Last December, this portal questioned the lack of public parks in the city and lamented the lack of maintenance of the parks that we do already have.
Titled ‘Dude, where are our parks?’ the article compared the numerous parks and public spaces in London, to the lack of them thereof in Kuala Lumpur.
So, when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced a few days ago that an ‘urban rainforest park’ called Taman Tugu which would be created around the National Monument (Tugu Negara) in the centre of KL, I was quick to rejoice — until I read about the dent it will make to public coffers: a whopping RM650 million.
It is private-public partnership with Khazanah Nasional, with the consultation of the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) and the Malaysian Nature Society.
However, it bears remembering that Khazanah Nasional is the sovereign wealth fund of the government.
With that in mind, my initial joy turned to resentment — amidst budget cuts to fundamental needs like healthcare and education, a sprawling 66-acre park seems, frankly, an absolute mockery of the word ‘priorities’.
In January, the Health Ministry announced that it is expected to face budget cuts between RM250 million and RM300 million ahead of the revised 2016 Budget.
In the same month, Najib’s revised budget saw the axe come down harder than an executioners’ blade on education — some by over 20% — budgets were cut by RM2.4 billion, that is, from RM15.78 billion in 2015 to RM13.37 billion for the year 2016.
On Jan 20, the government also announced that it has suspended Public Service Department (JPA) scholarships, and it was reported to affect some 700 placements this year both overseas and locally.
In the face of these cuts, a massive park which Najib hopes will rival London’s Hyde Park and New York’s Central Park seems to spit in the face of the future generations.
This is not to say a green lung in the heart of the city is an unwelcome project. Kuala Lumpur is shockingly bleak, with skyscrapers that look great at night, but it also comes with grey congested roads and car fumes that choke us with carbon monoxide and pollution everyday.
There are barely any green spots in the city, the only one of any significant size being KLCC Park, and even that is dominated by a giant water fountain more than anything else. The only other option for a real retreat of greenery in the city is the FRIM reserve forest in Kepong.
Most residential areas have playgrounds and small parks, but they are often badly-lit, poorly-maintained and covered in rubbish; and, the less said about Taman Tasik Titiwangsa, the better.
Is it not wiser instead, then, to use that money to upkeep the green lungs we already have? Instead of creating what could potentially be a white (or rather, green) elephant project in the heart of the city, why not ask Khazanah Nasional to embark on a city beautification project by improving on the green spaces that already exist, and upgrade playgrounds to actually be kid-friendly?
Any project aimed at creating free public spaces where Malaysians can relax on weekends and spend family time is, in my opinion, a good project. Having spent over a year in London now, I have come to appreciate the beautifully-maintained parks in the city, and I do wish the same can be done in my country.
However, the government also has a horrendous track record of launching half-baked projects — so what’s to prevent the same from happening here?
In this case, priorities must be at the forefront, and the government had best reconsider if a ‘urban rainforest’ is more important than the health and education of the entire population.
In the face of health and education budget cuts, a massive park of RM650 million is a spit in the face of future generations.
May Wan Wong