Whither Penang?

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Teo Chuen Tick tries to gauge how far the Penang state government has lived up to its CAT pledge.

Penang has been administered as an opposition-held state since the political tsunami of 2008.

Let me state from the onset that I am a Penangite, and I am sympathetic to the cause of change in our country – change to a more civil, just, fair and democratic society.

But in this piece I will try to look at the administration of Penang through unblinkered lenses and see where it stands after more than seven years of the Lim Guan Eng-led state government.

Proper planning?

Competency, Accountability and Transparency (CAT) is trumpeted as the hallmark of the Penang state administration. In recent years, there has been disquiet among civil society elements that the present state administration is moving away from its own self-pronounced slogan.

For example, concerns are mounting over the status of the state government’s socio-economic development blueprint for the state. The state government’s delay in gazetting the Penang Island Local Plan and reviewing the Penang Structure Plan has led critics to believe that the state is working on an ad-hoc basis.

The Penang Island Local Plan, which was approved in 2008 but not yet put up on public display and gazetted, is a detailed plan that clearly specifies the permissible density and type of project allowed in any given area.

There has been questionable justification given for the delay; so suspicion is mounting that the delay is convenient as it then allows the state administration a free hand to essentially approve projects as it deems economically necessary.

READ MORE:  Penang Hills Watch: Stream flows through illegal quarry into nearby bay

Transparency?

The mushrooming of hillslope-clearing has caused massive problems for the people. The facts of the ‘Botak Hill’ (Bukit Relau) saga now in the public domain suggest transparency on this issue has been lacking.

Why did the state government not disclose the letter from the State Planning Committee – later revealed in the press – that it had approved the rezoning of the hill land? In fact, there was little transparency in this drastic change in land-use. The eyesore that was Botak Hill has now transformed itself into an uglier-looking Botak Corridor with erosion in the surrounding areas.

Another case where transparency appears to have taken a back seat is the recent case highlighted by the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) about the purpose of intensive technical works being carried out by a company along the Permatang Damar Laut coastal area in Bayan Lepas.

Lim, who heads the state’s land affairs and development, as well as information portfolios, owes the people an answer. He must explain in detail to the people of that community what development project is being earmarked for implementation in the area and the potential impact on them.

I know that for development to take place some local community may be adversely affected, but it is imperative for a responsible government to ensure they are adequately compensated. In this instance, it looks as if that community is still in the dark while the signs of impending development have reached their door-step.

It is good that Lim is now on record as denying that any approval has already been given. I am no administrator but as an ordinary rakyat, it goes against the principle of transparency if rakyat who may be affected by any proposed project are kept in the dark while exploratory work is carried it. Will it not be a case of a fait accompli if the rakyat can only comment after approval is given?

READ MORE:  Rakyat waiting for genuine engagement

Cleanliness and housing

The good news is that in terms of competency and accountability, there are public examples that Penangites can be proud of. The cleanliness of the island is something that any recent visitor to Penang will vouch for, compared with pre-2008 days. These days, Penangites can see Penang Island City Council workers still on the job keeping the city clean in the afternoons – a sight unseen prior to 2008.

On the other hand, there are allegations that the DAP-led state government has failed to thus far provide adequate low-cost housing for the people of the state. Has the state government completed any public housing scheme with state funds since 2008? The state government, on the other hand, has blamed the federal governmnet for not providing Projek Rumah 1Malaysia (Prima) units to Penang until now.

I feel that is beside the point – the state government should have taken the lead, knowing that this federal government is so vindictive and dead set on punishing Penangites! Yes, there is news that the state is providing a total of 22,152 affordable homes – but seven years later, have any of its projects actually been completed?

I think Penangites accept the fact that Penang needs developers and their projects to generate revenue because of the way the federal government denies development funds for the state. But there should also be a balance between rapid development and the people’s quality of life.

Underground link and transport masterplan

Is there a real need for the underground link from Penang Island to Province Wellesley? The state government should reveal the statistics that can convince Penangites this third link is a real necessity.

READ MORE:  The Hills and the Sea

Critics have pointed to the possible ecological damage that could result from land reclamation near the tunnel; so being transparent and accountable about the need for this project will show that the administration has nothing to hide.

It is of course welcome news to read of the Penang transport masterplan. This shows an awareness on the part of the state government that the current public transport system is not viable for a developed and vibrant Penang of the future.

The sad fact is that the plan could be subject to various federal approvals. But, in this instance, Penangites will take cognisance of the fact that action has been taken.

With more than two years to go before the next general election, it is time for this administration to do more to live up to its own slogan, especially the transparency aspect.

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Stephen Tan Ban Cheng
15 Nov 2015 12.35am

It looks pretty clear to me that the botak hill will be transformed into a housing and/or other development project after all the fuss and bother about it.

The hills are the water catchment areas of Penang, but who cares? It is pretty much an indictment of our social mores that money in the pocket speaks louder than the collective interests of the people of Penang, whether present or future.

It’s about time for Penang to think our of the box and develop housing projects in our surrounding seas.