Penang ropes in Singapore’s help to manage botanic gardens

Jagdeep Singh Deo said he visited Singapore last July 31 and discussed signing an agreement to share knowledge and skills on managing and enhancing the Penang Botanic Gardens. — Picture by KE Ooi
Jagdeep Singh Deo said he visited Singapore last July 31 and discussed signing an agreement to share knowledge and skills on managing and enhancing the Penang Botanic Gardens. — Picture by KE Ooi

GEORGE TOWN, Nov 29 ― The Penang government will be signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Singapore’s Unesco-listed Botanic Gardens to exchange technical knowledge on managing the state’s botanic gardens.

State executive councillor Jagdeep Singh Deo said he visited Singapore last July 31 and discussed signing an agreement to share knowledge and skills on managing and enhancing the Penang Botanic Gardens.

“The Singapore Botanic Gardens has agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding with Penang and the main objective is to increase accessibility and knowledge, to transfer technological know-how in relations to horticulture, garden management, conservation and research,” he said in a press conference at the Penang Botanic Gardens today.

The housing and town and country planning committee chairman said the agreement draft is currently being refined.

“We were supposed to sign it this month but in view of the floods early this month we have postponed it and we will sign it in January next year,” he said.

The Singapore Botanic Gardens is the first in Asia and remains the only tropical gardens to be listed as a Unesco World Heritage site.

Jagdeep said the MoU is a sign that the state government is intent on enhancing and protecting the botanic gardens.

He tried to allay the concerns of some civil society groups by stressing that the Penang State Park (Botanic) Corporation Enactment 2017 was meant to protect and enhance the gardens.

Recently, Aliran issued a statement voicing its concerns over the corporatisation of the Penang Botanic Gardens under the enactment that will pave the way for commercialisation of the gardens.

The non-governmental organisation (NGO) also voiced its concerns over the gardens being sold off to another private company and that entrance fees will be imposed for the gardens which has always been a public park used by locals for recreational activities.

Aliran also questioned the state government’s delay in presenting the draft Special Area Plan (SAP) for the botanic gardens for public viewing.

Jagdeep also gave an assurance that entry to the gardens would remain free.

“We will not impose entrance fees but maybe fees could be imposed for other products which will be introduced in future,” he said.

Penang Botanic Gardens curator Saw Leng Guan said the state enactment’s objectives were clear on protecting and conserving the gardens.

“It is not likely that the gardens will be sold and those on the board of the corporation will look at safeguarding the gardens so it will not be sold,” he said.

He also said the SAP draft is being revised as previous amendments were made by external consultants who were not well-versed in botany.

“There were some incongruence in the SAP and we’ve gone through it and it needed to be revised so after that, it will only be presented for public viewing next month,” he said.

Saw gave an assurance that future proposed developments will only be considered if they enhanced the gardens and not if they detracted from it.

“There will be developments to enhance and improve the gardens, not to destroy its functions,” he said.

Penang State Park (Botanic) Corporation Enactment 2017 was tabled and passed at the legislative assembly earlier this month.

It was to replace the Penang Waterfall Gardens Enactment 1923 and its revision in 2005.

Jagdeep had insisted the enactment will allow the state government to enhance the gardens and finally apply for Unesco recognition for the gardens.

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