KOTA KINABALU: Heritage advocate Richard Nelson Sokial hopes that the judge presiding over the Atkinson Clock Tower judicial review process on 12th July 2011 will rule in favor of transparency and openness for the sake of public interest.
“The Atkinson Clock Tower controversy has attracted so much attention that further scrutiny over the 16-storey shopping mall project and the facts pertaining how the local authorities approved this heritage-destroying project should be made public for the people of Sabah to study and understand how the process of approval was obtained,” he said.
Aerial view of Atkinson Clock Tower (centre of photo) and its surrounding areas.
The case of the judicial review has been dragged on for months by the defendants City Hall, SHTDA and the Central Board since shocking news of the controversial shopping mall project first came to light on social network Facebook in September 2010. A concerned housewife Lim Swee Geck and social activist Jefferi Chang subsequently filed a judicial review against the project.
In an effort to save the heritage significance of the Atkinson Clock Tower – a city landmark built in 1905, more than 2,200 individuals have signed an online petition http://www.petitiononline.com/sabah100/petition.html urging the controversial project to be scrapped in favour of turning the 106-year-old historical site into a public park.
“Sabahans care about their history. We care about our heritage. It is part of our state pride and identity”, said Sokial who started the online petition.
As an observer, Sokial also questions the motive behind the process of judicial review being dragged out for such a long time by the defendants.
“Why has the judicial review been adjourned again and again? Is it an attempt to hide the truth behind how the project was approved?
“In statements, they (defendants) keep saying that the project is being reviewed. But that was several months ago, what was the verdict of their meetings? Why does it take so long for them to make a decision?”
“Is this a reflection of how other reviews of developments in Sabah is done as well? What actually goes on during these Central Board meetings? How efficient is this system that takes months to come up with a proper solution?”
“So far, all the delay and false-starts has done is to raise more questions and doubts about how commercial development projects are approved in Sabah.”
Sokial, who is the spokesperson of a local group Heritage Sabah reiterates that the group is not anti-development but merely concerned about the diminishing value of the city’s historical landmarks and heritage sites.
“As stakeholders of KK city and as the people of Sabah, we have a right to know how this project was approved and to have all the facts pertaining the case laid bare in the court of law so that in the future, all property owners, heritage lovers, developers, investors and Sabahans in general are better informed and empowered to understand how the process for approval for the city, towns and our entire state are evaluated.
“If the court allows for a fair review for this case, it will be an eye-opener for the general public of how our laws act in serve the best interests of our local people,” Sokial said.
He cautioned the defendants not to underestimate the intelligence of the general Sabah public, citing that while the general populace may not be experts in city planning, their opinions of how they want their city to be sustained and responsibly managed is crucial, adding that local authorities must be held accountable for the decisions that they make on behalf of the entire population of Kota Kinabalu city.
“If SHTDA, City Hall and Central Board have indeed been exercising a fair, corruption-free, transparent and public-orientated review of all projects submitted to them all these years, then there should be no problem for them to produce the actual minutes of meetings they have had upon request on how they reviewed the merits of the proposed shopping mall development at the Atkinson Clock Tower site. It is stated in our state laws that such information is not confidential and may be inspected upon public request.”
He urged to the public to keep close tabs on the developments of the Atkinson Clock Tower case as a point of reference.
“A lot of people – including commercial developers – will be affected by the outcome of this judicial review. It will shed light on certain practices made by local authorities in order to allow for proposed commercial developments to be approved. Hence I would urge local developers to support the plea for a judicial review for the clock tower site. We must encourage responsible development proposals.”
“Our nation is now calling for our Malaysian government to be clean of corruption and to prove their commitment to serving the interests of the rakyat. This is a landmark case for how commercial development is approved in Sabah – and is a chance for the public to judge whether our current court system favors a fair and transparent process that serves the needs and interests of the common Sabahan people,” he said.
“Let the judicial review of the Atkinson Clock Tower have its day in court. Show the people of Sabah that the court of law upholds truth and justice for all.”