Cleaner, Greener Penang – Merely a Slogan or Action?

Last week, the world witnessed a historic moment when probably the biggest deal of the 21st century happened in Paris. 195 nations ratified the climate agreement in the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference or known as COP21.

Cheers and tears were seen Le Bourget, Paris when all the nations committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to a level that will limit the global average temperature to a rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius in the 12-page document.

Despite hopes given to the whole world by the international conference, many still holds back their positivity towards the agreement. After all, it is all talk for now, action will be the one which determines the outcome.

And if we talk about action, it rarely happens at the international level or event. Actions on environmental sustainability particularly on preventing climate change will have to be at local levels, especially when it needs a long-term commitment towards it.

This makes me think of my lovely hometown island. There have been interesting plans by the State Government through its Cleaner, Greener Penang initiative. When the initiative was launched back in 2010, it was a hit among Penangites. Everyone was looking forward for a more liveable Penang in terms of cleanliness and environment. In just a couple of months, many claimed that the state has been a lot cleaner and greener compared to the past. I have even heard a comment saying that the Penang Hill has become cooler since the initiative has taken effect. Seriously, I think that person who commented on that might have been up to Penang Hill for the first time. As a person who have been up to the hill for so many times and living in Penang, I think the weather has deteriorated since decades ago.

Talking back about the Cleaner, Greener Penang initiative; it has been 5 years since it was initiated, but what has really improved? Has the initiative made Penang any cleaner or greener? Is it merely a slogan and a publicity stunt to make the people feel it is cleaner and greener?

I guess I have many valid points when it comes to the debate on the effectiveness of Cleaner, Greener Penang.

The illegal logging and hillside clearing has been obvious especially during this year. Hills in Bukit Laksamana, Bukit Kecil Sungai Pinang, Bukit Gambir, Bukit Relau and certain parts of Gelugor has been cleared for unknown reasons. If we look into the Google Maps or Google Earth into the Penang island, we can obviously see brown patches on it. The view is even clearer when we drive along Penang bridge, we can see hills that are cleared whether legally or illegally. Towards the Penang island, we can see a clear brown strip on the hills. While towards mainland, we can see a huge brown patch on the hills. Greener Penang? I don’t think so.

In the recent months, we have also heard about land reclamations that will be implemented in Penang. No matter who is responsible for the approval, Pakatan Harapan or Barisan Nasional; the current state government must bear the responsibility in handling the issues. Whether we like it or not, land reclamations will definitely bring effect to the environment and the ecosystem.

In the middle of the year, State Executive Councillor YB Chow Kon Yeow said for himself that 8 of Penang’s rivers are categorised as critically polluted. The rivers are Sungai Pinang, Sungai Batu Feringghi, Sungai Mas, Sungai Satu, Sungai Kechil, Sungai Pertama and Sungai Jawi.

When we look at the cleanliness level of Penang; we do not actually have to argue that much. We just have to spent time looking around our neighbourhood. Places like roadsides, drains, rivers or beaches and even at the bottom of the “No Throwing Rubbish” sign. Rubbishes are still thrown everywhere. In fact, just early this week, I was visiting a friend’s high rise home just right opposite to Bukit Kukus in Paya Terubong. I saw three men throwing aquariums and furniture down from the hill. Although it may not be the cause of the Government, I would say that the initiative has not been successful to educate the public.

Last year, YB Phee Boon Poh announced a Cigarette Smoke-Free Penang by gazetting smoke-free zones in the public by targeting the core and buffer zones in the heritage city. Unfortunately today, everyone still smokes at anywhere as they wish to. Worst, some irresponsible smokers even threw the cigarette butts everywhere.

The Government plays a role to make sure its initiative takes effect and at the same time the people must also be committed at the local level to co-operate with the government.

In the meantime, Illegal hill clearing, polluted rivers, land reclamation, ineffective smoking ban and rubbishes – that is what Penangites have been facing right now. Cleaner and Greener Penang – you judge it for yourself.

This article has been published in Mandarin in Kwong Wah Yit Poh dated 18th December 2015.

