The Penang Forum would like to begin by formally acknowledging the remarkable improvements made to the Gardens in the few short months of Tengku Idaura’s stint as ‘Pengarah’.
She responded to the call for ‘service’, coming out of well-earned retirement, offering whatever she could in terms of experience and knowledge from her position as Past President of Friends of Botanic Gardens.
The Botanic Gardens was in turmoil after September 2010, following the demolition of the controversial arches and the revelations of mismanagement and ill-conceived development proposals for the much-loved historic site. The public in Penang were outraged at the obliteration of the Formal Gardens, the mismanagement of the Fern House, the construction of meaningless and inappropriate structures throughout the previously pristine site, the bambusetum with no bamboo, the eco-stream walk that resembled a neglected drain, the general lack of maintenance and the non-existence of any botanic enhancement, expansion or progress. Coupled with this was a total abandonment of any pretense of public participation, committee consensus or expert consultation.
Tengku Idaura’s contributions are truly outstanding in the face of little official support, no expert botanist staff, despite many requests, and often virtual daily insubordination. With the help and support of a very small number of committed diligent staff, some academics from USM and friends who had been responsible for persuading her to take up the challenge, the Gardens have been resuscitated.
Among other things, the Formal Gardens have been re-installed, the Herb Garden has been protected from pillaging wild boar, the Fern House is looking quite respectable, the Botanika Shop has been renovated and upgraded and is all set for a whole new era, the main entrance has been cleared of old bus stops, telephone booths and various paraphernalia, new interpretation signs have been put up, the site of the arches has been re-engineered and most importantly, no new structures have been allowed to be built. We applaud Tengku’s forbearance and her resilience and we thank her on behalf of all Penangites who love the Gardens.
But what now? It has been barely two months since the departure of Tengku and already the lily ponds at the entrance are covered with a film of water fungus, the water is stagnant and the plants are slowly but surely deteriorating, the show-piece of giant Amazonian Lilies have not been fertilized and are shrinking instead of expanding, the eco-stream walk is filled with rubbish, as is the storm drain next to the lily ponds.
The lack of maintenance culture is rearing its ugly head with fallen branches and trees lying unattended for weeks, hawkers are starting to come back to the entrance, banners are starting to be put up illegally, the so-called Visitor Centre continues to have no electricity and no qualified botanists or experts have been formally appointed to take over the helm of the Gardens.
The Penang Hill Corporation has now incorporated the Botanic Gardens under its umbrella of responsibilities. We would like to appeal to the State and PHC to prioritise the management of the Gardens – quickly. The Public Services Department in Kuala Lumpur had previously approved at the beginning of 2011, a number of new posts for botanists, ecologists and horticulturalists as well as senior administrators. However, to date, there have been no appointments made.
It is urgent that a qualified and competent person be appointed to head the Gardens. Appoint a qualified botanist on contract if necessary, or second an experienced administrator to helm the Gardens or change the Gardens portfolio to another Exco member.
For too long, we have neglected the true significance of the Botanic Gardens, a proud legacy left to our care since 1884. A good Botanic Gardens is an invaluable asset for a city that aspires to be called international.
Penang Forum steering committee
2 November 2011