Lim Chong Eu once tried to “develop” Penang Hill while later, Koh Tsu Koon tried to pave the way for the development of the Turf Club land for the PGCC project. In both cases, Penang civil society groups mobilised public opinion to “Save Penang Hill” and “Stop PGCC”. Both proved to be costly errors, driven by corporate greed and the interests of develors. The rest, as they say, is history.
Himanshu Bhatt writes about the Penang Forum’s submission of civil society proposals and recommendations to the Penang state government. Will the state government heed the views of the activists?
This article appeared in theSun:
Ignore NGOs at your peril
LAST Saturday, at a private meeting in the chief minister’s office, the Pakatan Rakyat government of Penang was handed a stack of working papers by a motley gathering of NGOs. The reports, drawn up by independent working groups, were made as part of a “People’s Forum”, a community-based initiative of as many interest groups as one could imagine popping up in Penang, a former “crown jewel” of Gerakan.
The 10 reports – covering issues like traffic, the environment, heritage, arts, labour, poverty, women’s issues and disabled people – were the culmination of long-drawn consultations that involved more than a hundred individuals from the various NGOs.
Packed with detailed action plans, the reports were effectively blueprints of what the people themselves want Penang to be. Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng received them with his usual sparkling smile, expressing keen interest to look at the plans and recommendations.
There was, however, a slight irony in the situation. Over the months after assuming office, Lim’s government had started to feel the stern stuff that Penang NGOs are made of. The first hit was felt when the NGOs cried foul at not being allocated the number of seats in the local municipal councils as the Pakatan had announced before.
It was but a precursor for more to come. A steady stream of opposition greeted the administration which, to its credit, had vouched for a more transparent and accountable government.
From complaints of inaction against what are seen as rogue monster development projects to grievances about its sluggishness in implementing conservation policies for George Town’s Unesco heritage site, the state has had to face a stream of criticisms; even as it manoeuvres and negotiates through the complex web that is part of politics and governance.
In what is perhaps the most exasperating instance, the administration was caught by surprise when it was first confronted by protests against plans to develop free public Wi-Fi access across the state. Then about a month ago, activists in Tanjung Bungah, fed up with hillslope development projects there, went loudly up in arms, clanging pots and pans, decrying the government for its perceived slothfulness in rectifying the crisis.
And now in the latest case, there are simmering questions about how the state could announce a cable car project on Penang Hill without any residents’ bodies or environmental groups being consulted.
Make no mistake; Lim’s administration has been quite approachable, even as it heaves with tremendous expectations the electorate has placed on its shoulders. But there is talk that in the urgency to demonstrate an investor-friendly face, Lim has become too reliant and chummy with private business concerns. This is a tough matter for Lim to tackle; for the state needs investor support, especially as it feels the squeeze on funds from the Barisan Nasional federal government amid a nerve-wracking financial crisis.
But, for the most part, the NGOs here are genuinely driven by a sincere passion. It is a passion that stems from an intensely parochial sensitivity for Penang that is perhaps best understood by those who have lived here. “There is a lot of expertise in the community,” said one local activist. “And we are just more than willing to help … Why isn’t the state consulting us more?”
Anyone taking power in Penang would do well to note this passion that drives the NGOs. It was the fury of the NGOs that stopped the over-ambitious Penang Hill development project in 1990, and sent legendary chief minister Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu crashing in the general election that year. It was that same fervour that effectively forced the hand of the former state government under Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon to reject the mammoth RM25 billion Penang Global City Centre project planned in the heart of the island.
Koh and his administration had for years faced the acerbic brunt of the NGOs. For the most part, he took it with his chin up.
For Penang is a bastion of the NGOs. If it was “people power” that swept Pakatan to rule, then it must come with a quivering tinge of significance that a “People’s Forum” should drop on Lim’s table a stack of documents – just as Pakatan prepares to commemorate its first full year in power.
If anything, the People’s Forum must have come as a polite nudge, a gentle reminder, to the government of the day of who exactly put it in power.
