A businessman was shocked when he found out recently that his home in Jelutong was not only razed by fire, but a former tenant who no longer lived there was publicly claiming compensation for the losses.
Zaid Abdul Rahman, 31, said he only got to know about the incident after reading about it in the Malay language newspapers.
He added that he wanted to set the record straight, that the house was empty when the fire broke out at about 12.30pm on Jan 13, and the previous tenant had left a year ago.
“For your information, I am the real owner of the house in front of 184F Jalan Pokok Asam… Mohamad Tahir Rejab, who told reporters that the house belongs to him and that he had suffered losses, is being untruthful,” said Zaid.
According to Zaid, Mohamad Tahir had stopped renting or paying for the premise since last year.
He added that at the time of the incident, the house was not only unoccupied but empty, and that Mohamad Tahir had made baseless claims about having incurred losses due to the fire.
“When the incident occurred, the Jelutong Village Development and Security committee chairperson, Mohd Naser Ismail, was at the site, and can confirm that there was no one and nothing in the house,” he said.
“I am not sure why this is happening… perhaps there are some ‘heroes’ behind Mohamad Tahir, helping him to do and say these things,” he added.
“Due to the incident, I have lodged a police report on Friday, and I hope this matter can be resolved amicably”.
Mohd Naser, who was present at the press conference with Zaid, confirmed that the house was unoccupied when the fire broke out.
He urged Mohamad Tahir not to make false claims of ownership of the house when it clearly belonged to Zaid.
“Anyway, the house is not liveable as it has to make way for a development project… so I hope people will stop instigating others and let the village committee under the state government to do whatever it can to help the genuine owner of the house,” he said.
“Criminal elements” suspected
Last Thursday, Mohamad Tahir, a fisherman, alleged that the developer had used “dirty tactics’ to drive villagers away from Kampung Pokok Asam without offering any compensation.
Mohamad Tahir, 46, claimed that his house had been allegedly torched by the developer for his own benefit so that the land can be used for development.
According to him, the incident, which he came to know when a neighbour alerted him, occurred when he and his wife was not at home.
“When we arrived, we saw our house in flames and efforts to quell the fire and rescue our property were in vain as the fire was raging,” he said.
“We were lucky as no one was home; my wife was out shifting our household stuff to our new house,” he added.
Mohamad Tahir claimed that his losses due to the fire amounted to about RM 8,000.
He said he suspected that there were “criminal elements” behind the fiery incident as neighbours told him that they saw two suspicious individuals near their home (before the fire happened).
He added that he had lodged a report over the matter, and urged the police to investigate the case thoroughly to identify the source of the fire.
Fires during development projects
Former Penang PKR Wanita chief Aminah Abdullah who runs an NGO – Persatuan Kebajikan Insan Mulia (PKIM) – in the kampung, said the matter was serious as there were frequent occurrences of fire when development projects were underway.
The PKIM president alleged that developers employed such tactics to instil fear among villagers so that they would move out of the area.
She hinted that the Village committee head was nowhere to be seen when the fire occurred.
“The committee needs to go to the ground, defend the welfare of the villagers and provide them assistance,” she said.
“Now, please come forward as soon as possible to help the victims,” she added.
Kampung Pokok Asam sparked controversy when a massive development project recently began in the area.
A tussle between villagers and the developer had resulted in eviction of some 16 households (or 80 persons).
But recent negotiations between the state government, developer and residents had resulted in the latter being offered a neat compensation package.
Each household which has officially registered with the state would now be provided RM2,500 as moving out assistance, RM500 monthly rental for three years and a replacement unity within the area.
However, there are seven households unhappy with the package and have claimed that the state government has not done much to ease their suffering.
The state claims that Umno is trying to politicise the issue to show that the ongoing eviction process is victimising the Malay community, which it strongly denies.