Powerful corporate interests penetrate Penang local councils


Just got a text message from an unhappy political scientist friend, who forwarded to me an sms that he had sent to a DAP rep in Penang:

People not happy with councillors appoint & list. old wine in new bottle. expect you guys to deliver your promises during election.

Also received another email from a concerned Penangite. Interesting that he also describes it as “old wine in new bottle”:

now that the MPPP & MPSP councillors lists are out, I’m sure many of us are NOT happy — personally I think it is just old wine in new bottle, especially treating the political appointments as consolation for those left out in the election and also having the ADUNs doubling up as councillors as well.
isn’t it time the civil society rise up once again to make our displeasure and disappontment heard by the new state gov, to let them know loud and clear that this is a very bad move by them, and to remind them their promises during the run-up to the last GE?

There is a certain degree of dissatisfaction on the ground on this issue of appointments of councillors – although many are prepared to give the DAP-PKR a bit more time to get their act together and work towards local democracy. But that patience could wear thin if no progress is made in this direction – and the honeymoon period could end sooner than we think.

There can be no compromise on this issue. The Pakatan leaders have to get cracking and give us a quick timeline or roadmap of their path towards local council elections. After all, it was a major campaign pledge in Penang. And the longer it is delayed, the more disenchantment will brew among those who voted for PR.

We don’t want to be stuck with the same system of rewarding party loyalists by appointing them to local councils. That’s the BN style, and people expect the Pakatan to be different and to restore local democracy – pronto. They have to start finding ways and means of overcoming the legal hurdles and move in that direction quickly.

When the DAP mentioned that 10 NGO representatives would be included in the two municipals, many thought this would be a hugely significant interim step towards broader elected representation. Few thought that the term “NGOs” would encompass representatives from the various Chambers of Commerces.

Many were therefore taken aback when they realised that the corporate/business reps would outnumber the traditional “civil society” types. Out of the seven “NGO” reps actually appointed to the councils on the island and on the mainland, five represent corporate interests. In the Seberang Perai council, all three “NGO” reps are from commerce and industry: the Chinese and Indian Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers. Over on the island, the Malay and Chinese Chambers of Commerce have a rep each.

These Chamber reps represent powerful business and corporate interests and not the interests of the ordinary person on the street. One single rep from a Chamber of Commerce carries the weight of not just a single company but a whole battalion of business and corporate interests.

Many of the battles that the local councils will have to engage in are likely to pit them against corporate interests (including property developers) infringing on the rights of ordinary people or degrading the environment. Local councillors will also have to grapple with promoting accountability in the awarding of contracts and alienation of state land and gauge whether these deals would really be in the people’s interest. How can they do this easily when they have vested interests within their own ranks? Wouldn’t this give rise to cases of conflict of interest?

We have already witnessed the terrible degradation of the environment and the land scams in Penang – largely as a result of those with vested business interests cosying up to ruling politicians.

Now that these business reps have penetrated the councils, whose interests will they uphold during council meetings – corporate interests or the people’s interests? No prizes for guessing.

If they can include so many corporate reps, where are the reps from consumer groups, trade unions, community organisations, residents associations and senior citizens? What about those championing the cause of workers?

That said, I am pleased to see Lim Kah Cheng and Prof Francis Loh – the only non-party, non-business reps – among the ranks of the councillors. I’m sure they will want to push through some meaningful reforms, and I wish them well.

The clock is ticking for the Pakatan Rakyat state and local government. True, the people tolerated the BN’s nonsense (appointments of party loyalists to local councils) for decades. But the PR pledged to restore local government elections – and so they have a much shorter time frame to prove that they can do just that. They have to show they are working fast – and not wait until just before the next general election to make the appropriate noises.

Give the councils back to the people – not to corporate interests and not to political appointees.

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At the ‘giant rally’ of Han Chiang just before GE 2008, Guan Eng requested Penangites to lead the rest of Malaysia to true democracy and all the folks that attended rally gave a resounding YES!!. True to their word, the ordinary people fulfilled their part of the promise but how about DAP and Pakatan Rakyat?

Yes I agree with you Anil, Guan Eng must give the councils back to people as promised!!


2 issues: 1. the state gov has renaged and compromised on their moral principle of transparency & accountability, as the whole selection was done behind closed doors. I have been given to understand it has been made rather secretively as well, even within the state gov. 2. And,if they are really true to their promise, they have to show the rakyat beyond any doubt by giving a firm time-table when they intend to return local election to the people. The legal issues can be resolved, no doubt about that. The rakyat voted them in to make new things happen with… Read more »

wong kafoo

it is worth considering what anilnetto is saying, as there
is a perception of bais where conflict of interst is concern


Never Never Never trust a politician! The only thing you can do is try someone new in the next election, keep trying….your Mr. Right would never be there…because they are politicians.


The mounting pressure in managing the local government issues must have taken toe on him, so much so that he lost control of his usual self by getting emotional and lashing out at reporters. However, we wish to remind each and every member of the DAP-led Pakatan Rakyat’s populist government that we, the people of Penang, are perfectly entitled to demand our new government to full-fill its promises to reform the local government as speedy and extensive as possible. After all, the new government was swept into power with high hope of implimenting sweeping reform from day one. Therefore, the… Read more »


BN and PR/DAP. What change? This is like the detergent advertisement.

NEW in big letters. packaging in small letters.

Business and corporate in Malaysia have developed special skills in inflitrating into the govt whether BN or PR. I think LGE and company are not experienced and idealistic to overcome this invasion of corporate interests.


