By Annabelle Lee
On Monday, the public was stunned to learn that the Selangor government had alienated half of the Kuala Langat (North) Forest Reserve to a private company.
The state executive council decided the matter on May 5 but it was only revealed three months later during a state legislative assembly hearing.
The state assembly was told that little-known Gabungan Indah Sdn Bhd had won rights to turn a portion of the peat swamp forest into a mixed-development project.
What is known, however, is that Gabungan Indah was not the initial company proposed to develop the land.
Change of developer
The state executive council first proposed the de-gazettement on Oct 19, 2019.
In February 2020, the Selangor Forestry Department published a public notice about the de-gazettement plan in the media.
Two companies – Titian Jutaria Sdn Bhd and Menteri Besar Incorporated (MBI) – were later revealed to be the proposed developers.
The former had Selangor Crown Prince Tengku Amir Shah Sultan Idris Shah as a director while the latter is a state government-owned firm chaired by Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari.
In March 2020, Amirudin told the state legislative assembly that Titian Jutaria and MBI will need to pay around RM323,774,578 in premium for rights to the land.
In September 2020, executive councillor Hee Loy Sian said that MBI remained in the running to develop the land.
Both firms now appear to be out of the picture.
Companies Commission (CCM) records show that Titian Jutaria, which was set up in December 2018, has since been dissolved.
During Monday’s legislative assembly session, Hee did not state when this change of developer was made, or why.
Neither did he reveal how much land premium the new developer will pay.
Political and logging links
Gabungan Indah was set up relatively recently – on Nov 2, 2020 – with a paid-up capital of RM1.
The only director of the firm is Mohd Fadil Muskon, who was the Johor Umno Youth chief from 2009 to 2012. Little is known of his recent political activities.
Its stated nature of business is as a “holding company”, for the export and import of non-specialised goods and for residential real estate dealings.
Gabungan Indah is owned by Vibrantscape Sdn Bhd – also a recent set-up (Dec 12, 2020) with a paid-up capital of RM1.
Vibrantscape, in turn, is wholly-owned by Perdana Parkcity Sdn Bhd.
All three firms share the same registered address while Perdana ParkCity CEO Joseph Lau is the sole director at Vibrantscape.
Perdana Parkcity is a prolific and award-winning property developer best known for the sprawling, lush and luxurious Desa ParkCity township in Kepong, Kuala Lumpur.
It is the property development arm of the Samling Group, a conglomerate headquartered in Miri, Sarawak, with vast interests in logging and plantations.
Developer must meet criteria
The entire Kuala Langat (North) Forest Reserve was originally 991.9ha.
The state government has excised 536.7ha (54 percent). This is the size of about 751 football fields.
Of this, Gabungan Indah will be given 494.7ha.
The state government’s initial plan was to excise 930ha (97 percent) of the reserve.
Yesterday, a map of the degazetted area released by the Selangor Forestry Department revealed that the northern half of the Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve was earmarked for development.
The department also announced that several criteria have been imposed on Gabungan Indah.
This included maintaining 20 percent of the de-gazetted area as “green areas”.
“Among the conditions is the requirement for an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and other related conditions.
“This includes the retention of as much as 20 percent of its development area as green areas and for the translocation of important flora and fauna species,” it said in a statement.
The department explained that it had allowed for the de-gazettement because the forest area in question was a fire hazard and had experienced “degradation” due to fires in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2021.
“The Kuala Langat (North) Forest Reserve is a forest that is isolated from the main forest complex and faces development pressure from surrounding saturated built-up areas such as the Elite Highway, Bandar Saujana Putra and Gamuda Cove,” it added.
In a September 2020 public hearing, stakeholders had challenged the state government’s insistence that the forest reserve was degraded and a fire hazard.
An officer from the Peninsular Malaysia Forestry Department’s Wetlands Forest Management noted that about RM2.2 million in tax money had already been spent to build fire prevention infrastructure in the reserve.
Environmental NGOs argued that the forest was in fact a valuable peat swamp habitat for the Malayan sun bear, Selangor pygmy flying squirrel, Langat red fighting fish and meranti trees.
Surrounding Orang Asli villages were also against the de-gazettement.
In November 2020, all Selangor assemblypersons had voted unanimously for a motion to protect all gazetted forest reserves in the state.
Open tender not needed
Speaking to Malaysiakini, Banting assemblyperson Lau Weng San said the state government is not required to initiate a tender process before alienating state land to developers.
Normally, private developers will propose to take over state land and the state cabinet would consider it.
Banting assemblyperson Lau Weng San
That said, Lau urged the state government to reveal details of the company behind the project and whether it could afford the hefty premium.
“I’m also proposing a fact-finding mission.
“The lawmakers and the state exco can go visit the place (forest reserve) and see for themselves what’s at stake,” he said.
The DAP lawmaker was among several who spoke against the de-gazettement during Aug 30’s legislative assembly sitting.
More Pakatan Harapan lawmakers have since urged the Selangor government to reverse the de-gazettement.
PKR, the party Amirudin and Hee belong to, has also summoned them for an explanation. Amirudin supposedly said he would postpone the de-gazettement process until the air was cleared.
Malaysiakini has contacted his office for confirmation.
Meanwhile, Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Centre) expressed concern at the lack of transparency over the de-gazettement.
The anti-corruption NGO’s executive director Cynthia Gabriel questioned why the development involved “shell companies” with a mere RM1 in paid-up capital.
“Private entities that stand to benefit from this de-gazettement must be selected based on merit in a transparent manner with no undue influence over government procedures,” she said in a statement.
Cynthia urged the state government to make public its technical reports on the forest reserve and ultimately reverse its decision.
“Explain how the decisions were made, the suspicious manner in which it was carried out, and the reasons for why the issue was kept secret for a full three months.
“Are there higher hands involved, and who was ultimately involved?” she asked.