So there are questions being asked about what happened to the RM225 million in reserves held by the Seberang Prai Municipal Council (MPSP). Today, the MPSP is nearly broke as Penang Gerakan chief Teng Hock Nan and Lim Guan Eng engage in a battle of words over the media.
But it’s not a big mystery really how the MPSP blew its reserves.
Some RM65 million was splurged on a new MPSP office building in Bandar Perda near Bukit Mertajam. On whose instruction? Then, there are all the expenses related to the new (white elephant?) Batu Kawan Stadium and a sports complex near Bukit Mertajam.
Apart from this, the BN-administered MPSP indulged in all kinds of “beautification projects” costing hundreds of thousands of ringgit while the basics such as proper drains for the whole town were neglected.
In the name of “beautification”, they put new pavements in – only to dig them up several years later and replace them with newer pavements, in many places where people hardly walked. They put up all kinds of weird structures – especially tacky, ornamental street lamp-posts and dim pavement lighting for pedestrians. These pedestrian lights were largely unnecessary because they were usually in places where people hardly walked at night or where street lights already existed, so that the additional light provided was minimal. (See pics here.)
At about the same time, they put up these flimsy covered phone booths all over town, which started falling apart – many of them even before the phones could be installed!
True, they planted lots of trees and shrubs, so that Butterworth today looks a lot greener – but how much did all those trees and shrubs cost? And what about those huge flowerpots on the road dividers?
Meanwhile, real open recreational green spaces were swallowed up. There was a beautiful green patch in town, the padang, where many use to gather to watch football league matches. But then they erected this enormous dewan named after Abdullah Badawi’s father on one side and widened the road on the other side, so that today the field is no longer wide enough for football games.
The tennis court next to the padang is no more. Instead, it has been converted to an artificial rock garden and pond with fountains, which hardly anyone actually visits. Even the little sea-front park that Butterworth had next to the padang was lost to the North Butterworth Container Terminal and the Butterworth Outer Ring Road (Borr).
The entire beach front along Butterworth is not easily accessible to the public now, thanks to the outer ring road. If you do want to visit the sea front, then you have to park illegally on the shoulder of the highway and that’s what many Butterworth residents do. (I am not sure if they end up having to pay toll as well!) Half of Pantai Bersih in Bagan Ajam, which was hardly really bersih to begin with, was lost to the ring road while the other half is now in a mess, with sea-front erosion apparently a serious problem.
They could have turned the area where the District Officer and senior government servants once had large houses with spacious compounds (next to the Butterworth court complex) into a public park. But then it was turned over to a commercial-residential project. How much was made from the sale of the land and who profited?
And then they wonder why the youth turn to unhealthy activities. Where are the open recreational spaces for them in town? Where are the parks? Oh yes, they did build a new park further away – on unwanted land next to the Council’s huge rubbish land-fill. How thoughtful. Needless to say, it’s not the most popular park in the world.
Meanwhile, the main drains of Butterworth, outside the town centre, remain in horrible condition with stagnant water, aggravated by haphazard ad hoc construction of drains by property developers. One Australian who returned to Butterworth for a trip down memory lane (his father once served a few stints with the Australian RAAF airbase in Butterworth) was surprised (or maybe not surprised) to see no difference to the “mony drains” in town (that’s what the Aussies called the monsoon and other drains), filled with the same old dirty stagnant water.
Meanwhile, the amount of public money wasted on “beautification” projects over the years was scandalous. The most well known case was the infamous RM1.5 million five-year contract to supply flowers to “brighten up” the council offices. And all the while, urban pioneers in “squatter” settlements lived in deplorable conditions not far away until many of them were evicted to make way for “development”.
Of course, Penang state exco member Phee Boon Poh has also pointed out that the MPSP distributed RM50 million to 16-19 BN state assembly members from the mainland to carry out various projects in their respective constituencies between 1999 and 2005 (as reported in Malaysiakini). The council also allocated RM9 million for the 21 BN-appointed councillors in the 24-member MPSP to carry out similar projects between 1999 and 2006. But hardly anyone in Butterworth knew who their town councillors were; nor did they know who was responsible for such extravagant expenditure.
Butterworth is a classic example of why we need to bring back local council elections – and fast. In this respect, Pakatan Rakyat should give us a clear road map on when and how then plan to bring back local democracy.