Wrong to criticise objectors who opt for out-of-court settlements with developers

We refer to the Sin Chew Daily report of 3 February 2013 (translated from Mandarin “For environment or for self interest? Yeo Yang Poh exposes ill intention of Penang organisation”). This report is on the public forum titled “Planning decisions and Appeal: Who speaks for the Public?” jointly organised by Penang Institute and Penang Forum.

The press report criticised a Penang NGO for withdrawing their case against a developer when they agreed to accept the developer’s offer of compensation after an Appeals Board judgment. It must be pointed out that it is not wrong for parties to seek out-of-court settlements. This is a common practice and parties seek settlements for various reasons.

The most common reason is to avoid a long protracted process of judicial proceedings – which may cost tens of thousands of ringgit at each stage. A recently concluded case of an objector against a developer for damages to their property took 17 years and RM300,000 in total legal fees to reach the Appeal Court! How many objectors have the means and financial resources to go all the way with no guarantee that they will eventually win their case?

In contrast, developers and big business corporations have deep pockets and can afford to engage the best lawyers and consultants to represent them. Besides, quite often, in addition to costs, developers include a claim for damages which can be huge. The average member of the public cannot afford such resources. It is wrong for anyone to criticise and pass judgement on an organisation for settling a case without finding out why the organisation chose to do so.

It is even more wrong for anyone to compel an objector to give an undertaking that he or she will not seek an out-of-court settlement after a judgement. This is impugning the right of an individual to seek fair redress and compensation outside the courts. If at all, it should be the developer who should be compelled to give an undertaking to refrain from threatening and harassing an objector with multi-million ringgit suits. Such bullying tactics have been going on and have scared some objectors into withdrawing their cases and applications for stop work orders or stay of execution.

It is sad that Sin Chew chose to highlight the issue in a slanted report and completely omitted to report the other substantive issues raised in the forum. The major issues are the lack of public consultation on major projects of public interest and the uneven playing field for the public to seek redress. This has resulted in nobody speaking up for the public, not even the local authorities which are supposed to play that role.

Penang Forum Steering Commitee
8 February 2013

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