Democracy or Discipline

Many discussed on Tanjung Bungah State Assemblyman, Teh Yee Cheu’s stand in supporting Penang Barisan Nasional’s motion to compel the state government to subject land reclamation projects to public hearings during the Penang State Assembly debate last week.

Some said that he is right in representing the people’s voices and his conscience. Some scolded him for betraying the party by voting against the party lines.

In that motion, not only that the DAP legislator voted against the party, but five PKR assemblymen abstained from voting.

This issue has ignited a deliberation between some people on how politics should be conducted especially when it comes to legislations.

Conventionally, since our first Parliament and State Assemblies were elected in 1955, Malaysian politicians practiced bloc voting. Member of Parliaments (MPs) and State Assemblymen votes on legislations base on their party’s decision for almost every motion; or they call it ‘vote along party lines’. The political parties will always have a whip, which we have inherited from the colonial British rule; to ensure that each representative votes in accordance to the party’s decision.

Perhaps the whipping method may ease the public administration process as the government is from the party who holds the majority in the Parliament or State Assembly. The government will always have their laws and bills passed as long as the legislators vote according to party lines.

However, this system has its weaknesses. It has turned some legislators into passive observers, which may not have much difference from the public who observes except that they are entitled to vote on legislations. The whole process seems orchestrated; government representatives will go all out to praise and promote any proposed legislation; while the opposition will do their best to go against it. Does the debate even matter anymore?

In contrast to bloc voting, conscience vote puts a different perspective in the legislation process. It is when legislators are allowed to vote according to their respective constituents’ voices or their own personal conscience. It is when legislators have to take time to conduct researches on the bills or listen to his constituents for opinions. It is a process that is already happening in many legislative bodies.

Just in the middle of this year, the U.S. Senate passed the fast-track authority to President Barack Obama over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal. The whole voting process will be considered ironic if it is done in Malaysia. Obama is from the Democrats while Republican holds the majority in the Senate. It would have been even more surprising as there are more Democrats voted against the TPP compared to the Republicans. This has clearly shown that it is not wrong to vote against even though the President is from the same party.

Same thing happens to the UK Parliament when the Conservative Party tabled for the amendment of the Marriage Act 2013 to allow marriage between people of the same gender. Despite Conservative party who holds the Parliament majority with 306 seats, 134 Conservative MPs voted against the amendment.

The ‘voting along party lines’ method in Malaysia has put some pressure on legislators as there is a perception that those who voted against the party might be punished or prevented from ascending the political ladder. As seen in the recent Penang DAP, that YB Teh Yee Cheu decided to resign from party position and in the party polls, the Tanjung Bunga assemblyman unfortunately lost in the contest. Be it direct or indirectly, there is a perception in typical Malaysian politicians that legislators have to vote along party lines.

Probably we should refer to the Germans, who have given the freedom to the legislators through its constitution. In the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, “members of the German Bundestag shall be representatives of the whole people, not bound by orders or instructions, and responsible only to their conscience.”

When the DAP and its leaders always mentioned that they were there to champion democracy and freedom; we should seriously look into it. Are they really preaching for democracy and freedom or it is just merely rhetoric.

We have to bear in mind that there has been numerous occasions where DAP has advocated for ‘conscience vote’. Back in 2002, Lim Kit Siang urged for a conscience vote on the PORR motion in the Penang state assembly. In 2013, M. Kulasegaran called for the Prime Minister to lift the party whip for the motion on IPCMC formation.

We must not also forget that not so long ago in early March, Dato’ Mah Siew Keong called on all parties to support a conscience vote against Hudud. Ironically DAP, with a so-called “secular state ideology” took no action of conscience.

What is their real definition of a ‘conscience vote’? Is only a conscience vote necessary when the motion doesn’t benefit them? Or ‘disciplined vote’ is needed to whip their legislators when any bill is tabled to execute their agenda?

Democracy or Discipline, let us see it for ourselves and the people especially the youth plays an important role in shaping a new definition of politics in our nation.

Many would love to see a future when we no longer have to urge for a conscience vote as when all legislators automatically votes with their conscience. Let us call for that.

This article has been published in Mandarin in Kwong Wah Yit Poh dated 4th December 2015.