Monday, October 31, 2011

MRT Co claims ‘bent over backwards’ to please Chinatown owners

Azhar said he has ‘bent over backwards’ to strike workable agreements that would result in an amicable end to the dispute.

File photo of Chinatown traders and owners protesting against the MRT alignmen

MRT Corporation has lashed out against “unfair” reports of its alleged high-handedness in resolving the Klang Valley MRT land row, complaining that much of its efforts to please city traders and landowners here have been met with hostility.

Its chief executive officer Datuk Azhar Abdul Hamid said he has been facing heat from both parties — the government and the owners — and “bending over backwards” to strike workable agreements that would result in an amicable end to the dispute.

He said he had first pleaded with the government, and even Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, for extra time to court the traders and landowners, particularly those from the iconic Chinatown street who are lobbying for a realignment of the multibillion ringgit rail line.

But despite the efforts, Azhar admitted talks with both Jalan Bukit Bintang and Jalan Sultan (Chinatown) traders are close to reaching a deadlock, leaving him little choice but to back out from the row and allow the group to take on the government on their own.

“Do you know how much it took for me to get the government to agree with what I am doing? It is unprecedented. I had to go right to the top. I conveyed to the PM that I will get Jalan Sultan (Chinatown) settled and now I am so frustrated that I could not do it.

“The Attorney-General even ticked me off, saying first you said you can do it and now you can’t,” he told The Malaysian Insider recently in an exclusive interview.

“That is why I am disappointed with the articles, very unfair. It made it seem like we have been very high-handed in our approach. What we are doing is that we are trying to minimise the short-term pains for long-term gains but we urge the people to allow for some sacrifices,” he said.

Azhar complained that most of the Jalan Sultan traders had insisted on rejecting the proposal he had mooted to resolve the land dispute even though the plan would see the heritage site preserved and their properties and land rights untouched.

“I have already met all their original requirements. Heritage is not an issue anymore, retaining their properties is not an issue anymore, demolition is not an issue anymore. What more do they want?

“I am paying them for the inconvenience, I am paying them for lawyers, I have promised not to start work during Chinese New Year to disrupt their business... what more? Do they want me to live with them?” he asked.

The Jalan Sultan traders had earlier protested against the project after receiving notice that their properties would be acquired to make way for the MRT line, which will run beneath their lots along the iconic street.

Engaging their own private engineer, the group then suggested a realignment that will see the Sungai Buloh-Kajang line extended by 200m, rerouted from Jalan Sultan to Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock and will include integrated terminals with the LRT Pasar Seni station and KTMB line and another with the Puduraya bus terminal.

To resolve the row, Azhar then promised to leave the traders’ properties and land rights untouched, full compensation for the six months they would have to vacate their premises to facilitate tunnelling work and any legal fees involved in the process.

“I told them to engage their own lawyers and I will pay for it. I am bending over backwards, as far as I can see, for them. We will even look at temporary accommodation... no problem,” he said.

However, Azhar said the same formula could not be applied to Jalan Bukit Bintang.

“Here, to me, it is a no-go. The problem is, the area is too tight... we cannot dig down to make space for work without demolition,” he said.

But, he stressed that MRT Co was willing to compensate the traders fairly for their losses and rebuild their properties “brick for brick” upon completion of the rail project.

“Even if you want the dirt back, I’ll put the dirt back for you. We do not want your land... that is not my business,” he said.

Bukit Bintang traders have however refused to accept the suggestion and went on a week-long signature drive from October 18, hoping to pressure Putrajaya into reverting to its original plan to build two MRT stations in the area.

Two stations, BB West and BB East, were originally meant to bookend the capital’s premier shopping district but the proposal was later dropped in favour of a single station opposite BB Plaza and Lot 10.

Traders say construction of the single BB Central station underneath the busy intersection of Jalan Bukit Bintang and Jalan Sultan Ismail and the demolition of nearby shops will disrupt business and kill tourism.
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