Himanshu is theSun’s Penang
bureau chief. Comments: [email protected]
Himanshu is theSun’s Penang
bureau chief. Comments: [email protected]
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Fancy that – 50 years treated like nobodies – no problem! 1 year with new State Govt – u want the moon and the sun! Bunch of spoilt children! Why u think LGE is like your fairy god mother- can wave magic wand and make all your problems disappear? Kindly don’t stress my CM and his govt too much – he is doing his best, with no backing from the Federal Govt whatsoever and with … Gerakan and MCA just waiting to pounce on any weaknesses, or rather engineer scenarios to make LGE’s team look bad. If LGE does not… Read more »
We are Penangnites and we are passionate over this little island of ours and the little strip on the mainland. Of course, we are not going to give the Pakatan/DAP regime an unaccountable free reign. But just as we hold LGE over his promises on the third vote ( an unkepted pledge, the rationale of which is perfectly understandable – for now) and the public asset declarations ( one year on – totally inexcusable, in my view), we should also seek an accountability from the previous administration for their actions. Otherwise we run the risk of the current and successive… Read more »
Hi Ong Eu Soon. At least you are sincere in revealing your name (it might not be your real name). I know you and you also know me. You are a good guy. My contention here is, why on earth the pots and pans group keep voting for the dictator BN year after year with huge majority. where is the threat then? Is it not sending a wrong signal to BN encouraging them to continue what they have been doing year after year. Dont practice this bull of voting BN for state and Opposition for parliament. This is a real… Read more »
There is no doubt that LGE and the his PR adm are no comparisons to the incompetent and weak adm of KTKs BN. But Sarah and some of you are too harshly critical of Andrew’s views and opinions.Like most of you I am also all for a non BN adm in Penang. But by the same token I am sad and disappointed that the views and suggestions of NGOs are not being responded to.The very fact that NGOs are poorly being represented in the Local Councils is testimony to this.Besides there has not been a serious endeavour by PR in… Read more »
Shame on all of you! All those years who have been voting for BN. Not you. Sarah? Not you Penangite? Not you periperichickeneh ? Not you Plain Truth? Where were you guys when we campaign for LGE when he was sent to Kajang prison. I never recall I know any of you. All I knew is it always a very small crowd of less than 10. So if I don’t know you, any of you should have know me if you ever active in local politic. If you want to know who is this Andrew, get an Aliran subscription or… Read more »
All are being said and being done. May we have a peek on the proposals from the NGOs before rationally commenting further?
I am with Andrew. Mr. Penangites, so you claim to represent all Penangites? I am a Penangite but I don’t quite agree with you so please don’t make a sweeping statement by saying all Penangites share your views. “Please give us your full name and I/C so we can vet whether you are truly for the betterment of Penang or A MCA/Gerakan member trying to wreck havoc in Penang.” I view that as a threat to a person’s right to share his/her opinion freely. Why not you start the ball rolling by providing your personal details and not hide behind… Read more »
Let me clarify that I am first of all, a Penangite and a Malaysian who believes in democratic discourse. Thus, unlike some of those who have attacked me on a personal basis above (and previously in other posts), I am more interested in the substantive issues at hand. So, let’s focus on the discussion instead of personalities. Consequently, I see no reason why I should give anyone my IC number or my full name if I choose not to do so in my comments to Anil’s blog. This is my democratic choice just as I do not demand anyone to… Read more »
Andrew…. Please give us your full name and I/C so we can vet whether you are truly for the betterment of Penang or A MCA/Gerakan member trying to wreck havoc in Penang. I Hope the administrator of this blog request all parties to fill in their name and i/c for checking purposes if the need arise. Thanks for the suggestion. So far, I haven’t come across any blog asking people to fill in their IC numbers, which I don’t think is practical as there is no way of verifying them. And what about non-citizens? Anyway, this blog aims to encourage… Read more »
yup agreed with sarah… together we can!
Fancy that – 50 years treated like nobodies – no problem! 1 year with new State Govt – u want the moon and the sun! Bunch of spoilt children! Why u think LGE is like your fairy god mother- can wave magic wand and make all your problems disappear? Kindly don’t stress my CM and his govt too much – he is doing his best, with no backing from the Federal Govt whatsoever and with the vultures from Gerakan and MCA just waiting to pounce on any weaknesses, or rather engineer scenarios to make LGE’s team look bad. If LGE… Read more »
“…the state needs investor support, especially as it feels the squeeze on funds from the Barisan Nasional federal government amid a nerve-wracking financial crisis.” I could not agree more. But does the state have no other vision than to imitate the BN big and bad business approach that wrecks the environment and rubbishes the island’s populace? Is the DAP/PR state government so devoid of creative intelligence that it cannot come up with a different economic vision for Penang? Let’s hope that Guan Eng and company will FINALLY walk their talk. They can begin by READING ALL THE REPORTS that the… Read more »
The NGO, or other Penagites can give proposals and recomendation for the betterment of Penang. However they should not push it too far as to expect the PR govt to implement all their wishes. PR govt should be given a free hand to run the state base on CAT. IF they breach CAT, then only can they be reprimanded by the people who voted them in. IF every Tom, Dick and Harry are to act and demanded that their every wish is met…then the state govt cannot function to the max. So far, Penangites are very happy with the PR… Read more »
The Penang NGOs did not put PKR/DAP in power – the Penang people, sick and tired of the KTK-led administration, did.
The Penang NGOs maybe Penangites but they do not represent all the people in Penang.
The pots and pans antics of the Tanjung Bungah residents illustrate the above well. Did they make a similar fuss when the KTK regime approved all those hillside projects?
KTK was not only their neighbour in Tanjung Bungah. He was their assemblyman as well and for umpteen years at that.
I am glad that at least, NGOs of ONE state is doing some work and come up with a dossier of proposals. It does not matter whether the proposals are practical or achievable in reality. Nevertheless, they should be commended for producing even just a few papers for consideration.
Let us now see the issues brought up and the depth of analysis put into their proposals.
Any good government will give such enthusiasm a proper hearing.
I shall start thinking whether I should return to the State of my birth!