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PR firm soliciting NGO views on Penang mega project

I’ve just heard from a reliable source that a PR firm, Fox Communication, is going around meeting NGO representatives to find out their views on the Penang Global City Centre project. The project is located on that vast plot of prime land used by the Penang Turf Club, which will be relocated to the mainland.

The PGCC is being developed by Equine Capital. Isn’t that a Patrick Lim company?

I hate to think what the traffic will be like along Scotland Road, already congested during peak hours, if they go ahead with the PGCC and build, what, 40 tower blocks on the Turf Club land.

This project will in all likelihood spell the deathknell for Komtar, that mega project of the 1970s. The 65-storey tower block is fast turning into a white elephant even before all the planned phases are completed.

As one veteran activist said, the PGCC project “looks like a mega monster of a development, totally incompatible with the site and context…empty more of Komtar? kill more existing shopping place? add crazily to excess office space and luxury housing? create traffic mess? and an ecological nightmare!”

Penangites should instead lobby for the Turf Club land to be turned into a Penang State Park along with model social housing on the fringes. After all, KL is going to have a “Central Park” – what about Penang? The Turf Club is the last huge plot of accessible land on Penang Island that could be turned into a spacious state park.

Penang badly needs a new park. Just look at the Botanical Gardens and the Youth Park: they are both so congested that people are practically walking into one another.

At one time, I had hoped that the Penang state government would use the large empty plot of land along Jalan Udini for a state park. No such luck; the state government obviously has other (business) priorities. When our planners see any green space, you can almost see $$$$ in their eyes. So Tesco set up shop there – and that was the end of that, as winding access roads and large commercial complexes rapidly filled up the green lung.

Then there was Pulau Jerejak. Large parts of that too have been slated for commercial development when it could have been left untouched and used as a park along the lines of Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

The developers of any mega project these days usually appoint PR agencies not only to promote the project to potential investors but to deal with possible protests from ordinary people or civil society.

PR firms are paid to come up with strategies to overcome NGO or public resistance to huge controversial projects.

My friend, an experienced marketing and communications professional with extensive experience in the PR industry, had this to say:

There really ain’t any point (for the NGOs to give) Fox any input — this will only be fed into their PR strategy and they will just come up with ideas and strategies to HANDLE THESE NGOs AND THEIR VIEWS – which determines their (PR) fee. Sigh… NGOs talking to them are just being used by them. NGOs should just gang up and put their views across via their own ‘PR vehicles’.

Job materialises above my desktop

Sometimes its hard to understand the meaning of suffering and misfortune.

I spent most of today running around taking the first step towards getting all my cards replaced. And discovered that it is an expensive affair to get burgled. The fee for replacing each card (whether bank ATM card, identity card, driver’s licence) ranges from RM12 to RM50.

It’s back to my old desktop PC now after the laptop was stolen. My Samsung monitor, for some reason, looks blur. Maybe because it is past its prime.

Yesterday, I discovered a book that I thought had gone missing. It was on wisdom spirituality based largely on material from the Old Testament. I found it lying strategically on the CPU of my desktop.

I flipped the book open to where I had left a book-mark inside to indicate where I had last stopped.

The next chapter was all about Job. How apt, I thought. I mean, I couldn’t help identifying with Job at this point in terms of the things he had lost.

Burgled! They even took the poor mouse

3

Today was not a great day.

I woke up this morning to find that my home had been broken into while I was asleep.

Here’s what they took:

  • A laptop (yes, they took the power adapter, the modem… and even the poor mouse, but no, they weren’t interested in my older desktop PC, which was next to it);
  • Wallet with around RM600 in cash (of which RM500 was actually donations passed to me to hand over to Aliran for its 30th anniversary dinner), identity card, driving licence, bank cards (not just mine but family members’ as well);
  • Computer case with thumbdrive and bank pass books inside;
  • Handphone.

Total loss: close to RM4,000. And, oh, what a hassle, all those cards gone.

Whoever it was must have been pretty desperate to break into my home as there really wasn’t much else to take.

It wasn’t a great feeling to be stripped bare, so to speak. Almost state-less and identity-less. But suddenly, I felt a lot lighter too. It was strange not feeling a wallet and handphone in my pocket – at the same time, it felt inexplicably liberating too.

But I was stranded. Not a single sen on myself. I couldn’t even go to the bank to withdraw any money as it was a weekend. Moreover, my ATM card had been stolen. Even if the banks were open, I didn’t have any IC either to show the teller staff for identity verification.

Here, I must thank those two guardian angels who materialised while I was in a daze and thrust cash into my hands to tide me over the next few days without my having to ask. You know who you are. Thanks again.

I trudged to the nearest police neighbourhood beat base, which was built a couple of years ago. But I rarely see anyone staffing it of late, and today was no different.

So I headed for the nearest police station to lodge a report, feeling very sorry for myself. Quite a few people were already there waiting for their turn to make a report. In the time I was there, I heard them making reports for:

  • a snatch theft
  • harassment by an “Ah Long” (loan shark). Apparently the Ah Long had demanded RM900 a day in interest, failing which he would “kerjakan” the hapless victim.
  • an assault by unknown people.

I thought I was having a dreadful day – until I saw him. The snatch thief suspect, who had been apprehended, crouched behind bars in the police lock-up, largely hidden from public view. I gazed at him and he looked back, a gaunt pitiful look. With his moustache, he looked around 40, perhaps older than his real age, and weary, a lost look in his eyes.

