What land is left for the future generations of Penang?

A government not only has to execute state affairs and solving issues of the day; but it must have the vision to plan ahead for the future generations.

I am always impressed with how certain ancient Government rules and plan for a nation. The Great Rome Empire is a good example when it comes to their infrastructures particularly the roads. Roman roads were built for long term and it lasts for generations even until today. One of the most important long-distance roads in the ancient republic, the Via Appia, running from Rome to Brindisi is still around today in its original built.

What the Romans simply did was that their planning on the city’s public infrastructure is for the use of generations, and not for short term usage or for the sake of publicity that they have built the road.

This has linked my thoughts to the State Government’s plan on public lands in Penang over the recent years. Penang State Government’s governance on public land has been an issue since the DAP took over as the ruling party approximately eight years ago. A recent news report has showed that Penang’s land bank has dropped from 18 per cent in 2008, to 6 per cent in 2014.

We have to keep in mind that once a public land is sold off to a private company or an individual, it is unlikely that the State Government will get it back; unless of course the Government decides to buy the land back with a huge sum of public money. And once the lands falls to the ownership of the private sector, it will be definitely be developed for financial gains. There is no doubt that nobody wants to get in a deal that doesn’t bring profits. It is natural in any economy in the world.

In fact, we have already seen that high-end residential properties have been mushrooming throughout the state, which most of them are beyond the capability of the people of Penang to own it. Most of the high-priced properties might have been bought by foreigners.

With the sale of public lands to private, the State and its people are left with limited lands for the usage of the community as a whole. Many may think that the issue does not matter to them as the land doesn’t belong to them, literally. But to think in a wider prospect, public or Government lands are very important for a state’s socio-economic development.

We may have many luxury condominiums to reflect the city dwellers’ high income. But to really reflect a developed city or a state, it is not the luxuries that we really need; it is the standards of living that is important; the community areas, the cleanliness, the infrastructures and many more.

India is an example where they take importance in public lands for various purposes for the benefit of public although some of the provisions in the Act may be controversial.

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act (LARR) of India puts priority in lands for the usage of projects that covers the whole community, the low-income groups, public housing, socio-economic developments for both rural and urban areas.

Even urban and modern cities such as New York still execute plans by using their city-owned land for public housing projects, public spaces for the community to gather, open parks to keep the city green and many other initiatives for the benefit of the public.

If there is one thing the typical Malaysian politicians have to learn from the Romans; it would be that the Romans have a different timeframe of governance: they could envision a future in which they expected the empire to exist “without end”. And they govern from the perspective of building a great city for the people; but not merely for politics.

I have mentioned in one of my previous article in my column, the State Government has failed to gazette the George Town Special Area Plan and reviewing the Penang Structure Plan. This land issue is a sign that the State Government is not visionary enough to plan for the future generations of Penangites.

Again, I would like to reiterate, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Is the State Government planning to fail the people of Penang?

This article has been published in Mandarin in Kwong Wah Yit Poh dated 29th January 2016.

Doing the right thing or doing the thing right?

I am very thankful in my life that I began to develop a reading habit since I was very young at age. In my schooling years, most of the genres that I read are fictions. I still remember well that I have a group of schoolmates who were avid readers too. We have always exchanged story books and at that point of time, our favourites were detective fictions such as the famous Sherlock Holmes, the Hardy Boys and Lima Penyiasat.

It was when I began my adulthood, in the early twenties; I got to know a group of working adults who introduced non-fiction books to me. I began to build the interest to read books on self-development, biographies and histories after that.

There is this one phrase that I often found in books or articles in magazines, which is “Doing the right thing is more important than doing the thing right”. Although I think that the ‘correctness’ of the phrase still depends on circumstances; generally it means if the thing that we are doing is wrong; no matter how good we deliver the results, if it is wrong, then it is wrong.

This relates in the recent happenings in the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in regards to the case of 1MDB.

YB Tony Pua, who is one of the member of the PAC; in his first New Year’s resolution, he has pledged in his Facebook post to “expose the crooks behind the multi-billion ringgit scam behind 1MDB which has resulted in not only tens of billions of ringgit of tax-payers losses but also a collapse in the confidence of the Malaysian economy and currency.”

Following Tony Pua’s statement, YB Liang Teck Meng who is also a PAC member questioned if YB Tony is seeking to be removed from the PAC with his persistent allegations against 1MDB.

