Widen the scope of penalty for blocking and damaging public spaces

Penang Forum welcomes and commends the Pakatan Harapan government for passing a bill to significantly raise the fine for firms that damage any street, five-foot ways, verandah or property belonging to local authorities or block pavements.

The minimum fine for taking up pavement without prior permission of the local authority is raised from RM500 to RM50,000. The minimum fine for damaging any street, five-foot way or verandah way belonging to the local authority the minimum fine is raised from RM1,000 to RM100,000.

Unfortunately, Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin said the proposed fines were only applicable to developers and public utility companies. It is unclear why this is the case.

A major problem in many cities, particularly in Penang, is the blocking of five-foot ways by shopkeepers or owners.

One of the major manifestations of good town planning and laws was the requirement to provide covered five-foot ways in front of shophouses. These are covered public spaces that allow the public to walk safely and in comfort while moving around cities doing their daily errands. It is also highly beneficial to shopkeepers as such pedestrian traffic boosts their business.

Regrettably, many of these five-foot ways have been blocked – either temporarily by shopkeepers who display their goods or even cook on these public spaces or permanently by some who construct fences or walls across the five-foot ways. As a result, pedestrians are forced to walk on streets, exposing themselves to danger from vehicular traffic.

Penang Forum urges the minister to include these new provisions to apply to individuals, shopkeepers or owners who block such five-foot ways. The quantum of penalty could be smaller but it should be of an amount sufficient to deter such offences.

Such laws are highly welcome but ultimately, there must be political and administrative will to enforce them. We urge local authorities to strictly enforce these laws without fear or favour.

29 October 2018