Malaysiakini Letter

Penang - who should stop the rot?

Khoo Kay Peng  |  Published:  |  Modified:

Both The Star and the New Straits Times , two leading newspapers in the country, have launched their respective campaigns to mobilise and rally the public, concerned Penangites, non-governmental organisations and others to try bring back Penang's lustre.

The themes of the their campaigns Stand up for Penang and Save Penang from decay are both actionable and descriptive, one urging the people to act on the state of decay and the other literally describing the physical rot of Penang.

While these campaigns are laudable, one cannot help but ask more questions. First, why are these campaigns being only launched now and not a decade ago when the situation actually started to worsen?

Consistent with the role of a socially responsible media, the editors of these newspapers should have acted swiftly in identifying, informing and reporting any signs of decay and insisting on a committed and concerted action from the state government to rectify the situation.

Secondly, will these campaigns just be 'flashes in the pan'? When they are finally organised and concluded, can they bring a lasting change to the situation and attitude of the people in the state?

Third, despite the two looming doubts above, the situation in Penang still merits concise and decisive action. But from whom? Who should stand up for Penang? Who can stop this rot?

What is obviously needed here is not a knee-jerk reaction or a 'flash in the pan' type solution but a well thought-out and visionary plan to address our common dilemma.

First, the feedback system in the state should be revamped in order to make it less cumbersome and transparent. For example, the state Complaints Bureau should be driven by a clear performance benchmark.

Efforts to obtain cooperation and input from the media, NGOs, environmental groups and the public should be institutionalised within the state governance structure so that public views and input can be sought before a policy is implemented.

One way is to invite the public to an open feedback session before the state government introduces a new policy.

Second, a performance evaluation or scorecard system should be introduced to make the local councils accountable. The current system where local councilors are directly appointed by Barisan Nasional political parties is where the problem lies.

Normally, these councillors are political appointees. At such, many of them are reluctant to implement the local council's rules and regulations because of the fear of a political backlash. Some of them are branch leaders who may be pressured by their political masters to compromise on enforcement in certain constituencies.

This has to change if we want to see better enforcement of local laws and regulations. The selection of councillors should not be based on only political considerations but also ability and qualification.

Indirectly, this answers the third question as to who can stop the rot and stand up for Penang.

A common tendency practiced by most governments is to make the people responsible for their ineptness in governance and public management. Malaysia is not an exception.

When the education policy failed to promote national unity, the public are made to finance a national service programme up to an amount of RM500 million a year or more. And who made this policy? It is our democratically-elected government.

Hence, the duly elected Penang state government - which consists of representatives from the BN component parties e.g. Gerakan, MCA, Umno and MIC - should form the frontline of those who can and must stop the rot.

They sought and were given the mandate by the people to manage and govern the state in the best interests of all. The media campaigns mentioned above give an impression that the current state BN government is helpless and crippled.

If so, the national leadership of Umno, Gerakan, MCA and MIC should seek an explanation from their respective representatives in the state government on the current situation. They owe the Penang people and the public an explanation.

Finally, but not exhaustively, there is a need to inculcate an awareness on cleanliness, shared social responsibility and destiny amongst the Penang community instead of wasting useful energy and effort in creating a minor euphoria via 'Cleaning Weeks', 'Food Festivals' et cetera.

We need good public education programmes on conservation, environmental protection and others.

The state government should also work on immediate, middle and long-term plans to rectify the myriad of problems in Penang and to reinvigorate the state economy.

If necessary, experts' help can be sought and ways explored to tap into the large and diverse Penang diaspora worldwide to build alliances with local companies as well as the state economic body.

Much can be done in Penang but are we doing the right thing? This requires an honest and sincere answer.

The first step must begin with a true reflection of the whole dilemma. Those who should stand up for Penang, please make a gracious step forward.

The people who have entrusted you with the power, machinery and money to help manage their destiny will rally behind you all the way.

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