‘Gerakan has finally shown its true colours’

Instead of opposing the Penang state government’s ‘no free plastic bags’ policy, Gerakan should come out in support of this green initiative, says Thing Siew Shuen.

Image courtesy of freemalaysiatoday.com

Penang Gerakan chief Datuk Dr Teng Hock Nan has finally revealed Gerakan’s true colours in opposing the ‘no free plastic bags’ green initiative of the PR-led Penang government even when they benefit the people, the environment and our future generations. By opposing the Penang PR state government’s ‘No Free Plastic Bag’ initiative beginning 2011, Teng shows that Gerakan has lost all direction and is merely opposing for the sake of opposing. What alternative does Gerakan have and what right does Gerakan have to criticise this green initiative when Gerakan had no courage to implement any green proposals when Teng was an exco member.

When the ‘no free plastic bags’ ruling came under fire from the Malaysian Plastic Manufacturers Association (MPMA), who planned to distribute not only leaflets but also 150,000 free plastic bags, the Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng urged NGOs and green groups to counter the MPMA’s campaign.

After the Chief Minister expressed his disappointment at some NGOs for not coming out in full support of the green initiative by working on the ground to educate the public, Teng said the ban on free plastic bags should be studied again. Teng also launched personal attacks against Lim calling him dictatorial and that since he approved the plastic bags ban, he must accept responsibility.

Is it wrong for the state government to ask NGOs to mobilise and show support to make sure what they are pushing for is successfully implemented?

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Teng has also misled and caused unnecessary panic among the public in his statement by saying that the state government is banning usage completely.

In fact, the state government is not imposing a total ban on plastic bags. Those who want plastic bags can still purchase them for 20 sen. The state government has been consulting major stakeholders in Penang from time to time such as hypermarkets, supermarkets and convenience stores since 2009. The extension of the ‘no free plastic bags day” to everyday is a consensus that was arrived in the meeting.

In this initiative, creative 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle) has been promoted. We distributed free shopping bags made of used banners; some people also put clean, folded plastic bags in their pocket and reused it. The State government is also working with the local government on a ‘100 steps for cleanliness’ programme under which a recyclable items collection facility will be placed at every 100 steps in high population density area.

The charge for each plastic bag is 20 sen and this will be donated to the Hardcore Poverty Fund. People can save the 20 sen by bringing their own shopping bags. Even the federal government is emulating such an approach in their ‘no plastic bags every Saturday’ nationwide campaign starting January 2011.

We would also like to remind everyone that the new ruling will not apply to hawkers and petty traders. We understand that people need time to adapt to the new policy. If the state government had not considered the plight of the plastic manufacturers, it would have been a blanket ban on plastic bags as requested by some of the NGOs.

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The state government has taken a political risk (of losing its popularity) by initiating this bold step of implementing ‘no free plastic bags’ everyday from 1 January 2011. The PR-led Penang state government’s willingness to sacrifice its popularity shows that the PR’s commitment to reduce our carbon footprint and fight climate change.

The Penang PR government has done what the BN wanted to do but failed in the past. This time, Teng and Gerakan should act decisively to support this initiative and make Penang a cleaner, greener place for everyone.

Thing Siew Shuen is special assistant and environmental officer to the Chief Minister of Penang

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