The Penang we want: An open letter to Penang Forum

Photograph: Elida Ong

Our guest contributor is Judy Cheng-Hopkins, who comes up with some criticism of Penang Forum for indulging in ‘group-think’. She raises the larger issue of what kind of Penang we want. These days it would seem there are two (or more) competing visions of Penang. Read on.

Judy Cheng-Hopkin’s view from the “outside-in”:

(I am a Malaysian and Penangite, a St George’s and St Xavier’s alumna, who has worked and lived overseas for over four decades. I have a home in Penang and live here a few months a year. That is why my perspective can be considered “outside-in”.)

Looking around me, sitting here in Tanjung Bungah, it maybe a little late to ask the question, what should Penang look like in say 20 years? To our amazement, multi-storey apartment buildings keep sprouting up. However while I have heard passionate complaining about “over- development”, I have yet to hear a good articulation of what the various segments of Penang society want.

To get straight to the point, doesn’t the ‘Penang we want’ debate boil down to two visions for the future of this Pearl of the Orient:

1) aspire to be Singapore/HongKong or
2) draw on its comparative advantages of cultural heritage, eco-friendly tourism opportunities and thus … a low-key kind of development?

I know where I stand in this debate, but I wonder what the majority think. Has the Penang Forum ever posed this kind of “straight-talk” question to the public before? (Actually, there was the Penang Forum 5 dialogue in 2012 with the chief minister and the public on the vision for Penang. At this event, many questions and comments were raised by the public, which were then submitted to the state for a response – Anil)

OK, one can say that common folk are too busy going about their lives to worry about whether to be Hongkong/Singapore or say… Costa Rica, one of the most successful eco-tourism spots in the world.

Well, then the monumental task ahead of the Penang Forum is educating the public regarding the options and their self-interests: clean air, no more landslides for instance? Or simply, a sustainable future in terms of the environment, their comfort and their livelihoods.

You can start by educating schoolchildren who are good at educating their parents. Sponsor public debates – let the pros and cons of this debate come out in the open, no more living in the comfort zone of talking among yourselves. Stop re-litigating the past. Allow some dissent (or alternative opinions) for that might make your argument even stronger.

And above all move beyond rhetoric. From my perspective, Penang Forum seems to have two operating principles: 1) no dissent allowed, 2) no action required! NATO? (no action, talk only).

I recently attended a public lecture on Pulau Jerejak: Past and Future sponsored by Penang Forum. I noticed how angry and frustrated the audience was at the prospect of yet another grandiose development scheme replete with high-rises, theme parks and bridge.

There was a brave soul representing the developer who, when asked, readily stepped up to the front for the Q and A session. He was asked how and under what structure consultations on development plans will be held with local communities/stakeholders.

When he gave a vague answer, the questioner asked who his company was accountable to. Another vague answer but surely we know to whom a private company is accountable? Its shareholders of course! No one else. The other party, the government, can regulate, if it wants to but the perennial excuse (or maybe it’s real) in this poor stepchild of a state is that the federal govt gives us pittance compared to what we contribute to federal coffers; so we need the revenue streams that real estate development generates.

So it struck me that the palpable frustration in the room is over the extreme asymmetry in power relations between the three parties (Penang Forum, representing a segment of civil society, state government-developers). Who has leverage over whom when decision-making time comes? Take a guess!

To conclude, it is clear where developers stand. Maybe one day we may find ‘enlightened’ developers who look beyond immediate profits but it seems we are not there yet.

The state government claims it is a government under siege by the federal government even though it would help if it would make its vision statement clearer as far as real estate development is concerned.

However, my letter is directed at Penang Forum. As an outsider who is also insider with a stake in ‘the Penang we want, I feel, for better or worse, that I have a responsibility to hold a mirror up to you.

You are frustrated at the asymmetry in power relations. Engaging in group think will not solve it. Get to the root of the problem and start implementing a strategy. My next letter to you could be to share some ideas on strategy going forward, but if you’re not interested, no problem. I will go back to enjoying Tanjung Bungah.

