Just recently, the former Finance Minister, Lim Guan Eng was charged with power abuse and money laundering in relation to the award of a RM11.6 million project. If you have heard of these charges, you may have already known that the charges are NOT related to his bungalow or the undersea tunnel project but a foreign workers’ dormitory project.
Ok la, you may have known all about Guan Eng’s charges by now. But have you ever wondered what this foreign workers’ dormitory project is all about? At the time of writing, there isn’t any mention of what this project was but a quick search brought us to a project called the Workers’ Village that was reportedly proposed in 2015 (or 2014, according to some reports).
And, according to these reports…
The Workers’ Village was proposed because foreign workers were hogging low-cost houses
Before there was a foreign workers’ dormitory, foreign workers were living among locals in housing areas, especially in low and low-medium households. In fact, they were reportedly occupying half of some of these housing in Penang.
And when this happened, locals and several other parties started to raise some concerns they had such as…
- Safety and security
- Shortage in low cost housing
- Surge in rentals
- Cleanliness of the environment
- Depreciation of value of properties whenever foreign workers stay in a certain area
- Traffic jam when buses blocks way in and out of their housing areas
Seeing this issue, the Penang govt then decided to do something about it. The idea to build foreign workers’ dormitory came about when the state’s Local Government and Housing Committee chairman, Jagdeep Singh Deo, visited Singapore’s foreign workers’ dormitory in 2015. After the visit, he thought that it may not be a bad idea to implement something similar in Penang.
So, a proposal to build these dormitories in Penang was made by the director of Magnificent Emblem Sdn Bhd, a recruitment company, Phang Li Koon. In the proposal, the project known as Workers’ Village would be developed on two plots of land owned by the Penang Development Corporation (PDC).
However, Phang’s company did not win the tender to develop the project. Instead, it went to a Singapore-based company, Centurion Corporation Ltd’s subsidiary company,
Westlife Westlite Accommodation Sdn Bhd, through an open tender.
“They (Magnificent Emblem) failed to get the tender and the project was awarded to Westlite Dormitory (Penang-Juru) Sdn Bhd which had offered the highest price.” – Guan Eng, as quoted by The Star.
Weslite Accommodation is also sometimes known as Westlite (Penang-Juru) in several news reports but we’ll be referring to it as Westlite throughout the article so y’all don’t get confused.
Initially, some people like the then Bukit Tengah assemblyman, Ong Chin Wen, questioned the company’s reliability. Ong revealed that Westlite had zero-revenue and its profits were in red. But Jagdeep explained that this is because the company’s first project would be the Workers’ Village, so it kinda make sense why it had no revenue at that time. He also assured that the company met all the requirements set by technical agencies, including the Drainage and Irrigation Department.
In fact, Westlite is experienced in
performing building foreign workers’ dormitories in Johor as well.
And these dormitories are not like your regular dormitories. Westlite planned to include facilities such as game rooms, canteen, laundry, barber and grocery shops, among other things. This would apparently keep foreign workers occupied in the dormitories besides attracting more companies and businesses with large foreign workforce into Penang.
In the proposal, Workers’ Village was supposedly built on a 12.6 acres of land in Juru and Bukit Tambun (more recent reports stated that the other plot of land is situated in Batu Kawan but we weren’t able to find more about this). In fact, the initial plan was to house 12,000 foreign workers in a dormitory in Juru.
The Workers’ Village project was put on hold because Penangites tak puas hati with it
Although the state govt pretty much gave the Workers’ Village projects on both land a greenlight, they seemed to have bumped into some problems la.
In 2016, the then Bukit Tambun assemblyman, Law Choo Kiang had asked for a public hearing on the project in Bukit Tambun. He claimed that there wasn’t any reason for such a project to be developed in his area. So, the Penang Chief Minister at that time, Lim Guan Eng, decided to put the Workers’ Village project at Bukit Tambun on hold for that. However, months later, Jagdeep stated that the state govt was only going with the Workers’ Village project in Juru instead.
Unfortunately, the Workers’ Village project in Juru faced other problems. 300 residents of Perkampungan Juru staged a demonstration to protest against the project. They claimed that building the dormitory for foreign workers would create social problems (like the ones we mentioned in the previous header) in the community. In addition, Penang MCA Secretary, Dr Tuan Chuang Hong even urged the Penang state govt to cancel the dormitory projects if the state govt could not solve the concerns raised by local residents. You can read more here.