I wondered who his family was and what had happened to his parents and his siblings. Surely, when he was a child, he must have had parents who had dreams for his future. How would they feel if they could see him now in this state, I wondered. What had he gone through in his life for him to land up in this predicament. Suddenly I realised I did not know what “going through a rough time” meant.

I heard the couple, who had complained about the harassment from the Ah Long, telling the cop, “This has been a bad time for us.”

They say God acts in mysterious ways and, sometimes, speaks through the most unexpected channels. The cop replied philosophically, “Sometimes God sends us these things as trials to test us and draw us closer to him.”

He had a point – though coming from a cop, it sounded somewhat surreal.

Musa Hassan stared at me from a portrait on the wall.

I asked a friendly looking cop whether house break-ins were a common occurrence.”Well,” he replied, “today, we have had three cases so far in this area.”

That set me thinking about the crime rate, which appears to be rising by most anecdotal accounts. Could it have something to do with the fact that the gap between the rich and the poor in Malaysia is among the widest in the region – prompting some people to take short cuts, even if illegal, to narrow the gap in the only way they know how?

Or are people just taking the cue from the lack of integrity and accountability at the highest levels, when they see all those financial scandals and the crony capitalism around them? You know, the attitude that says, “If they can do it, why can’t I?”

Or is it some combination of both?

The triumph of Life over Death

I like to think of these unexpected victories as a legacy of the Resurrection, a sign that the forces of Death and Oppression will never have the last word over those who struggle for justice and peace, even though those who struggle may never live to see the fruit of their work. For Christ’s Resurrection tells that the struggle to build a kingdom of love, compassion, justice and peace will always triumph against all the odds.

We need only look at a few examples to see the progress that has been made over the last few decades and centuries despite all the bad news along the way. But even with these triumphs, we always have to be on our guard against the forces of darkness, which continue to assail the human race, giving rise to fresh challenges.

Let’s look at a few examples in this piece I wrote for the Herald:

For many centuries, slavery flourished in many parts of the world. But thanks to the abolitionist movement and the dedication of enlightened souls, today slavery has been outlawed. (Though of course there are new forms of legalised ‘slavery’: Think of the migrant workers who are exploited, the domestic helpers who are treated like bonded labour.)

Another classic example: In South Africa, after decades of struggle, the oppressive apartheid system was dismantled, thanks in large part to the perseverance of pro-democracy activists. Nelson Mandela’s party, the ANC, took over the reins of power as an entire nation celebrated. But sadly, the ANC has since then introduced top-down neo-liberal “free market” policies and embraced privatisation. It has also failed to introduce meaningful land reforms. The result: race-divisions under apartheid have now given way to class divisions. But that does not diminish the sensational triumph over apartheid. And let’s not forget how Gandhi and his independence movement brought down the might British Empire in India.

In Malaysia, the struggle for human rights has gone on for a few decades now. For many years, “human rights” was considered something of a dirty word. Darkness descended in the land during Operasi Lalang in 1986-87, when over a hundred people were detained without trial under the ISA. A decade later, we heard of cases of police brutality against street demonstrators during the reformasi period of 1998-2001.

Who would have imagined then that we would one day have a Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) – whose major contribution has been the official legitimacy it has bestowed on the human rights struggle. This was later followed by the Royal Commission’s recommendation to set up an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).

These were major victories, but unfortunately Suhakam, without any enforcement powers, remains a powerless and conservative toothless tiger while the IPCMC has still not yet been set up – a sad reflection of the current administration.

Fundraising walkathons for bailouts and fighter jets?

Most of us have done it while we were in school. You know, taking part in walkathons and donation drives to help the school build a new wing or to carry out urgent repairs. And we usually thought nothing of it and were glad to chip in.

But a friend of mine phoned this evening sounding upset that their child had been asked to take part in a school donation drive.

“No way is my child going from house to house to collect money for the school,” my friend told me. “I have written a letter to the school to tell them that my child is not to be involved in such fund-raising activities. And I told my daughter that if the teacher or the principal is unhappy, they should get in touch with me.”

“I mean, I am paying a lot in income tax; where is all that money going? Why should my child then go from house to house raising money for her (government) school?”

My friend has a point. After all the money the government has wasted on mega projects, our schools are still short of funds – especially schools in the interior areas and many of the Tamil vernacular schools.

But funny how we are never short of funds when it comes to buying the latest multi-million ringgit submarines or advanced fighter jets – or for the latest bailout. How many billions of ringgit have we spent on bailing out failed projects?. Now we have the fiasco over the Klang Port Free Zone – which is proving to be far from “free”. In fact, pretty expensive, if you ask me – a worthy contender for mega scandal of the year.

When was the last time you saw government officials going from house to house, cap in hand, trying to raise funds to buy a fighter jet or to bail out a failed mega project?

This is not a peculiarly Malaysian situation. Take Pakistan, for instance: it allocated US$4.2 billion on “defence” out of its US$21.7 billion federal budget compared to only 2 per cent of GDP on education.

And let’s not even talk about America. Listen to Robert Dreyfuss:

And it’s important to keep in mind that the official Pentagon budget doesn’t begin to tell the full story of American “defense” spending. In addition to the $650 billion that the Pentagon will get in 2008, huge additional sums will be spent on veterans care and interest on the national debt accumulated from previous DOD spending that ballooned the deficit. In all, those two accounts add $263 billion to the Pentagon budget, for a grand total of $913 billion.

Gulp! Nearly US$1 trillion on “defence”.

So I have a suggestion. Instead of donation drives for schools, why don’t we have walkathons to raise funds for the latest fighter jets and bailouts. I am sure the public would gladly chip in for such a good cause.