Penang's civil society pushes on for third vote

Athi Veeranggan | Jun 24, 08 4:26pm

The Penang DAP-led government plans to de-centralise and democratise local governance to create more local councils for more effective and broader administration to meet growing local demands.
At present, Penang has only two municipalities for the island and mainland to govern local administration. If implemented, Penang may see five or more local councils to govern among others Georgetown, Seberang Prai and the Bayan Lepas and Prai industrial parks.
During a half-yearly state consultative forum on local government held recently, representatives of public interest groups called on the Pakatan Rakyat state government to initiate proactive steps to liberalise local governance.
Creating more local councils to govern the various urbanised parts of Penang would help resolve local issues and demands such as environmental protection for green lungs and the cleaning up of dirty beaches and rivers.
The forum also highlighted the need for the state to come up with a clear roadmap to restore local council elections and possibly coordinate such elections with the other Pakatan Rakyat-ruled states of Perak, Kedah, Kelantan and Selangor.
Forum participants stressed the importance of developing broader public representation in the decision-making process of local governance in line with the state government’s policy of competency, accountability and transparency (CAT).
“If CAT values are not implemented and not seen to be implemented, both the government and people will suffer and the people will grow cynical about such sloganeering,” they said.
The DAP state government has previously announced that it is working out a plan to restore local government elections to fulfill one of its electoral promises made in the run-up to the March general elections.
A working paper is also being prepared to restore the ‘lost’ city status for Georgetown which was technically relinquished when the Local Government Act 1976 came to effect.
Extra federal funds
Prior to 1976, Georgetown was Malaysia’s oldest city. Following the 1976 act, the Georgetown city council and southwest rural council were merged to form the Penang Island Municipal Council.
The state government expects extra federal funds once Georgetown has been restored city status with the allocation being used to restore, maintain and develop heritage areas and residential and commercial parks.
It also can upgrade public transport, build more affordable housing, have ample recreational spaces and parks and carry out good environmental protection measures.
State executive councillor Chow Kon Yeow has been tasked to form a committee comprising some 10 representatives from public interest groups to study all these plans and propose recommendations to the state government.
“Our action plan will based on the committee’s recommendations,” said Chow, who handles the state’s local government, traffic management and environment portfolio.
Besides elections for local councillors, civil society leaders are also pushing for an electoral process for village security and development council (JKKK) heads.
They point out that in the past, such appointments were undeniably made on political considerations rather than on competency and merit.
Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has assured Penangites that the state government was doing everything within its disposal to hold local government elections together with the next general elections.