Startling revelations at Penang Forum


Back from a rejuvenating day at Penang Forum 2, where 170 concerned individuals, including representatives from 35 Penang-based NGOs, grappled with the question, ‘Has anything changed after two years?’

The participants passed two resolutions: they supported the Penang state government’s call for the reinstatement of local government elections and called on the Election Commission to act, pronto. In the interim period, they called for the quota for reps of public interest NGOs to be increased to five each in the Penang Municipal Council and the Seberang Perai Municipa Council.

The second resolution called for the Local Plan for Penang Island (completed/revised in 2009) to be made public so the public can give their views. Never mind if it is a bit dated by now. (The plan covers the period from 2005 to 2020.)

During the forum, participants were fascinated to learn the following:

  • The Pakatan state government is operating under severe constraints from KL and and a bureaucracy used to the old ways.
  • The city looks a bit cleaner and brighter. Some public toilets have been spruced up.
  • Only four councillors make the major decisions on property development projects; just four! This makes it easier for developers to lobby and bargain with them.
  • The Local Plan for Penang Island has been completed and revised since 2009, but still not yet been made public. Why? When can we see it?
  • The public cleansing powers of the councils could soon be taken over by a federal body, which could then contract it out to private operators. This presents a huge rent-seeking opportunity that could be costly for rate-payers. The takeover of these powers would be bigger than the IWK takeover of the sewage disposal services. And yet, few Malaysians are aware of it.
  • Do you know that swiftlet breeders have taken over hundreds of shophouses in the George Town inner city area? I thought it involved just a few shophouses, but no, it’s a major industry – and very unhygienic, so the participants were told. Where do you think the waste ends up?
  • Seberang Perai has been prone to floods over the years. Millions have been spent over the years on flood mitigation – with little to show for it.
  • Acute lack of affordable housing. When was the last time we saw a major low-cost housing scheme on the mainland, for instance? Many urban settlers and migrant workers are living in appalling and crammed conditions, with poor sanitation.
  • Tanjong Bunga residents have discovered that a major property development (marina/housing) project is slated for the ‘sore-thumb’ next to the Penang Swimming Club. This would extend the ‘sore thumb’ further into the sea (the project covers 14-15 acres) and could mess up the flow of the sea, resulting in sedimentation on the eastern side and erosion on the western side, much like what the Tanjong Tokong land reclamation has done.
  • Concerns were also expressed over a major high-density project in the Thean Teik/Farlim area. Will the access roads be able to cope? One participant expressed concern over the large number of high-rise buildings approved over the last two years.
  • Do you know that Penang street food contributes more to the local economy than the MNCs? This is something we could capitalise on and turn Penang into the culinary capital of the Asia Pacific region. To this end, a Street Food Institute is being set up under the auspices of the Socio-Economic and Environmental Research Institute (Seri) of Penang.
  • We could also turn Penang into a centre for organic farming and a hub for research into renewable energy such as solar power. One participant suggested that part of the Botanic Garden could be used for an experimental organ farm. This would attract lots of environmentally conscious visitors.
  • More needs to be done to improve public transport, to build more accessible pedestrian walkways and to reverse the rising trend of private vehicle ownership.
  • The high crime rate is a serious concern – what is causing this? Poor urban planning, lack of recreational spaces, the large income disparity…?
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It was encouraging to see participants animatedly discussing sustainable development, environmental and local democracy issues. Many among the 170 spoke up either from the floor or in group discussions at the end of the day.

Generally, they recognised the constraints the state government were working under and could notice small (or significant, depending who you spoke to) improvements since March 2008. Pakatan rule had also provided some space for civil society views to be heard or articulated. For instance, the Caring Society Complex could now be used for the Penang Forum 2. For the first time as well, many Penangites were given an inside glimpse of the workings of the MPPP, thanks to NGO representation in the council (Lim Kah Cheng).

But at the same time, frustration surfaced over some of the issues mentioned above.

Opinion was divided between Kah Cheng and Goh Ban Lee on whether the whole of Penang Island should be declared a city. Ban Lee felt it would be a waste of time and resources. After all, George Town was the country’s first city. But Kah Cheng, a lawyer, felt that the Council needed the legal powers that federally sanctioned ‘city status’ would bestow to carry out more effective enforcement operations.