Coming back to the detective story books that I have read as a child; the stories have a standard story line, although the cases and the crimes are different. The story will usually begin with a criminal case that has happened, and then the detectives will begin their investigation to find out the truth and evidence. Subsequently, the detectives will make sure that they have found strong evidence to prove a suspect’s guilt or innocence. Of all the cases that have been investigated in the stories, none of the detectives will disclose half-truths or inaccurate information to the public. The investigations will only be discussed among his trusted teammates.

In the case of the PAC, YB Tony Pua who is the member, or considered one the detectives investigating the 1MDB has been issuing statements in the midst of the investigation.

Does that mean that there is no need for a proper fact and evidence-based inquiry anymore when YB Tony has already passed his own judgement thought his statements?

Even in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 11, states that “Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence”.

We may be very emotional and angry towards the untold truth of 1MDB; but I believe that 1MDB and the people behind it deserves a fair trial without any interference especially politically motivated actions whether it comes from the Pakatan Harapan or Barisan Nasional.

However, through the statements and the publicity efforts, Tony and his colleagues might be successful in instigating the people’s hatred towards 1MDB and the Government. It is pretty obvious that the people are angry and emotional when 1MDB is mentioned. The DAP may have been doing the thing right in order to score points in order to win in the elections.

But are they doing the right thing, in this specific case, to take part professionally as one of the PAC member to uncover the truth?

What are their real motives, to do the right thing or to do the thing right? Let us keep calm and look clearly.

This article has been published in Mandarin in Kwong Wah Yit Poh dated 15th January 2016.

We Need Plans

Another year is passing by, and it is the time of the year where everyone renews our resolution and plans for the year ahead. Some may have a simple plan such as reducing weight, planning to travel to certain parts of the world or may be to learn a new language. Some ambitious people may have written and more formal plans in their life.

I guess throughout our lives, we face plans all the time, whether in our personal or working life. If could be as small as planning to eat our favourite food during the weekend or striving to get a job promotion in the year.

Plans can be drafted for several reasons; while the general objective is to give ourselves a clear direction to what we want in life; the plans of businesses and organizations may also be to bring confidence to their investors, employees and stakeholders.

Same goes to the government, a plan is first to provide a clear guideline on how the country should be governed and also to give confidence to the people on how the country that they live in is going to perform.

At the Federal level, we have the Malaysia Plan which we are now into the 11th Malaysia Plan beginning 2016; we also have the Malaysia Education Blueprint, the Industrial Master Plan and many more.

At the state level, we are supposed to have the plans such as Penang Structure Plan and the George Town Special Area Plan.

Now, why do I mention these two plans and the word “suppose”. This two plans which should be gazetted as a guideline to the state’s development while ensuring sustainability in terms of heritage and environmental concerns.

The Penang Structure Plan which has been gazetted in the year 2007 when the Barisan Nasional is still governing Penang. Under the Town and Country Planning Act, it is a statutory requirement for the state to review the plan every five years, which is supposed to due in the year 2012. Unfortunately, until today, in 2016, we have heard nothing from the State Government of any updates on the review.

In the George Town Special Area Plan, which is drafted to govern the specific area on how the heritage should be protected has not yet gazetted despite attaining the UNESCO heritage status in 2008. Are we waiting for UNESCO to retract the status before the State Government manage to gazette the Plan?

In the past few years, we have read in the news regarding developers and businesses pushing for their commercial gains while ignoring the concerns of environment and heritage sustainability. Multiple heritage and colonial buildings were demolished to make way for profitable luxury condominiums; developments were made on dangerous hill slopes; trees on hills were cut down without permit; foreign companies buying rows of properties at the heritage area, many were to be commercialized while ignoring the intangible heritage.

I believe all this happens because there is a lack of clear guideline on managing the development of planning in the state. Either the businesspeople doesn’t know if there is any certain guideline to follow or they are too smart to know that there are so many loopholes with the unclear guidelines.

I wonder, why did the State Government take so long to gazette the George Town Special Area Plan and to review the Penang Structure Plan? Are they so incompetent or is there any “other plans” going on at the back?

With a party that has so successfully planned general election campaigns, the Bersih rally, the Himpunan Hijau rally and so many other solidarities, I have to think again, did they really fail to plan?

Since I was young, I have always heard of a popular phrase, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. So is the State Government planning to fail the people of Penang?

This article has been published in Mandarin in Kwong Wah Yit Poh dated 1st January 2016.