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Letter: The Tragic Case of the Century-old MGS Rain Tree

Some six months ago, the Methodist Girls’ School’s iconic century-old rain tree suffered grave and irreparable damage when there was an attempt to illegally fell the tree, to make way for the construction of a multi-purpose hall.

This brought about public outcry and swift intervention by our local MP and the local authority who issued a stop-work order and cordoned off the tree.

Subsequently, all efforts in the form of letters and petitions to reach out to members of the school board and Methodist Education Council for dialogue were unsuccessful. A meeting was eventually set up by our local MP (Wong Kah Woh) in late October 2018 to help break the impasse and work towards resolution.

At the meeting, chairman of the school board (Dr Ting Cheh Sing) and the architect (Ar. Ding Poi Kooi) revealed their proposal to have the tree relocated. They were adamant that re-drawing of building plans to accommodate the tree was out of the question.

In working towards a compromise and in the presence of Wong as well as Clr Wong Kar Keat and Clr Steven Wong, we the alumni were prepared to accept relocation of the tree to a different site at the school field so that a win-win situation would be achieved; the school could carry on with its building plans unchanged and the tree could be preserved. We were assured that the board had engaged qualified professional(s) to ensure the relocation was feasible and who had assured that there was “90% chance of survival” for the tree post-relocation. We requested for a detailed assessment and proposal from the Board’s arborist to be submitted for our perusal, which was then duly agreed.

However, contrary to the agreement aforesaid, barely two weeks later, namely, around 3 pm on Friday, November 9, 2018, to our shock and horror, Dr Ting Cheh Sing was reported to be on site actively instructing and overseeing the relocation of the tree!

Our alumnus and Clr Steven Tiw rushed there and on arrival discovered that a backhoe had been brought in and had trenched around the base of the tree; some roots of the tree had been damaged by the backhoe whilst labourers were in the midst of crudely chain sawing other roots. We were told that they (the workers) were instructed to cut off the roots at 1.5m from the base of the trunk, in readiness for it to be hoisted by a crane the following day and moved to a freshly dug hole at another part of the school field.

Dr Ting, when confronted, was unable to produce any form of written approval from Majlis Bandaraya Ipoh (MBI) (which he claimed to be in possession of) and promptly left the site. When reminded that he was to furnish his arborist’s report for our perusal, he denied such agreement and insisted he had the approval to relocate the tree, under supervision of his arborist (no arborist was present). A quick telephone call to Majlis Bandaraya Ipoh by Clr Steven Tiw established that indeed no approval had been granted. MBI then sent personnel from its enforcement team and once again cordoned off the tree.

The tree since then has been left unattended – damaged, partly-sawn roots and all.

Just as before, subsequent written communication to the school board and Methodist Education Council to seek answers and emergency care for the tree were unanswered.

We have since engaged an arborist to assess the case of the tree, and the key findings were:

  1. Topping the canopy and cutting of the roots had not been done in accordance with accepted guidelines.
  2. The damage inflicted onto a once healthy century-old tree is irreparable, and any further attempts to relocate the tree would leave the tree with low chance of survival.
  3. Tree relocation exercise according to acceptable guidelines, should have been incorporated at planning stage, as preparation and trenching in stages requires a time frame of up to a year, under close supervision of a certified arborist.
  4. The proposed receptor site is unsuitable.
  5. Immediate measures to treat and preserve the tree is recommended.

This tragic case of the MGS rain tree raises pertinent points that we hope that the media would help highlight to aid our cause:

  1. MBI issued two letters to warn of consequences, and yet the school board and Methodist Education Council chose to ignore them. How could this brazen behaviour of ignoring the authorities and flouting the law (twice!) be condoned?
  2. As an educational institution, where lies the morals and accountability in exercising such poor behaviour that is unlawful in nature and could result in fine of thousands of ringgit?
  3. In keeping silent and totally ignoring the pleas and letters to them, is the Methodist Council showing that they are unfazed by the board’s brazen acts of breaching the law and the orders of MBI?
  4. A century-old tree is a rarity that is protected under the law, and in prosecuting according to the rule of law in this case may set an example or act as deterrent in the interest of the public.
  5. In the new era of Malaysia Baru, transparency and accountability is the way forward, and it would be a shame to allow this case to go the way of the many wrongs that were swept under the carpet and forgotten, only to be repeated again (which was exactly the case, where a second unlawful act (attempted re-location) was committed to cover the first unlawful act (attempted felling).

At this juncture, it is understood that the school board is still adamant in having the tree relocated despite the condition that it has been reduced to due to repeated abuse.

Linda Hanim Mustaffa
(The Alumni of Methodist Girls’ School Ipoh)

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