Yours sincerely,

Judy (friend…not foe)

Do you agree? Share with us your own vision of the Penang you want. Maybe the politicians, the developers and civil society groups will take note.

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Raj 777

Election fever started oredi in Penang with poster wars intitiated by Ah Soon buddies to topple LGE. We at Bayan Baru now more focus on progress in our neighbourhood. Pls save the money on environmentally unfriendly posters. We want Bayan Baru to be clean. Foremost in most senior folks with little IT knowledge is to have a library for them to read newspapers and access to computers, while school children look for books to borrow with little budget for expensive printed materials at Popular or Borders. Many thought YB Sim has been too busy in KL, truly ignorant of the… Read more »


Sim not bothered as he may not be contesting Bayan Baru?
Anyway he has done the damage by denying the residents the use of the library for more than one year already. I hope the next YB can restore the library, regardless of which political party. Whoever can promise an improved library with good air conditioning reading room for my children to study will get votes from me and my family members in GE14.


YB Sim should know that MCA is aiming to take over Bayan Baru, so much so that it has refused to swap Bayan Baru with Gerakan’s Batu Kawan. I hope MCA could make known its plan for Bayan Baru residents as YB Sim is quite static due to unknown dysfunctional inertia to respond to the needs of the residents.


We shall see what goodies MCA can offer.
Time for YB Sim to shape up or be shipped out.


Raj thinks mord abouf better development us better facikitiez. Ah pek tun lang thinks more about moving backwards to the past. Ithers think abouf the old good trams.But pg lang are stuck in the traffic living in peanuts from central, getting of half of flood aid and under paid in the flood pfojects. No aid to solve traffic problems while others are getting billiins in rapid transporr, pumps and retention ponds.For 70 years under dummo and gilakan, still want to follow ah soon? Then we will never have 2 party system like pommies, yankees and the Aussies

M Pillay

RAJ 777 u wrote an letter to Bayan Baru’s new YB in charge?

Roger Teoh

many penangites left their hometown for advanced and developed countries either migrated or working. now they wish their Penang hometown will never change to retain its old rustic charm without new development or modern infrastructure so that they can recapture their old nolstagic childhood memories when visiting Penang for their holiday. many old ang mohs also think likewise. so they complain a lot when they see Penang become developed. they forgot why they left Penang in the first place in search of better modern living. so give the locals a break, they also need development to achieve good quality living.… Read more »


Desperate leaders talk silly things. Who says the Malay Regiment will be dismantled ? Trying to frighten the Army ? Who says DAP leader will be PM? Trying to frighten the Malays ? With 38 seats, the Party rules ? BERSATU and PKR are contesting many more seats! Now, desperate leaders see ghosts everywhere ! They have nightmares; and they are panicky that they may lose everything: jet travel gone, car gone, position gone! What a pathetic sight to behold ! It is wise to be HUMBLE; the fall will not be so great! PRIDE goes before the fall! Very… Read more »


Please read this:
‘A letter to all Malaysians for GE14’


Penangites want to stay on but they will have to go.

Historical ‘House of 72 families’ to go


Am glad that you have seen fit to include the comment or opinion of Judy Cheng-Hopkins in your website on what tickles the people in Penang Forum. After reading so much about what they have said and trying to do what’s best for Penang is actually in the end is what’s best for this group of people who are so concerned about development. On this matter Penang Forum reminds me of a horse forced to have blinds on its eyes so that it could only see ahead, when guided by the rider. Nothing on either side should deflect it from… Read more »

Ong Eu Soon

To reverse the trend, the first thing we need to do is to get rid of Lim Guan Eng and DAP. The coming election we need to ensure that Harapan lose in the following seats: 1) Air putih 2) Dato Keramat 3) Tanjung Bungah 4) Sungai Pinang 5) Padang Lalang 6) Komtar 7) Pengkalan Kota 8) Bukit Tambun 9) Machang Bubor 10) Bagan Jermal 11) Sungai Puyu We have no choice but to let BN win back Penang state. A mission that I have embarking for the last 6 years when civil society groups ignored my pledge to stop the… Read more »