Another area of disagreement was over whether councillors should be professionals. Ban Lee felt that it was best to have ordinary people so that they could understand and raise public concerns within the council. Professionals, he said, could be employed by the council to head and staff various departments. Kah Cheng, for her part, felt that some level of professional expertise would help councillors to probe and question bureaucrats on technical, financial, legal or engineering issues instead of accepting whatever they say at face value. Perhaps a combination of the two would be optimal.

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One participant said instead of looking to the West for answers, we should look back to Penang’s past for workable solutions. What did we have back then? We had more people cycling and strolling along the streets. We had trams running all over George Town and beyond. We had an efficient ferry service. The City Council operated a fairly efficient bus network. We didn’t have to import such a big chunk of our food from Cameron Highlands and elsewhere because Penang had quite a few large vegetable farms supplying fresh produce to the local populace. Fisher folk sailed out into the sea and hauled back inexpensive fresh fish. Housing was more affordable. Beaches were a lot cleaner. Our schools were among the best in the country. Hey, we even had local council elections!

And we think we have progressed? How did we lose all that?

Those of you who attended the Penang Forum – maybe you might want to share your impressions and concerns of the event. For the rest of you, have I left out anything of significance to you?

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  1. Finally the ugly truth emerges —-

    they called for the quota for reps of public interest NGOs to be increased to five each in the Penang Municipal Council and the Seberang Perai Municipal Council

    I knew that, Anil !

    I knew that before the forum was staged.

    I knew what those NGO wants.


    They are UN-elected and yet they WANT POWER !!

    • Haha, there’s not much power in being a councillor!

      What the NGOs want: local council elections, immediately.

      In the interim period, as a form of check and balance to the political appointees and to articulate non-partisan concerns, they are asking for representation.

      What do you suggest?

  2. I notice that other than Gerakan K, most not all are supporters of PR. I’m too but sometimes we must be fair.
    How did we lose that?
    Under Gerakan, Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu vision which did the trick.
    With the Japan industrialization, Penang become a gateway for FTZ for micro chips which is why 80’s & 90’s we are one of the top producer of micro chips (ICs) in the world. After that Tun Lim get greedy and forgot how to manage Penang with continue with … CM Tan Sri Koh who led Penang to down fall.

    As for the so called NGO, it is only a front. I don’t really think NGO works in Malaysia (unless selective reports by newspaper on their work). In Cambodia we have thousand of NGO who works and news are cover daily evidence by also the progress seen.

    Anyway, Malaysia since Mar 2008 too much politicking kills the country.

    If only government could stop play tit for tat attitude and opposition don’t everything blame the BN.

  3. What Kah Cheng need is some level of common sense, not a professional expertise. She has performed badly as a councillor representing the civil society. For the last 2 years she must has a good sleep throughout her tenure as the councillor. How can she missed the attempt to turn Penang into International Ghettoish City. Wait till you read my upcoming appraisal on LGE will you know what is a startling revelation. Next change-A New Trend of Change for Penang?

    • OES…I have my doubts too about Kah Cheng.I am not sure if her credentials as NGO or her close ties with Pakatan got her the MPPP seat. While she has been very vocal before, her actions has been muted in MPPP and result nil.

      Not sure if she has been neutered by the Cheap Minister or this is self administered strategy to retain the position.

      Despite the presence of her and other NGOs I have yet to see a single action that the non political councillors did to make Penang a better place.

      I think now MPPP and MPSP are dictated by LGE and the rest of the councillors are mere rubberstamps for his decision. Even MPPP and MPSP heads have no power. All powers are now vested with Chairman Lim aka the Cheap Minister.

      Long Live the Chairman Lim !

      • There is only one rep from public interest NGOs in the MPPP now (The others are reps from Chambers of Commerce, etc).

        And Kah Cheng has been very vocal and capable in articulating public concerns.

      • Anil, thanks for the clarification though I failed to get the impression that Kah Cheng was vocal as a MPPP councillor.

        Even if she has been, what we need is people who can bring on changes and produce results and not another talker for we have been “blessed” with countless of such people under the Chairman Lim’s regime.

