"SHOCKING" is not a strong enough word to describe what has happened at the surroundings of the landmark Kek Lok Si temple in Penang. Appalling would probably be the closest description of what has happened there, right under the noses of the local council and other regulatory bodies.
Why they chose to turn a blind eye to the blatant destruction of the hill slopes and environment there remains a mystery, with no explanation forthcoming from the state authorities until now.
It was reported that this destruction took place after a RM10 million car park project was initiated in the area surrounding the landmark temple.
Perhaps no one, from the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) to the state executive councillors with their relevant portfolios, wanted to become entangled with the temple even if all rules concerning the project were blatantly ignored.
That's right... a RM10 million project was being carried out illegally at one of the top tourist spots on the island and no enforcement authority seemed to be aware of it, let alone lifted a finger to stop it.
The irony of it all is that not one of these authorities can claim to be ignorant of the ongoing destruction caused by the project as the matter had been highlighted in some vernacular newspapers as far back as June.
Following that, DAP assemblyman for Tanjung Bungah Teh Yee Cheu also visited the site to see for himself the destruction that had taken place when ground work for the illegal project started.
A YouTube clip of Teh talking to the temple chief monk has also been uploaded but mysteriously, still no action was taken by the authorities to check on the project, let alone put a stop to it.
It was only after New Straits Times (NST) started highlighting the extent of damage done to the hill slopes and how a natural stream in the area (known as the Air Itam river) had been turned into a concrete drain that state local government and traffic management committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow and MPPP enforcement officers decided to visit the site earlier this week.
Chow then announced that a stop-work order on the project had finally been issued but his subsequent statement that the temple should immediately submit its construction plans for the parking lot to MPPP has left even more unanswered questions as to how the state authorities are handling the matter.
Even more baffling was Chow's revelation that while the MPPP knew nothing of the car park project, it had actually approved the construction of a columbarium and crematorium near the temple.
Concerned citizens and several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have since reacted by questioning how a crematorium had been approved near a water-catchment area like the Air Itam Dam, which is on the hilltop near the temple.
Questions are being raised as to whether the relevant authorities were consulted, considering that the fallout from the debris emitted by the crematorium could lead to possible contamination.
They have also urged the state government not to approve the car park project on the hill slope as it was detrimental to the environment, and demanded answers from the MPPP why the destruction at the temple site had gone unnoticed for nearly four months until the matter was raised in the NST a week ago.
Questions are also being raised as to why the local authorities are seemingly letting the blatant disregard for rules to go unpunished, with the wrongdoers instead asked to quickly submit the construction plans for a project that has already started.
The Penang authorities have also been asked to reveal if the project is being undertaken on state or private land, as, if it is the former then the project would take a whole new dimension altogether with issues concerning encroachment of state land coming into play.
Chow and the MPPP just cannot ignore all the questions that have been raised concerning the Kek Lok Si car park project as it could set a dangerous precedent where those undertaking illegal projects may feel that they would be let off just as easily.
It is baffling that the MPPP has shown extreme eagerness in tackling what can be considered petty issues but is completely lax when it comes to addressing a serious violation concerning a RM10 million illegal project.
Read more here at NST