Aliran is disturbed by the appointment of a former developer as the Penang state executive councillor overseeing housing and environment.
S Sundrarajoo was the deputy president and deputy CEO of a major property developer before his entry into politics.
Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow’s insistence that there is no conflict of interest in making him responsible for these two portfolios is baffling.
Chow said the Perai assembly member’s extensive background in the property sector makes him a valuable asset to Penang. “We must see his decades-long experience in housing development. He will be an asset (to the government) in understanding the developers’ point of view and technical views from the government.”
We have nothing against Sundrarajoo personally. But if the Penang government really wanted to understand the developers’ point of view and technical views, it could have held meetings with them rather than appointing an ex-developer to the government’s housing portfolio.
Given Sundarajoo’s recent move from the world of developers to the state’s housing portfolio, the perception of a potential conflict of interest will persist – even if he has divested his corporate positions and interests.
This revolving door from business to politics and back is a practice that should not be encouraged.
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It is reminiscent of the appointment in April of a senior executive of a major infrastructure group that was also involved in the renewable energy business, as the chairman of the Energy Commission, the country’s national energy regulator. Following an outcry, he resigned his post in the company as well as all directorships in the group. But the concerns about close links remain.
There is another angle to the case in Penang, where flat land, sensitive hills and fishing waters lie in close proximity. In this setting, some housing projects invariably involve ecological considerations and raise the consternation of nearby residents.
So the combination of the housing and environment portfolios under one person is problematic, as it reduces checks and balances within government.
Aliran, therefore, urges the government to reshuffle the portfolios to prevent any conflict of interest. The housing and environment portfolios should be put under two different persons, preferably from different parties in the coalition government.
We urge all state governments – and the federal government as well – to firmly shut the revolving door from the corporate world to the government sector and back.
Left unchecked, this unhealthy practice could lead to ‘state capture’ – a situation where private interests are able to significantly influence a government’s decision-making processes and policymaking to their own advantage.
Aliran executive committee
18 August 2023