    • Eng Soon,
      And so, you can perform. Wait till you are on the job, then tell we shall see

      Kindly watch Yes Minister & Yes Prime Minister programmes. It’s very educational.
      I like the part on “The Smoke Screen”….NGOs have been clamouring for phasing out smoking habits through high tobacco taxes. Hmm…The only country seems to be successful is Singapore

    • Eu Soon – much as I want to read more your writings, I hope you will continue to speak with facts. Anger won’t get you anywhere. I am sure your comments are welcomed but laden it with less emotions and not become another Calvin Sankaran. Speaking less and less with facts but with political overtones. Probably if you shrug that off, I will continue reading. Otherwise, I think the truth is how you can skin a cat. Yours are being done without a knife but barehands. It is downright sickening

      • CGE

        Why can’t Pakatan cheerleaders and leaders accept criticisms and so sensitive to it ??

        LGE, LKS and AI and others hammer the BN govt day and night with all kinds of accusations most of it without basis. If Najib can accept without getting upset, why can’t the Pakatan leaders ?

        People like Calvin and Ong ES are objective and unemotional critics who write with facts and provide valuable feedback to the rakyat and the govt. Instead of accepting their input, these people are being attacked.

        All the talk of Pakatan being democratic is pure bull, hail to Chairman Lim.

        CAT – Condos, Apartments and Townhouses

  4. Thank you, Anil, for the report/update. Few questions:

    1. “The Pakatan state government is operating under severe constraints from KL and and a bureaucracy used to the old ways.” — Do you mean bureaucracy from KL but within PR itself, or putrajaya/federal gov? I just wanna check n be sure.

    2. Was the session on ‘Environment & Youth’ run? What are major conclusions?

    3. Were there other significant items discussed in the ‘Moving Forward’ session besides the 2 resolutions and opinions you’ve already mentioned in your post? Eg. What happened / is happening to the working groups formed in the 1st Penang Forum?? Are there plans for concrete and continuing actions?

    4. When do u think local council elections will occur? Any idea if I will be eligible to run? What will I have to do?

    In response to all who have made references or comparisons with Singapore… I must say, with all due respect to Singapore, that Penang is quite unique on its own and has immense talent within the state and out, and IMHO Penang should not emulate Singapore. If given the liberty, Penang and Penangites can far surpass Singapore for livability and talent.

    • I mean the federal government in Putrajaya and the civil service in KL and Penang.

      A lot of concerns expressed about the environment and the need for sustainable development.

      Participants expressed the hope that the Penang Forum would continue as an avenue for discussions and ideas and to present their concerns to the state government. I need to check on what’s going to happen to the working groups now.

      No idea when local elections will occur. I don’t think the Elections Commission will be excited about it. So we will just have to stay tuned and find out what’s possible and keep pushing the Commission to act.

      Yes, I agree with you, Penang can surpass Singapore in terms of liveability if only we are allowed to pool our collective talents and resources and overcome the various constraints.

      • What kind of such constraints we are speaking of ? Can you guys be more specific ?

        I know LGE and Khalid been harping on the subject. But in most cases what they mean is that the civil servants refused to take their directives and to pander to them.

        I would get upset if their actions go against the well being of rakyat but I suspect that Chairman Lim is just upset that the civil service just refuse to be a part of Pakatan Rakyat.

        The point is Anil we need specific examples so that the issues can be brought to public domain and pressure can be exerted upon the parties concerned or the Fed govt.

        Again, sorry to be a sceptic but I very much doubt on Chairman Lim’s sincerity as 99% of his accusations are political in nature and baseless.

    • Soohuey,
      KTK has made a pledge 18 years ago that Penang would acheive the status of Singapore by now. It’s all over the papers. Don’t know, ask Jeff Ooi.
      Frankly, Penang is unique only because it’s a state rather than a country. Furthermore, the local councils hold bulk of the revenues. Unlike other states except Malacca & Perlis, Penang can’t derive much from natural resources. The significant revenue is development fee & land tax.

      Therefore, why I advocate of abolishment of town councils just like what LKY did for his town councils in 1959. The very first act of PAP policy. Don’t worry, LGE won’t do that.

      It’s Economy, stupid! It’s all about dollars & cents. Even GST kenna imposed because of dollars & cents. To carry out major development, one need money…….
      It’d be great if LGE can levy on

      1) cars (COE)
      2) congestion tax (toll charges)
      3) environmental tax

      No money, how to run programme. Even early christians did that by setting aside deacons to take care of the distribution. Money collected from the congregration & spread around……Anil, agree????

  5. Hi everyone,

    “The public cleansing powers of the councils could soon be taken over by a federal body, which could then contract it out to private operators. This presents a huge rent-seeking opportunity that could be costly for rate-payers. The takeover of these powers would be bigger than the IWK takeover of the sewage disposal services. And yet, few Malaysians are aware of it.”