Surprisingly, Dr Rafick wrote something similar with regards to have a politician as the YDP of local authorities. I think the penang state can learn a thing or two from this doctor. read his site http://www.rights2write.wordpress.com


Right now, the Penang government has to appoint the councilors fast and also needs to give the economy a kick start. The world’s economy is in a down spin mode and many in Penang can be jobless overnight. Given that the Penang state government is in opposition to the Federal Government, most investors do not like such scenarios and may skip Penang. A controlled business-friendly face is something to be commended and it will be reassuring to foreign investors I think that the Penang government is making a good start in this direction. As said by Ally Meme. Agreeable as… Read more »


well, the rakyat is watching what the pakatan rakyat can do differently as what the previous government could not do. Rule for the rakyat and not party or supporters first. Then pakatan is assured of more terms in office. Let not soil the clean linen that the rakyat has given the pakatan the first time in 50 years. Make history for the people. Lets see better results for all Malaysians and less of ribbon cutting ceremonies and seminars.

Ally Meme

I do not see it that way – looks to me that the NGO guys want to muscle their way in – they surely can wait till the local elections to be voted in! Right now, the Penang government has to appoint the councilors fast and also needs to give the economy a kick start. The world’s economy is in a down spin mode and many in Penang can be jobless overnight. Given that the Penang state government is in opposition to the Federal Government, most investors do not like such scenarios and may skip Penang. A controlled business-friendly face… Read more »


Make-up of the councils!

It is hard to please everyone, but shouldn’t the councils be filled with the most capable people, whether they are from the civil societies or from the business sector? Shouldn’t the best talents be tapped for the good of the rakyat? All this looks very similar to the arguments that were floating around then – why was the MB a Malay, why were DAP not given more seats when it had the most elected members?

Should this basis of selection be thrown out together with the BN politicians, already?

Penang 71

Give LGE and his team a chance. I’m sure they want to give everyone a chance but they have to face the reality on the ground. The economy is not doing well n we can’t rely on federal funding anymore. U can’t run a state a pure idealism. Now is not the time to be greedy for seats. Hasn’t the state govt proven they are willing to work with NGOs – if their concerns are heard and addressed, why do they need a council post? Can’t anyone wait for local council elections? All this “merebut untuk jawatan” actually looks very… Read more »

sp tay

Chambers of commerce are important too…they represent the economic lifeblood of the cities…in most cities they also well represnted….in Australian cities, even with local elections their representatives mostly dominate the councils….why the bias against business….working class and ordinary can also be as corrupted as business interests…the important thing is to ensure that the system allows for transparency and a systematic audit of all its activities…

Kris Khaira

KKLim, nobody’s saying that every NGO should be represented. It’s the working class, residents associations and other grassroots communities that need to be represented more than corporate interests. SP Tay, chambers of commerce and businesses don’t represent the economic lifeblood of cities, workers do. Funny how some can imagine that foreign investors will be afraid to invest in Penang. I guess at the end of the day, everyone has a different way of weighing the welfare of people vs corporations. And by the way, corruption and bad public transport scare investors too. Civil society should get together again to set… Read more »

raj raman

Very fast human come to conclusion. Please consider this factors in. 1> In any investor friendly goverment we do need some business people to give their input to the goverment. 2> We can have NGo to monitor this business group dont abuse the power. 3> WAIT FOR MOMENT AND DONT JUMP- LETS THE CHIEF MINISTER DO THE JOB.NOTHING ELSE HE HAVE IMPLEMENT OTHER THAN EXPOSE THE CORRUPT. LIFE AND ECONOMY MUST CONTINUE,HOW FAST AND HOW THE PENANG PEOPLE AND NGO WILL DO THE CHECK AND BALANCE SUBJECT TO TIME FACTOR.NOT JUST SHOUTING FOR THE POST FOR THE SAKE TO MAKE… Read more »


“Out of the seven “NGO” reps actually appointed to the councils on the island and on the mainland, five represent corporate interests.”

My rage & anger is building!

Someone should complain to Socialist International! This is the worst thing DAP has done so far!


Penang is to a large extend “Hokkien” country. Even Malays and Indians from there sound more Hokkien than Malay or Indian. So bear with the PR Govt as the Chambers of Commerce are an important part of Penang governance. The only “NGO” fellow making noise is a bigmouth who is unhappy he was left out. Seven out of 10 is not bad for a start. The thing to watch out is the “MINDEF land scandal” that Pete mentioned in his Malaysia Today website and the news that good ole Samy Vellu is trying to run a $150,000 course for oversea… Read more »


I could understand that some NGO’s are not satisfied with the name list, yet why not give the new team a chance to work. why cry fault even before they started working? Give them a chance to perform their duties failing which the NGO can call for a motion of no confidence and do the necessary.

Well for the past 50 years how many NGO’s were part of the council team,let’s ask ourselves honestly, I bet you are thinking very hard! Give Pakatan Rakyat a chance as we have given BN 50 years…..


I think we shouldn’t be too harsh with the new Penang Govt just because the city councillors do not all represent the NGO’s. BTW, how many NGO’s are there in Penang itself ? Which one do you pick without incurring the wrath of others which are left out ? Which one is more important than the other ? Never forget there are also numerous NGO’s which are very vocal and think they are important but how many members do they have/reperesent ? So you can understand the task itself just to put up a truly representative council. What we should… Read more »



pls give PR time…you got to be reasonable. We can have dialogue session with the PR and ask them to provide timeline for what they have promised the rakyat.