Sabah green group questions U-turn on controversial Tg Aru beachfront project

Julia Chan
Kota Kinabalu Save Open Space said it objects to the mass development on the prime beachfront land of Tanjung Aru. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

KOTA KINABALU, June 25 — Environmentalists are appealing to the Sabah state government to halt any development in the controversial Tanjung Aru Eco Development (TAED) project, as a state minister confirmed it would be proceeding with the equally controversial Papar Dam.

The Kota Kinabalu Save Open Space (SOS KK) group said it was confused by the latest statement from the government that the projects are now back on, despite assurances that they would not proceed.

“To go ahead with the project now is a betrayal of the people’s trust. Why did we vote for them if they make promises that they don’t keep to? They’re doing the same thing as the old government,” said SOS KK coordinator SM Muthu.

Muthu urged the chief minister to clarify once and for all the government’s stand on the matter.

The group objected to the mass development on the prime beachfront land that they said was one of the last pieces of highly-valued public land, saying that it could instead be developed as a city park.

“We appeal to you to conserve Tanjung Aru Beach and ensure any development does not degrade or devalue the heritage value the beach. The rest of the land can actually be retained by the government for public purposes such as rest houses, campsites and youth training centres,” they said

The group reminded the government that Tanjung Aru assemblyman Datuk Junz Wong had campaigned for the scrapping of the project before the May 9 polls, and after coming into government, had promised it would be retained as a recreational reserve.

However, after an extended period of uncertainty, Infrastructure Development Minister Datuk Peter Anthony earlier today announced that the Papar Dam was necessary to supply water to the TAED project

“Looking at the overall aspects, this dam is necessary because soon the TAED will start operating in Tanjung Aru,” he said, adding that the dam was also necessary to fulfill the needs of the people in the west coast districts.

The Papar Dam, which was an alternative to the initial, bigger, Kaiduan Dam, is also expected to produce 100kVa of power that will benefit villages between Papar and Kota Kinabalu.

“When we finally settle the loans to construct the dam, maybe in six or seven years, the state government will be able to collect at least RM500 million annually and this is good for development in Sabah,” said Anthony, who is also Warisan’s vice president.

The two projects have been heavily criticised by the public and conservation groups. The TAED project was claimed to be environmentally disastrous due to the heavy reclamation and possible privatisation of swathes of beachfront land while the Papar Dam will likely upend the livelihoods of the indigenous people in the area.

Senator Adrian Lasimbang took to Facebook to say that projects of such public interest needed more community engagement and that it only served a small slice of the community.

“Where is the consideration for social environmental impact of these projects? Why can't this new government pursue more sustainable development? I am pretty sure this kind of development will only bring benefits to the upper class and those with capital... while the normal citizens will only be offered bread crumbs.

“The process of development requires public participation... not just in the hands of those within the corridors of power,” he said.

The SOS KK also called for increased transparency with regards to the TAED project.

“The Tanjung Aru beach area should be upgraded with better facilities and infrastructure, yes. All that is needed is something that has been done at the Taman Teluk Likas. But to kill the original beach and reclaim more than 600 acres of the sea is madness.

“The beach has heritage value to Sabahans. It was and to many it still is the soul of Sabahans especially citizens of Kota Kinabalu,” said SM Muthu.

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