The Sabah government has a serious moral duty to resolve the situation following the abandonment of the final phase of the Star City Mall project, urged the Star City Buyers Association (Pekestar).
Pekestar said the abandoned project was now a glaring eyesore in the Central Business District (CBD) of the state capital for more than 10 years and a blight on Kota Kinabalu's reputation and appearance as a green and beautiful liveable place.
Its president, Phillip Liew, and deputy president, Yee That Hian, made the call on behalf of over 200 buyers of the commercial project in a press statement issued on Monday, 9 April.
Liew said the previous Mayor of Kota Kinabalu, Datuk Abidin Madingkir, had tried his official best to get the Sabah Urban Development Corporation (SUDC) to meet the aggrieved purchasers in a bid to rescue the project, but SUDC was unable to find a solution to the problem up to date.
"Since then, Datuk Abidin Madingkir has retired. As the then Mayor, he also concurred that the abandoned project site and structures left in a dilapidated condition would harbour pests like rats, snakes, monitor lizards, which had made their presence into Chung Hua Primary School besides the potentially disease-borne mosquitoes" they claimed.
Liew said most buyers had the confidence to invest in the project in the first place mainly because SUDC was the land owner and a joint venture (JV) partner, being a State government agency under the Sabah Economic Development Corporation (SEDCO) Group.
"The majority of the buyers are finding it difficult to continue servicing their loan. It is sadder to know that some buyers have exhausted their life savings by investing into this project" he said.
Yee, a buyer himself, who is also the secretary general of the Kota Kinabalu Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KKCCCI), commented that all surrounding city stakeholders for so long have valid concerns as to why the authorities seem apathetic to the project left in a disgraceful state.
"The future development of other projects besides Star City will be hampered and disadvantaged by the eyesore as the traffic flow plans are dependent on Star City's successful completion, failing which the eyesore would degrade the prime locality value and property value of surrounding projects.
"As tourism is fast becoming a prime smokeless industry for the state, the presence of the abandoned project doesn't augur well in putting Sabah on the world tourism map, especially when we have one of the best sunset vistas at Tanjung Aru beach" he said.
At the Pekestar annual general meeting (AGM) on March 17, a resolution was made to appeal to the Sabah government headed by Chief Minister Tan Sri Musa Aman, who, in the past, had officiated at the opening of the project. The buyers want political will to direct and formulate a workable financial solution to end the dilemma.
SUDC, a subsidiary of SEDCO, is a government-linked company (GLC).
A committee member, Pauline Lee, said the State Cabinet need to look seriously into the current rescue plan. She added that the buyers had resolved and stressed at the Pekestar AGM that "since SUDC is a GLC, the government has a moral duty to see through the completion of the project.â€
The general consensus at the AGM was that it is an eyesore to any tourist coming into the city and does not reflect well on the economic image potential of the city. The site is infested with mosquitoes and is a nuisance to the students of the nearby Chung Hwa Primary School as well as the surrounding buildings. Furthermore, it is an irony that the most famous Welcome Seafood Restaurant is right opposite the abandoned project.
Pekestar stated that the project is located in a prime location, with a land area of about 3.8 acres, attractive enough to potential investors as new development guidelines now allow building plans for additional storeys to be built above the shopping mall, potentially increasing tremendously the profitability and commercial value of the project for any white knight-rescuer to bid for and complete the development.
The additional storeys will be a great incentive and profitable for these investors to reap as new hotels or service apartments which will be in great demand in the coming years.
The association claimed that the latest rescue effort by SUDC is stuck again, this time apparently due to technical tax payable to the Inland Revenue Board by SUDC, which is not the fault of the aggrieved purchasers, many of whom were golden age retirees.
It urged SUDC to resolve its own taxation liability without burdening the project's buyers as soon as possible.
Some buyers of Star City recalled having signed their sales and purchase agreements during 2006 to 2007, well over 11 years ago. They remarked that the project should have been completed in 36 months back in 2009 to 2010, but was left in limbo until today.
They also said that the Chief Minister had officiated at the ground breaking ceremony when Star City Mall was launched way back before many other malls like 1Borneo, Suria Sabah and Imago Malls.
Many buyers said that they are retired people, hoping to invest there for some passive rental income. They added that they trusted the Sabah government and its agencies, as well as GLCs, including SEDCO and SUDC.
Pekestar said Star City Mall buyers now rest their hopes on the Sabah government's constructive role as a caring government as the last resort in overcoming the eyesore.