    The above is disturbing news, seems like more Federal rent-seekers and cronies are usurping and sabotaging the state and municipal authorities in an area where the Pg State Govt has shown tremendous improvements over the previous state govts.

  6. Even though I am no buddy of the Cheap Minister, I gotta agree that we have seen change, significant ones at that in the last 2 years. Let me list them.

    1. Heritage destroyed
    2. KBP bulldozed
    3. Condos, Apartments and Townhouses built at a reckless pace around the state
    4. Public money squandered on useless and wasteful projects
    5. School kids killed (allegedly) due to state govt’s idiocacy
    6. Indian culture and community margainalised
    7. Cronyism encouraged
    8. Democracy and human rights trampled upon
    9. Political opposition intimidated and even beaten up
    10. Tyranny prospered with Chairman Lim as the Supreme Leader
    11. Religious freedom curtailed

    Gerakan K…you have anything more to add ?

      • Orang yang bodoh, seringkali diperalatkan, dan engkau Gerakan K, adalah seorang yang suka diperalatkan orang yang berotak udang! Jadi macam manakah, Gerakan akan bergerak dari dihapuskan dalam pilihanraya umum 13? Sekiranya mereka mempunyai anggota anggota seperti engkau?

        Bangun dan elakkan dari diperalatkan oleh orang yang tidak bertanggung jawap. Harap maklum!

        Jom Sertai PAS!

  7. Gerakan K, Even if a Donkey stands against KTK, I will vote for the donkey. A donkey can do less harm and MUCH MORE GOOD than what KTK had done for Penang for 18 yars.
    Wonder where YOUR (political) eunuch Gerakan Leader will stand from in GE13…

  8. Come on lah NGOs, honestly, whats 2 years under constraints compared to the free hand of 50 years?

    Why so impatient? They have acknowledged that Penang State government working under constraints from federal then why not understand that 2 years time frame under constraints with the changes is per year change greater than 50 years of full federal support from federal under BN!

    Agree with loose74 that these NGOs should run as political parties to earn their right to have a say for positive change instead of just stealing the thunder from under PR!

    Lets see how well they can do! Maybe these are just leeches sucking blood from their host?

    It is always easy to criticise but do they have the guts to stick their necks out and take the plunge?

    doubt it!

  9. There is some sabotage conspiracy (allegedly) being done by the municipal officers to spoil the name of state govt. This is being done systmatically in Selangor too. LGE, pls be alert…these (alleged) saboteurs are everywhere…they are the (alleged instruments) of BN laid there for such a long time, that they cannot and will not accept change for the better.
    It’s about time Penang show the other states how transparent and efficient an opposition states can be..which the BN govt is trying to prevent….

  10. Actually, how i wish the Pearl can shine again…

    Many years ago i read an article about a reader giving advice and insights as to how Penang should improve itself like more walkways, plant more trees for shades inside the township , etc, etc.

    Indeed, it is a very good article, i should have cut it out and post it to the Penang government now for their consideration.

    As far as i am concerned, i truly want to see a cleaner Penang. For that to happen, the Penang government should do a campaign on and on to educate the people. And fines should be imposed for littering. Coffee shops have to be clean.

    Once, i saw some passengers throwing out rubbish from their car, i thought of telling them not to do that. Then, again, i thought if i were to approach the wrong guys, they might give me a punch on my face, so i just walked away.

    It has been 2 years surely there are some improvements like the pavements in Gurney Drive have been upgraded.

    Cantonment road in P Tikus had also been tarred.

    Some allowances for the senior citizens; tightening of hills projects. Because of the strict rules imposed by Pakatan govt, i had my OC delayed for 2 years. I bought it in 2006. Mine is not those along the roadside which can pose danger to the road users.

    Therefore, to say that nothing has been done in the 2 years under Guan Eng’s administration is indeed NOT a fair statement.

    Maybe, Penang people should ask themselves, under the rule of Gerakan/Koh Tsu Koon for the past 18 years, what had Penang become.

    I had left Penang for awhile and when i came back, i was shock, because it had become a “Belacan” island.

    Penang govt, you dont hv to look afar, please learn and seek advice from our neighbouring country will do, Singapore. They can do it, why cant we?

