Questionable land deals give Guan Eng huge headache

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pgcc meeting with guan eng
Lin Lee presents the PGCC Campaign Group’s concerns as Guan Eng, Jeff Ooi and Liew Chin Tong listen

It has been over a week since Lim Guan Eng was sworn in as Penang Chief Minister, but already he is discovering some of the serious challenges facing the new Penang state government.

He faces a daunting task. Planning approvals for major development projects in the past have been haphazard at best and irresponsible, dubious and shady at worst. The PGCC Campaign Group met Guan Eng this afternoon in the Bilik Gerakan (someone quipped that it should be renamed “Bilik DAP”) of the Chief Minister’s office in Komtar. After driving the final nails into the PGCC coffin, the activists from Penang’s main civil society groups said they would come up with a detailed proposal to turn the Turf Club land into a People’s Park within the next couple of months. Guan Eng joked that the developer’s bouquet of flowers had not influenced him in any way.

The activists also highlighted a whole range of planning and approval shortcomings that have left the island looking increasingly like a veritable concrete mess, plasted with huge billboards and plagued by poor enforcement. Among the examples cited were proposals for 40-storey tower blocks on the coastline of Tanjung Bungah and the massive Hunza development along Gurney Drive. The Campaign Group stressed that there should be no major development work until Local Plans are approved.

Land reclamation was another major issue. The activists pointed out that the previous adminstration had lost huge amounts of potential revenue by virtually handing over land reclamation projects to private developers to make lucrative profits while state coffers hardly benefited.

If land reclamation had been properly handled – there are 16,000 hectares of potential land that can be reclaimed – it could have generated enough revenue for the state to finance its operating and development expenditure for many years. Instead, IJM (along the Jelutong Expressway) and E&O (along Tanjong Tokong) appear to be the prime beneficiaries.

Land reclamation has also caused severe environmental problems – mud flats in Gurney Drive and siltation. Guan Eng pointed out that, thanks to siltation, the authorities may now have to spend federal funds (public money) to dredge the sea around the port area. Let’s not even talk about the damage it has caused to marine and coastal biodiversity.

Guan Eng addresses the PGCC Campaign Group
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng tells us about his budget concerns

The new Chief Minister said that Penang has to cope with tight financial constraints, with a budget deficit of RM35 million announced last year. Worse, there are several court cases coming up involving dubious land deals undertaken during the previous administration that have exposed the state to potential legal damages. In one such case involving a shady land deal in 2003, in which the legal officer acting for the state strangely conceded liability, the state government now could be exposed to RM30 million in damages. “I don’t know where I am going to find RM30 million,” said a worried Guan Eng, an accountant by training.

The Penang state government must institute a thorough investigation into how this could have happened.

I asked him about Penang’s financial reserves, and he said the state had about RM200-odd million in reserves. But, he added, the government would be reluctant to touch this as it would affect the state’s credit rating.

It is at times like this that we wish that land reclamation had been properly handled in the past. It could have been a major source of revenue for the state, provided of course that the environmental aspect had been thoroughly studied first.

The Chief Minister also confirmed that all files had been taken away from their offices. “Maybe they wanted you to start on a ‘clean slate’,” someone quipped.

As for the re-introduction of local government elections, Guan Eng said that Penang was the only state so far to have committed itself to restoring elected councils. But in view of the cost and logistics involved, he felt that local council elections should be best held to coincide with the next general election.

CCTV cameras to curb crime?

Guan Eng said that he had prioritised security as his main concern for the next few months. He appeared keen on installing more CCTV cameras in crime-prone areas as a preventive measure – a move which could cost RM20 million.

I hope Guan Eng will reconsider this as I do not think it will be money well spent.

For one thing, the effectiveness of CCTV cameras in crime prevention is questionable (although some may say its value lies in its deterrent effect).

Secondly, it could lead to a Big Brother society, where cameras watch the people’s every move. Before long, you will have cameras spying on you wherever you go – and there will always be a need for more and more cameras if we don’t attack the root (socio-economic) causes of the rising crime rate.

Thirdly, in view of the state’s budget difficulties, there are better ways to spend this money. In fact, the Penang state government should leave crime-fighting to the the police. (Are there serious problems in policing which the proposed IPCMC could help resolve?) The state government should instead look at the underlying reasons for the rise in crime. Is it due to social problems created by unemployment, the widening gap between the rich and poor, the alienation of the working class, the lack of skills training that would otherwise enable more people to seek gainful employment? (See a comment by Hamid Ibrahim below, in which he includes an article suggesting that the state of urban ecology is an important factor in explaining urban crime.)