Penang MCA secretary Dr Tan Chuan Hong said that, despite the strong objection from the residents has been conveyed to…
So, the state govt decided to reduce the project by half.
“They (State government and Westlite) were initially committed to 12.6 acres of land, but later it was divided into two. So, now Westlite will build on 6.6 acres at a cost of RM10.4 million. It will build a 12,000-bed dormitory for workers.” – Jagdeep to FMT.
Although Jagdeep claimed that Westlite would build a 12,000 bed dormitory for workers (which means it can house 12,000 foreign and local workers), we found a document signed by Centurion Corporation’s CEO stating that it would build a dormitory that can house a maximum of 6,102 workers.
In fact, Bukit Tengah assemblyman at that time, Ong said the same thing.
“We were then informed that the proposed location will be maintained, but the number of foreign workers, who will be housed there, will be reduced from 12,000 to 6,000 people.” – Ong, as quoted by The Star.
While all this was happening, the state govt reportedly approved five other foreign workers’ dormitory projects in five different locations. This time around, the dormitories would be located at…
- Bukit Minyak
- Juru (a source claimed that this is a different project from the Workers’ Village)
- Permatang Tinggi
- Valor Industrial areas
- Permatang Damar Laut in Batu Maung
And guess what? Westlite won two out of five of these projects.
Although these new projects also faced protests from local residents, Jagdeep mentioned that the state govt still proceeded with these projects anyway. He even claimed that, as of 2017, Westlite Bukit Minyak was 40% completed.
“The current progress of the project in Bukit Minyak has reached 40 percent and I believe it will be completed by next year to combat rising social ills involving the foreigners.” – Jagdeep, as quoted by Bernama via Malaysiakini.
Jagdeep also added that the rest of the projects were progressing well except for Westlite Juru, which was then still in its planning stages.
So, what’s the status of these projects now?
The project in both locations are eventually CANCELED
While researching for this article, we can’t help but to point out how only one out of the many aforementioned projects that has been completed. Westlite Bukit Minyak, which was reportedly completed and launched in 2019, comprises of 366 units that can house 6,600 workers.
Employers of workers, who are staying there, are expected to pay RM130 for each of their worker every month for the accommodation. You can take a look at the dormitory and facilities provided at Westlite Bukit Minyak here.
According to Jagdeep, Penang has about 200,000 foreign workers and the existing five projects that the state govt has approved can only accommodate 10% of them. This may be why, the state govt plans to build more dormitories – they’re now known as the Centralised Accommodation Transit (CAT) – for foreign workers.
“Six of the seven projects have been approved while another is still being studied. All this is part of efforts to resolve social and crime problems due to the influx of foreigners in local residential areas.” – Chow, as quoted by NST.
“PDC had awarded the project but due to the many objections by residents, the company decided to drop the project.” – Chow, as quoted by Malay Mail.
Why is Guan Eng still charged if the project didn’t go to Magnificent Emblem?
While reading this article, you may have thought, why is Guan Eng still charged under for power abuse although the project didn’t actually go to Phang’s company, the Magnificent Emblem?
As it turns out, Guan Eng allegedly used his position as the then Penang Chief Minister and the PDC tender committee’s chairman to ensure that Magnificent Emblem gets a chance (aka the request for a proposal) to win the Worker’s Village project in Batu Kawan. This may be why Guan Eng allegedly received RM372,009 from Phang’s company, Excel Property Management & Consultancy Sdn Bhd.
Despite the alleged bribe, Magnificent Emblem still didn’t win the contract because, according to Guan Eng, it did not adhere to the Request For Proposal (RFP) conditions. Earlier we mentioned that we weren’t able to find anything about this project in Batu Kawan and that’s probably because the project was discontinued anyway.
“Only a plot of land in Juru was tendered while the one in Batu Kawan was discontinued.” – Guan Eng’s written reply, as quoted by The Sun Daily.
At the time of writing, the Session Court Judge Ahmad Azhari Abdul Hamid has set a bail at RM50,000 each for Phang and Guan Eng, without requiring Phang to surrender her passport. And he also set the mention date for both cases on October 16, 2020. So, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to Guan Eng, Betty and Phang in this case.