Participants at the Penang Forum on 7 March 2010 were divided into three groups for brainstorming and more focused discussions. This was what they came up with.
I. Local democracy
In the very short time for discussion/action planning, the following were discussed and proposed in the group focusing on Local Democracy.
General issue: No taxation without representation!
• Support state government efforts to reintroduce local elections; continue to lobby them and SPR as appropriate.
• Pending the reinstatement of local elections, to hold mock elections in selected areas. The people elected could serve as ‘shadow councillors’. The holding of mock elections reasserts the peoples’ right to elect their representatives. The conservative legal advice which says that local elections cannot be held because of legal reasons needs to be challenged; it is denying a fundamental principle of democracy.
• Selection of councillors: Pending the reinstatement of local elections, to ask for a minimum of 5 NGO representatives on each local council (NGOs not to include Chambers of Commerce, as has been defined by the State Government at the moment). We started the ball rolling with regard to identifying suitable candidates with a nomination process at this forum and got five names!
• To look at the terms of reference/conditions of appointment of councillors and make any necessary recommendations.
A suggestion was made for a campaign to withhold taxes until local elections are back. No election, no taxation!
The group also discussed how local elections could be conducted to avoid political-party-dominance. Thailand was cited as a possible model.
General issue: Devolving power (structures of local government)
• To pursue the idea of citizen’s consultative committees or equivalent, as highlighted in the Local Government Forum (State Government committee).
General Issue: Accountability of local services
• To establish a “name and shame” website, to both highlight good service delivery and bad service delivery/process – naming names. This was linked to the idea of establishing an Ombudsman (independent office) to whom complaints about local services could be made and s/he would be bound to investigate.
General issue: Freedom of information and speech
To initiate a Freedom of Information Campaign, aimed at getting the state government to adopt the legislation similar to or the same as that drafted for Selangor by the Coalition for Good Governance. A Forum is planned for Saturday April 24th on this issue, 2.30pm at the Caring Society.
To pursue the proposed Speakers’ Square project (proposed to be at Esplanade, twice a week; discussions are relatively advanced and it remains to decide when and how to launch it.)
General issue: Widening awareness/involvement in local democracy
• To organise a Local Democracy Week, perhaps in partnership with the state government. This would be a programme of many events, aimed at involving different target groups in discussions/awareness/ actions regarding local democracy.
• To organise regular forums and road shows, to build awareness about local democracy.
• To organise occasional popular surveys on local democracy issues
• To contribute to, or organise, trainings to help build capacity at state government and other levels, regarding local democracy.
Widening involvement of people of all communities, ages, religions and gender is agreed to be absolutely crucial in strengthening our neighbourhoods and our state, ensuring good governance and bringing people together in building a future for Penang that is fair, sustainable and inclusive. This is a challenge for all of us.
Different people will drive the different initiatives suggested above. Anyone wanting to become involved actively in any of them, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
II. Local Plan group
Issues of concern/to be addressed regarding the Penang Island Local Plan:
• To insist that the Penang Island Local Plan be made public/displayed for exhibition and comments, immediately in line with the state’s CAT policy (this should be done prior to State Exco approval rather than after)
• To insist that the Local Plan be lifted from OSA classification
• To request that the Local Plan public review period be for a minimum period of three months
• To request that an English version of the Local Plan be made available
• To request that the Local Plan be put online during the review period
• To request that the process and requirements in conducting the public review be made clear to the public in the media
• To demand that each Adun conduct several public briefings on the Local Plan in relation to his/her constituency
• To highlight the inadequate public consultation during preparation of the Local Plan
• To request that the state government direct Local Councils to announce in the media any applications for development planning approval of projects above five storeys and allow for public debate/objections not restricted to adjoining owners
• To highlight the issue of federal projects superseding /contravening Local Plans?
• To request that the state take immediate and urgent steps to ensure that all reclamation projects come under the purview and jurisdiction of the Local Councils
III. Feedback on other issues
A. Issues raised
The group raised 16 different issues which are categorised under four areas.
1. Issues under the Local Council
• Proliferation of swiftlet breeding in George Town
• Unequal MPPP enforcement
• Illegal cutting of trees and grass in the town area
• Traffic jams, beating red lights and excessive road humps
• Public toilets
• The rights of cyclists
• Levelling of five-foot way and shop-houses frontage
• Upgrading bus terminals at Komtar
• Stray dogs and cats
• Sites for food outlets
2 Issues within the state’s authority
• Conservation of fresh water and mangrove swamps
• The price hike of water and increasing water wastage (State Water Watch)
3. Issues dealing with federal authority
• Government policy towards schools i.e. just focusing on “getting As”
• Security (snatch thefts)
4. Issues related to democracy education
• Lack of such education, need activities like Penang Forum
B. Action needed
The actions to take were initially focused on concerns over education, but then the group listed all the concerns and the various methods of tackling these concerns.
• Get people to organise a meeting on government policy towards schools
• Write letters to newspapers, local MPs/Aduns (?), Education Departments, Ministry of Education
• Engage the youths with local NGOs
• Collect written documents on related issues/problems
• Raise issues with political parties and the government, both ruling and opposition parties
• Engage people in road shows on various topics
• Establish websites to allow people to write feedback on any issues of concern
• Disseminate information to alternative media
More specific actions over the issues raised include:
1. Mangrove swamps
• Engage with Fisheries and Wildlife offices/departments.
• Work with MNS
2. Water rates
• Write complaints to groups like Penang Watch
• Take part in Penang Water Watch activities on 21 April at Botanical Gardens and meet with CM directly
• Apart from federal policy, establish “Citizen Initiatives” for security issue e.g. security at residential areas
4. Democracy education
• Penang Forum website will be updated and establish a column for people to provide feedback and disseminate information
• To get people to organise through networking
5. Sites for stalls
People can access the Street Food Institute website to find out more about the issue of hawkers’ food
The group then identified people and groups it could work with on these issues.