pay a few billion ringgit in compensation and get nothing in return.
“What we have to do is to be more pragmatic and practical and do what we can to achieve the best possible solutions,” he reiterated.
Setting new aspirations
The change in government in 2018 had brought several challenges in implementing new policies and processes in the capital city.
Being part of the previous government that had reigned for 61 years, it is not unusual that some civil servants share beliefs and work culture that are not in line with the current government.
Khalid admitted that there was resistance internally as the ministers tried to bring about the changes in the new administration.
“These are the problems we face when we take over an existing administration with all its flaws and work culture, which we needed to revamp but it cannot be done overnight.
“It would be easier to start afresh with a new team but it is not possible to have such drastic change.
“We have to get the civil service on our side where staff in DBKL, Putrajaya Corporation (PPj) and Labuan Corporation could share our aspirations and vision and change the way they approach their jobs.
“We are trying to instil a kind of understanding at the same time. Emulate the same values and practices in what we preach to show the people that we are serious in what we are saying, that it is not just political hype.
“It takes time for things to change and we are trying. We want to achieve efficient and corruption-free service for the people,” he emphasised.
Another challenge, according to Khalid, is when the general public criticised the Government without knowing the entirety of an issue, which painted an inaccurate impression of the Government.
“Some people are saying that Pakatan and BN are just the same.
“My request is that since the public had supported us in order for us to take over the government, I hope they will continue to support us in our efforts to bring about change within the administration.
“Negative statements do not help, especially when we are trying to show that we are serious and committed to our ideals.
“Of course, we are limited in terms of implementation because of various constraints.
“If there are things that people are not happy about, they can see us and talk to us,” he said.
The FT Minister has had a lot on his plate this past year and points to some significant achievements during the period.
He said one of the most important was the recovery of RM481mil in cash and other forms from dubious land deals undertaken by DBKL.
“The figure will change as we are still negotiating 20 more deals,” he said, adding that MPs reported 64 such deals, while 97 deals were investigated in total.
Khalid said a special independent committee was set up and it approved 43 of the deals.
“From the rest, 14 land deals with a total of 21.2ha were cancelled as the projects were still at the preliminary stages. We returned their 10% deposit.
“If we had not cancelled those deals, we would have borne RM159mil in potential losses because the land was sold at RM310mil instead of the market rate of RM469mil.
“A total of 15 land deals were renegotiated and we recouped RM149mil cash along with RM6mil in corporate social responsibility projects.
“Another five deals that were taken to court ended in out-of-court settlements. DBKL made RM109mil in cash and RM58mil in infrastructure,” he said.
On the issue of local council elections, which was also among Pakatan’s GE14 campaign issues, Khalid said the closest they came was getting the involvement of MPs in the management of the city through Federal Territories Consultative Council.
“We are pushing to make sure the 11 MPs of Kuala Lumpur are members of this meeting, which should be held as needed, at least once in two months.
“Just like how the Mentri Besar is answerable to the assemblymen, the minister is answerable to the MPs,” he said, adding that it was an effort to balance the power of the minister.
“Some may argue that it does not make much of a difference, but it is a step forward,” said Khalid.
“At the council, the discussions are not specific to constituencies but the city as a whole. We discuss policies to better manage the city.
“For Putrajaya and Labuan, there is only one MP. So, we can meet to discuss issues any time,” he said.
Asked about the controversial gazetting of the Kuala Lumpur Plan 2020, which various groups had protested over, the minister said this was something he had to do in order to control overdevelopment immediately.
“Gazetting a plan from the past is peculiar because usually, we plan for the future. But it has to be done as soon as possible, to control of what has yet to take place.
“The lack of control has resulted in overdevelopment in parts of Kuala Lumpur. There is now a cap for density, of 1:10 plot ratio and 1,000 people per acre. Prior to the plan being gazetted, the density was open to negotiation, with approved plot ratio up to 1:20 and population density of 2,000 people per acre,” he said.
However, Khalid assured that future plans would be put up for scrutiny.
“The 2040 plan will be done as it should. It will be put for public display and feedback by the end of this year or early next year. Our target is to gazette that plan by the end of 2020,” he said.
Another notable achievement under Khalid’s tenure is the launch of two new GoKL bus routes, focusing on residential areas for first mile/last mile travel.
“The Orange and Pink routes are to cater to the residential areas, connecting people to nearby buildings or train stations.
“I was informed that the ridership for Orange route, from Titiwangsa and Mindef, and the Pink route, from LRT Universiti to Kerinchi, is about 1,000 people per day,” he said.
GoKL buses to four other routes are also free. They are Green route (KLCC-Bukit Bintang), Purple route (Pasar Seni-Bukit Bintang), Red route (Titiwangsa-KL Sentral Hub) and Blue route (Titiwangsa-Bukit Bintang Hub).
Khalid said besides the free buses, FT Ministry was also finding ways to improve traffic flow by increasing connectivity via new interchanges to disperse traffic efficiently.