The Sun (Malaysia)

A question of heritage

- R. Nadeswaran has returned after a three-week sojourn away from work which was sorely needed to re-charge the ageing batteries. Comments: citizen nades@thesundail­

DATUK Mohamed Nor Mohamad, a former senator and founding partner of the accounting firm Hanafiah Raslan Mohamed (HRM) often regales his audience with tales of the past and his experience as a young accountant.

Now in his 80’s, the former Selangor Umno treasurer had an interestin­g story to tell on the government’s proposal to acquire the Royal Selangor Golf Club (RSGC) and turn it into a public park.

In the early sixties when trade unionist cum politician V. David was in his first term as the MP for Bungsar (as it was then known), he suggested that the golf club be turned into a cattle grazing area. (David had been a Kuala Lumpur town municipal councillor in the fifties and had often supported the cattle farming community in Kampung Pandan which is on the periphery of the RSGC.)

The prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, an avid golfer and a frequent visitor to the club, said Mohamed Nor, turned to David and said: “Apa hang tahu pasal heritage?” The suggestion was dismissed almost instantly and never came up for discussion subsequent­ly.

In recent weeks, Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan announced plans to turn the 137ha club into a recreation­al park.

In justifying the plans, Abdul Rahman said there were no more golf clubs in the centre of cities of most developed countries. As such, he said, the site was more suitable for a recreation­al park, like New York City’s Central Park or Hyde Park in London.

One of the many banes of our system is that we want to create all kinds of facilities and often justify that they are being done to “cater for the needs of the people”.

The proposed acquisitio­n of the RSGC is no exception and the minister was quoted as saying: “We understand residents need a recreation­al park close to their homes, workplaces and shopping centres.

“They can rest there; do recreation­al activities after work, while waiting for the traffic to ease to return home.” Really? At what cost? And for whom? Spanning an area of over 14 million sq ft and nearby parcels of land changing hands at over RM2,000 psf, we are talking about RM28 billion. At a time when the rakyat are asked to tighten their belts, is such expenditur­e warranted or can it be justified?

With this kind of money, how many hospitals can we build; how many doctors can we train; how many schools can be built and the list goes on.

But then, from the grapevine comes “theories” that the acquisitio­n is for “other purposes”. Already, Temasik, the residence of the Singapore High Commission­er to Malaysia, has been told to re-locate to make way for the Tun Razak Exchange and the main transport terminal which is being built around it.

Temasik sits on land belonging to the RSGC which has been leased to the Singapore Government.

History tells us that there have been instances when land was acquired for “public purposes” which was subsequent­ly sold or alienated to private entities for commercial developmen­t.

Because of the ongoing litigation between the government and land owners, details cannot be shared publicly lest it is deemed sub judice. There is at least one case in Petaling Jaya and another in Kuala Lumpur.

But coming back to the plans for the park, will it end up suffering the fate of so many other facilities which have fallen apart because of lack of maintenanc­e?

Former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi famously remarked: “We have first class facilities but third class maintenanc­e.” And the many dilapidate­d community centres and playing fields with lalang dotted around the country are standing monuments of this.

Let us also not forget that the RSGC has a long and illustriou­s history which is associated with the birth and dawn of golf in Malaysia.

It was founded in 1893 at the time when the game was just beginning to be popularise­d by the privileged few among the society of Kuala Lumpur.

The club prides itself as the home of clubbing hospitalit­y of camaraderi­e, pleasant social interactio­n and the excellence of amenities which it offers to its members and guests.

“RSGC’s stature as the premier golf club in the country since its early founding years is unrivalled and its long existence is a testament and celebratio­n of the strong foundation of this Club,” the club says on its website.

All said, let us find the money, alternativ­e land and let the government give a firm undertakin­g that should the land be acquired, it would be used only for recreation­al purposes and no commercial activities would be carried out.

Even if legally done, it would be a pity to see the end of a venue where many internatio­nal golfers teed off. And the Tunku’s question comes to mind: “Apa hang tahu pasal heritage?”

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