Dr Chua Soi Lek’s appointment as chairman of the Penang Port Commission has generated much debate. But there is a larger issue at stake, says Anil Netto.
Already there has been much debate online about the appointment of Chua Soi Lek as the Penang Port Commission chairperson.
Penang Port Commission (PPC) was established on 1 January 1956 under the Penang Port Commission Act, 1955. PPC is a statutory body under the Transport Ministry tasked with providing, maintaining and upgrading port and ferry services in Penang Port.
Much of the online debate about Soi Lek’s appointment centres on the personalities and the political parties involved.
The larger issue that is missing from the debate is that almost all areas of importance are being controlled or overseen by the federal government in our highly centralised federal system: you name it – Penang port and ferry services, railways and highways, Penang Airport, Penang Bridge, Rapid Penang, sewerage system, electricity supply, general hospitals, government schools, the federal civil service.
There is more centralisation coming. The federal Water Asset Management Company (Wamco or PAAB) is eyeing control of water assets throughout the nation while the National Water Services Commission has been formed to regulate and oversee treated water services and sewerage services in Malaysia (except for Sabah and Sarawak). Local councils could lose control over solid waste disposal and ‘public cleansing’ services under the Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Act. The trend of centralisation continues.
At the end of the day, the state and local governments will be left with few powers and minuscule budgets to effect meaningful change. So while the people of Penang may have voted for Pakatan in the last general election, the state government has very little influence over the federal authorities, agencies and civil service as well as the GLCs and privatised firms that actually touch the ordinary people’s daily lives.
The only way to allow state governments and local government more local powers, thus making them more relevant, is through a process of decentralisation and democratisation that would allow the the second and third tiers of government to play a bigger role. This process of decentralisation right up to village level is important to make them more accountable and responsive to local demands and expectations.
For this to happen, public awareness of the real situation and political change are necessary.