Penang to set up corporation overseeing parks and gardens

By Opalyn Mok
Picture shows the entrance of the Penang Botanic Gardens. — Picture courtesy of Google Street View

GEORGE TOWN, Nov 14 — Penang passed today a Bill to set up a corporation to manage its natural parks and the Penang Botanic Gardens.

The new enactment allowed the setting up of a Penang State Park (Botanic) Corporation to handle, control, preserve, conserve and research flora and fauna and other matters related to the Penang State Park (Botany).

The Bill was passed with a majority of votes after a brief debate by backbenchers and an opposition assemblyman, Datuk Muhamad Farid Saad (BN – Pulau Betong).

Muhamad Farid said the corporation will be chaired by the chief minister and it was stated in the enactment that the general manager of the corporation will have to report to the chairman.

“Shouldn’t the general manager report to the board of directors in the corporation instead of to the chairman?” he asked.

He said if the general manager only reports to the chairman, this means any decisions made will only be made by two people.

Backbencher Wong Hon Wai (DAP – Air Itam) said he had been waiting for 10 years for this Bill to be tabled.

“Our botanic gardens have the potential to be much more than it is and with this Bill, I want to see our botanic gardens to become a Unesco site like the Singapore Botanic Garden,” he said.

He also said the Bill will present an opportunity for the state government to create another botanic gardens, especially in Seberang Perai.

A few backbenchers also raised questions about a clause in the Bill that proposed a fee may be charged for entrance to the botanic gardens.

State executive councillor Jagdeep Singh Deo (DAP – Datuk Keramat) who proposed this Bill, said it covers the 133-year-old Penang Botanic Gardens along with other sites that can be identified as state parks.

“The Penang Botanic Gardens is the oldest botanic gardens in Malaysia which was founded in 1884 and its first curator was Charles Curtis,” he said.

He said the setting up of a corporation to manage the botanic gardens is the first step for the state in its bid to apply for Unesco heritage recognition for the gardens.

He pointed out that the Singapore Botanic Garden is already recognised as a Unesco site, so it is time that Penang Botanic Gardens be recognised as a Unesco site too.

In his winding-up speech on the Bill, Jagdeep explained the clause for possible entrance fees was not new.

He said the previous enactment, the Penang Waterfall Gardens Enactment 1923, had also mentioned the administration of fees for entrance into the botanic gardens.

“Even the revision in 2005 and again 2010, the management was given the authority to impose fees and yet, fees were not imposed all this time,” he said.

He agreed that fees should not be charged for entrance into the gardens but suggested that fees can be charged for a certain product within the gardens.

“So for botanic gardens, if they have any new products or upgraded its products, maybe that’s when we may consider fees for administrative purposes of the product,” he said.

He added that the state aimed to achieve Unesco status for the Penang Botanic Gardens, so the fees clause was needed when the gardens do become a Unesco site.

In reply to Muhamad Farid, he said the final decision on any matters made by the corporation lies with the state government, not only two people.