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.