Installing CCTVs was an idea mooted by the previous administration and the police. Even before the general election, there were already 31 CCTVs in the Penang town centre with plans for 31 more on the mainland and another 94 on Penang Island. The way I see it, the main beneficiary will probably be the camera and equipment suppliers. So watch out for their marketing sweet talk.

Guan Eng with PGCC Campaign Group

Guan Eng receives documents from the PGCC Campaign Group

That said, the PGCC Campaign Group’s meeting with the new Chief Minister has achieved its objective of alerting the new state leaders about some critical issues that need to be resolved.

Guan Eng appeared down-to-earth (“No need to address us as YB”), warm and sincere and keen to make a fresh start for Penang. He kept telling us, “This is your government; we want the people to feel part of the government” – stuff like that, which went down well. He recalled his consultation with Indian groups and how delighted and empowered they felt when they were allowed to speak in Tamil while someone translated for the chief minister. “I wasn’t even sure if they were scolding me!” he laughed.

The new state government thus far enjoys tremendous public support and goodwill, and many have volunteered their services to help fashion a new Penang for all. This administration will need all the help it can get.

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Jeffrey Chew

I am delighted to see a new beginning. Commendable job by the committee for setting up a meeting at such as well planned manner.

Kah Seng

Agreed overall good work for LGE. But I am getting a sinking feeling about postponing local election to the next GE, on the reason of cost (see paragraph above CCTV section). This is giving in too early. I also do not want to see the LGE government get into the habit of hiding behind blaming BN for past problems and constraints, rather than doing bold things. But I agree we need to the LGE government some time to work. These are just well-intended cautionary notes. MCA is already talking about surveying for possible change to local election laws. DAP should… Read more »

hamidibrahim

Comment Crime – Cause of It is a major issue for the Federal Government as well as the State governments. What Guan Eng should do is to set up a Committe of Experts to find out the causes of Crime. There are a number of them. 1. Unemployment problem should be looked into 2. Distribution of Wealth – rich against poor 3. Talk to a taxi driver – he says that he has been driving a taxi for more than 10,20, or 30 years but the taxi belongs a wealthy man who has 50 or 100 taxis. It is ubelievable.… Read more »

ragawasamy

I have so much to say but I do not know where to start from since the rot has gone to the core.It certainly a daunting task but IT CAN BE ACHIEVED.

RTeh

One of the initial steps in curbing crime would be to put in a state sanctioned civilian monitoring comittee, to look at the effectiveness of the state police in handling crime.
The would also coordinate the communication between the state police contingent and the state government.

The police are also ill-equipped and have not enough manpower. Probably we could introduce state owned “polis bantuan” especially those municipal enforcement officials, and give them more tasks rather than issuing parking tickets.

Samson

Any wrong doings or mismanagements or corruptions by the past government should be exposed and the executives/personnels involved should be charged in court and made to repay back what had been taken.This is where LGE should get all the monies to settle for all the damages and messed created by the personnels or parties involved.

Any new or pending dealings or projects without proper documents or channelled should be struck off, savings the current government precious time and money.

better future

LGE is correct – more CCTVs is not going to solve the crime rate, as criminals usually hide their faces when committing crimes most of the time.
Big Brother watching/spying citizens as in Britain, and USA is more the case.
Deal more stringently with criminals and get the community involved is or the better way.

lakshmi

The new Penang State Govt. have made all the right moves so far. I know it will be a Herculean task to clean up the dirt, so Penangites must be a source of strength to the CM, understand his mammoth task and do not demand immediate results. Remember he has no files to work from. Damn those crooks from the previous govt!!!!!
When you have a clean, transparent and accountable govt, you will keep voting them for many years to come. To Brother Lim Guan Eng, my prayers are with you. Please soldier on.

Andrew

What’s happened to policemen patrolling on foot? They act as a reasonable deterrent and it shouldn’t cost more.

raj raman

FELT VERY SORRY FOR OUR ACCOUNTANT CM.HE CANT EVEN START IS JOB WITH ALL THE MESS LEFT AROUND BY FORMER BN.HOPE THINGS WILL SETTLE DOWN.DONT WITCH HUNT FIRST.PROVE CM CAN PERFORM.THE LATER PART PUT BN BEHIND BARS.TOUGH JOB FOR YOU CM,BUT YOU WILL PERFORM IF YOU JUST FOCUS ON YOUR NEW JOB AS CM.APPOINT SOMEONE TO CLEAN THE MESS CREATED BY BN.KEEP ON TELLING THE MESS BN CREATED IS OLD STORIES TO SOME OF US.NOTHING NEW.THE NEW THING IS YOU ARE IN CONTROL NOW.LET PROVE IT TO BN.THANKS.RAJ RAMAN.RELIGION;MY PROBLEM ANWSER TO GOD.RACE;DREAMING TO BE MALAYSIAN PUTRA

ijjaz

thank you anil. the updates you bring daily have made me an ardent reader of your blog. the photos speaks volume. may your good work enlighten all of us!