Not too soon, Ah Soon. Despite the arrogance of NK & some of his misdemeanours & (alleged) ‘political-corporate tango crimes against environment’ (lesser wrong doings compared to 1MDB’s alleged mother of all corruptions + other countless big time corruptions since MadHatter’s time), Penangites are much in defence (& still in love with) of DAP against Bee End. Humiliating lessons learnt during ostrich regime of Gelak-Gelakan & Racist Madhatterism are still very fresh in the common sense minds of Penangites. I will never ever forget Bee End + Umeno for what they did to my promising youth & opportunities. Never will… Read more »


Get over it ! How old are you already ? Probably 60 something and almost “can smell the burning joss stick”? And still can’t get over your grudge towards UMNO and BN? Live and let go. Isn’t that the teaching of Buddhism? UMNO is not a single human being. It’s a political organisation with memberships of 3.6 millions as of 2017. And it doesn’t even include normal UMNO supporters who are not officially a member. Are you saying all these 3.6 millions Malays racist since you always wrote that UMNO is racist? Other than that, most Chinese can only screamed… Read more »


MadHatterism bred the ills of his legacy we inherited today. MadHatter now gentlemanly admits he has to get rid of them (worst ills than his time) which he also admitted as his mistakes which btw is good for UBAH Malaysia. Which the other politician can’t or won’t admit he steals high time. Buddhism doesn’t teach us to steal, neither to kill nor to discriminate. More so against those that commit these ills against a wider society. So, as a Buddhist, I have a legitimate right to oppose these ills in our country. To support with blind eyes is to also… Read more »


Ah. Pek you can see dummo and gilakan president is creating low skill and pay jobs. Plantation workers. and factory production sorkers operated by non bumi SME. That is why there are than 1 miilion malaysians have to cari makan for better pay ib singland, hong land, taiwan land and illegally in jap land, down under land, hankok land and uncle sam land. Further we are entitled to zoology courses or unrelated courses in the local U. If we keep on listening to Ah soon and engineer, the one ton mee and big fried will be extinct and left with… Read more »


Did you also engineer the anti-fake news bill to be proposed?
Will you judge what is fake news & what is not?
So, whistleblowing is also deemed fake news (to protect the criminals)?

Guan Eng: Anti-fake news bill to cover up 1MDB scandal?

M Pillay

Personal grudges pls settle in court and do not let the island or the nation in further distress this GE14 by backing seriously corruptedregime in global eyes.


Which shows what these restless can do once elected to govern the state – more thrash!
Oh, yes. More repeats of Gelak-ostrich sandiwara!


Gerakan under Teng is littering Penang with illegal posters. Very uncivilized act that will harm the image of Penang. How can we elect such Ah Long-like party?


Penang state gomen has a legit right to thrash these ‘thrash’ posters which is aimed at individual political poisoning. When is GE campaigning announced to start? Not yet, but these restless can’t wait. So, these posters should go straight to thrash bins.


Gerakan’s Loo whacked for asking why the rush to down posters


Agree with you Ong Eu Soon. Tokong Lim has been embroiled in too many scandals such as buying bungalow (allegedly) below market price and consequently charged with corruption. He still has no shame holding the CM post. I hope he goes to jail soon.


Yes cm has to no shame when dummo and gilakan is trearing pg like anak angkat and uses tax payers to haunt the opposition. What happen to phee’ s case and the tan sri in the tunnel project? Just making shows. Where are the dues for flood project? With sea water rises exoected to rise more than 300mm, engiinser try to fight against higher sea water level. Even our anil is just a kampong activist. Public transport is cintrolled by central. But pg forum only target the state gomen. Central with proton encourage more cars


Do you support undersea tunnel from Bagan Datuk to Sumatra?


Ah soon and his grudges against tokong. Of course dummo thinks that gomen belongs to dummo party and what are they good at? The woman grandma opposition feels so in her life as dummo adun helping sime stall holders. If gilakan and ma cai party win, the real power is dummo. See what what happen to sugar king after being insulted?