COMMENT On March 12, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng issued a highly defamatory public statement accusing me of being a “hero with lies”. In that statement, I was accused of “lying” no fewer than seven times.
Prior to this unfortunate episode, I had enjoyed an amicable and respectful working relationship with the chief minister despite being his severe public critic. And I thank him for that.
All my criticisms were focused on his policies and based on factual analysis. I have never made any personal attack or rude remarks against him. Trained as a social scientist rather than a diplomat, my criticisms may have been too direct and blunt and may have hurt his feelings. For this, I offer my apologies.
Cars towed per month
The controversy arose because I said the Penang’s City Council enforcement staff towed only one or two cars a month, whereas the mayor said 500-600 cars were towed a month. How to reconcile these different sets of numbers?
If the chief minister, the mayor and the councillors would only care to study the video clip of my exchange with the chief minister on Feb 29 during an amicable dialogue of Penang Forum with him and in the presence of the press, they will realise that I stated the following:
1) when the council enforcement units initially started towing (i.e. over four years ago), they were towing only one or two cars a month with one tow truck. This is verified by the data provided by the council and reported in Kwong Wah press (photo) ;
2) I then continued to say that over the years there was some improvement and currently with five tow trucks, each team tows an average of 2.5 cars per day. (If you multiply this number by five trucks by two shifts per day, for an average of 25 days per month, you get 625 cars towed per month.) This corroborates with the mayor’s statement that the council is towing about 500 to 600 cars per month.
Hence, if only the mayor and the chief minister, with access to such data, had performed this elementary calculation or asked me to clarify, they would have understood I was not lying. Instead the mayor publicly “rapped” me, and the chief minister resorted to maligning and defaming me.
The chief minister occupies the highest position in the state, and the mayor the highest post in the city. Both are highly respected public figures who should have done a proper investigation before jumping to wrong conclusions as their public statements carry much weight. Invariably, their public statements have caused many negative public comments against me.
Taking charge of towing function
Around 2012/2013, the chief minister asked me to take charge of the towing function. I had given the same answer to the chief minister then as I did on Feb 29 this year.
I cannot assume full charge of the job, as the role of a councillor is to give counsel and to make decisions to be implemented by council staff. A councillor’s role is legislative while that of council staff is executive and administrative.
This basic and fundamental distinction seems to escape the chief minister and the councillors who continue to demand that I take on an executive and administrative function.
Efficiency of tow trucks
Despite the fact that I am not a civil servant, I agreed to help the council staff improve the traffic enforcement performance and, in fact, created the management information reporting system for them.
For over three years, I worked with and regularly met with the council secretary, Ir Ang Aing Thye, the director of the Enforcement Department and his staff to review and monitor the performance of the towing and clamping unit.
The records of this unit bring into question the efficiency of the tow truck teams. Each team towed an average of between 1.5 and 3.1 cars per day in 2015 ( table ).
A tow truck team working a seven-hour shift should really be able to tow at least four to six cars, unless we believe there are not enough illegally parked cars in Penang blocking traffic.
The objective of towing is not to collect revenue but to instil respect for and obedience to laws so that roads can be cleared for smoother traffic. Poor enforcement is the top complaint of the public.
Let the public judge whether this is an acceptable level of efficiency. The public should write in to demand more transparency and accountability with key performance indicators in place to enable public evaluation of both the state and council’s performance.
The issue of errant officers going AWOL (absent without official leave), was discussed on more than one occasion in the regular meetings that I attended chaired by the council secretary, based on the reports submitted by the enforcement unit. These records are official and can be verified.
To quell the public’s enquiry as to whether I lied, I ask the council to make these records transparent and public in accordance with CAT (competency, accountability and transparency) principles.
The chief minister also accused me of “stooping so low as to justify his (i.e., Mah Hui’s) motive to sack MBPP enforcement staff”.
At no point in the video clip did I mention the word “sack”. All I said was that no disciplinary action was taken. It was the chief minister who said he would sack any errant staff, which was echoed by the mayor in her press conference on March 12.
Response of councillors
The public criticism of me by the 12 councillors, mainly from the DAP, is unwarranted.
Despite my open letter to the chief minister stating that I will provide my side of the story when I return from overseas and my advice to them to study the video clip before jumping to conclusions, it appears they did not do their homework.
The same accusations that my remarks were inaccurate and untrue were echoed.
Comparison to BN
It would seem that whoever criticises the current state government is somehow tarred with the BN brush. I have been likened to BN politicians “whose specialty is lying” (quoting the chief minister).
In an earlier press conference on Dec 13, 2015, the chief minister accused Penang Forum of falling into the BN “misinformation trap” over the state government’s approval of special projects on sensitive hill land.
Penang Forum subsequently showed that the information came from Chow Kon Yeow’s answer to an Adun’s (state representative’s) query in the November 2015 sitting of the state assembly. Clearly, a more mature and even-handed approach to critique is needed.
For reasons one can only guess, the chief minister chose a particular line of action that has damaged my reputation, as evidenced in the many negative remarks on social media as well as from my fellow councillors.
These accusations went against the very principles of CAT that the state government claims to espouse. Instead we see incompetence in accountability and a flagrant injustice to me personally and as a Penang Island City Council (MBPP) councillor.
I ask the parties, including councillors, who have maligned me with their accusations, to offer their public apologies without any prejudice to my rights to legal recourse.
DR LIM MAH HUI is a Penang Island City Council (MBPP) councillor.