Antares

The obscene excesses and gross mismanagement of Penang under the BN gives us a hint of the Herculean task that lies ahead
in trying to sort out the mess created by unscrupulous public servants, especially over the last 25 years. However, a bit of housecleaning is not only good exercise, the rewards are instantly felt once it’s accomplished! Soldier on merrily, Guan Eng!

aaa

great start. on the missing documents, its the same in the other states now under the new coalition. i can only assume that the previous administration has lots of dirt to hide otherwise why the wanton destruction of documents.
shame on you, gerakan.
MCA and UMNO …, i can understand but from gerakan fellas? guess, the disease called corruption is rather infectious.

james

agree with you on the need to have CCTVs. The state government should look into the underlying reasons for the rise in crime cases.

hamidibrahim

Legal Articles on Crime Patricia Brantingham is University Professor of Computational Criminology and the director of the Canadian Institute for Urban Research Studies (ICURS) at Simon Fraser University. Next time you walk through a city, look for artifacts of daily crime and disorder. Look for bars on first-floor windows. Look for broken glass. Look for signs that say: “No bikes” or “Park closes at 10 p.m.” or “Not responsible for valuables left in car.” These examples indicate not only the obvious—that the area around you is dangerous—but also that neighborhood developers failed to consider all of the people who would… Read more »

christina

thanks anil for the insightful news. keep on the good work. and so far LGE, the new CM has been doing a wonderful job. he was at the muslim function last thursday and was in church last friday. i appreciate his efforts to be one with the people. give him time to deliver.

Kah Seng

Agreed on the CCTV big brother problem. Solution is for the State government to influence the Federal police force to improve through better police pay, adequate foot patrol, and full implementation of IPCMC proposals. CCTV’s real cost is in maintenance, operation, repair, and storage of images. A compromise is to provide incentive (perhaps tax deduction like buying computer) for shops to install their own CCTVs. That way, CCTV purchases will be private and competitive, maintenance will be in private hands, and ownership of the video images will not be centralized. The police can still summon them perhaps through the approval… Read more »

Mag

CCTV is not going to work believe me! I was a snatch theft victim and I was told there was a CCTV installed nearby, I requested the police to check but they refused, they said CCTV can only ‘see’ the pedestrian walkway within short distance, mine was just 50 yards away!

jughead

CCTV should put on as a trial and consider its effectiveness in local contact. Imagine 2 policemen in the control room can patrol 10 different locations in the city. Look at London bombing or recent killing of a Korean in Sydney. The CCTV can recall the past events. CCTV is just another aid in combating crime in the city whereas it allows more police to patrol in suburbs.

Penang

Dear Anil, The new Penang government must shape up ! I have pointed out to both Guan Eng and Jeff Ooi about the danger in PBA, with BN (reps) still populated the Bod of both the PBAHB and PBAPP, ( please refer to http://www.pba.com.my/bod_pbahb.htm & http://www.pba.com.my/bod_pbapp.htm ) many days ago and nothing has yet been done. We also understand that the new government would face a financial crunch. We have devised a plan for the new Penang government to obtain fresh sources of income, and have submitted the plan to the new government. The plan is about the seting up… Read more »

Joe AWK

All well meaning Penangites must give the CM some space and time. There is no need to flock a new horse. 2 weeks is not such a long time. Hasty decision will lead to serious mistakes which he will have to take responsibility and not you all.

There is so much to look into and so much more to do. Don’t forget that there are sensitive considerations which he has to take into account. Talking is not quite like doing and taking responsibilities.

SS

Pls bring all the culprits to court and take the ill money out of them to support to build a peacefull and beautifull Penang.

Thinking Cap

As the saying goes Rome was not built in a day.Our Mr.Lim Guan Eng has just taken over from Nero(The BN govt). So he has to put off the burning greed (the BN cronies) that is still present there and start rebuilding Penang to be the Jewel of the Crown.It will take time and we must give all the support we can, to back him up, especially the people of Penang.WATCH OUT FOR TROUBLE MAKERS!!!

Penang

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Penang

This message is in reply to Kah Seng… Kah Seng, I agree with you that Guan Eng & Co. must shape up. Instead of placing all the blames to Tsu Koon & Co., they MUST do something NEW. Me and my friends have submitted plans for them, and Guan Eng & Co., are acting just like Tsu Koon & Co., totally UNRESPONSIVE ! Our plans include mass-transit, environment, investment arm, business revival, and so on, and so forth. We are doing this not to look for “kang tao”, but rather, to chip in to help our own home – The… Read more »