    At least under Pakatan, they dont dig and waste Rakyat’s money by having the activities, “Melancong sambil Belajar”. I believe BN officials have had melancong sedap-sedap and syiok syiok -shopping spree and disney land. But what had they belajar???

    Whatever, let’s give our every co-operation and work with Penang govt, and let’s transform Penang from a “belacan” island to a shinning PEARL once again.

    Lastly, Penang govt is willing to listen to the people. They have forum and open disccusions to ask for opinions. And, of course, not all opinions are worth noted.

    Hidup Pakatan !!!

  11. Anil,
    Please take note that NGOs do not represent the people at large. Hence, it would be great that NGOs themselves stand for election. Better still join PKR as there are plenty of vacancies there. Else, Anil….You wanna follow Singapore’s style of having Nominated MPs. (Hmm……Come to think of it. Instead the NGOs should press for greater representations in Dewan Negara.)
    Second, I have an even radical idea. Abolish town councils. Vested all powers within the state. I believe Aduns can do the job well provided that Adun can run their own town council.

    One good example is Singapore. Even opposition MPs there are allowed to run the town council. Town Councils have budget of millions of dollars.

    To be continued…….

    Deeng Xiao Peng once said, “regardless of white or black cat, so long the one who catches mice is a good cat. Hehe, LGE is into cats. Singapore is a City of Lion. Lion is a Big Cat. See the beauty……Well efficiency government. Even the cleanliness of Singapore River would be an envy to you Anil……..Most of politicians there are Ex-Malaysians. Even the Chief Justice….. Chan Sek Keong, Ipoh Old Anderson Boy

    • looes74

      I am sure that Chairman Lim loves the Singapore model where the Opposition is sued to bankrupcy and exists only in name.

      Great Leader Lim surely adores the way the Singaporean papers provide free service as the PR arm the govt.

      I bet our Supreme Leader Lim loves the way the govt can operate without a care of people’s opinion or any democratic checks and balances.

      Majulah Pulau Pinang !!

  12. It’s good that all these issues are highlighted. However, it should go further than that. Participants should also come out with solutions and recommendations. There should also be follow-up action on progress to improve the situation. A good start anyway. Hopefully we will see some action soon.

    • Many participants signed up as “Friends of Local Democracy”. Others are already involved in various ways. For instance, one participant says he hopes to get people in a “car-free” day for Penang.

      • Car free day?

        … Why car free where there is NO DECENT PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION ???

        What about the elderly?

        You want them to walk from Bayan Baru to George Town?

        Anil, with all due respect, I DO NOT TRUST THE NGOs AS I DO NOT TRUST THE GOVERNMENT !

        I know too many of them already.

      • What happened to sustainable public transportation ? Are these NGOs now singing the govt’s mantra ?

  13. ‘How did we lose all that?’

    This is unfortunately the very typical way the Malaysians put up a question, and is why Malaysia retards. To much effort is consumed looking at the past.
    Look back -and you go back!
    How do we get all that back?
    If one wants to advance one has to look forward.
    Learn from history, but do not make it the main point.

  14. In the significant openess of the present Pakatan Administration, different groups of people have more chances to get closer to the Government!!!

    The gangsters have taken this as an opportunity to penetrate all arms of the administration, including allegedly (law enforcement), by controlling all Renovation Works to all new housing scheme on Penang Island. The public are now subjected to FORCED acceptance of exorbitant price for renovation works. And the (authorities) are keeping a blind eye to this.

    Any house buyer in Penang Island can testify to this.

  15. State income was and still is the main reason. Penang state income is very small compared with other states. The population also very small when compared with other states.

    Secondly, we just can’t compare Penang with KL or Selangor. KL is our capital, of course it is better develop than other places. Just do a quick check in Selangor annual budget and you will notice that it is not fair to make any comparison. Selangor is the richest state.

    Also, do tell Lim not to belittle these small food hawkers (the legal or illegal ones) because they contributed more than MNCs which I’m not surprised to know about.

    Finally, Penang loses nothing, instead the truth is other states perform better than us because they have more money and people !!! To make yourself feel better, Penang is better than the opposition ruled Kelantan. Penang solid foundation and reputation was built by Gerakan State government decades ago.

  16. How did we lose all that? It is best to ask the Gerakan/UMNO Government which had been screwing the State for 39 years!

    Gerakan K, what say you? How could we lose all that under Gerakan? Just how could we and you still want to champion Gerakan?


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