Will It Make Any Difference?

Posted by M ws On Saturday, August 4, 2012 2 comments
Decades ago, I had a warm and caring History teacher, Datin Anwar Fazal, who showed much passion and love not just for the syllabus for HSC (now known as STPM) but also for the history of Penang. As the advisor the the MBS Historical Society, she mooted a project on the history of roads in Penang long before Khoo Salma wrote her book on the Streets of Gorgetown. Khoo Salma's older sister was my sixth form school mate then. My friends and I loved Mrs Fazal's history lessons and we even visited her a few times at her home along Jalan Masjid Negeri. After I graduated, I had the opportunity to work with her husband Datuk Anwar Fazal when he was the IOCU chairman in the 1980's. Indeed, I have high regard for both of them - sincere and socially conscious Malaysians who try their best to bring about a better world wherever they may be.

Tomorrow, Datuk Anwar Fazal will be chairing a public dialogue "A Vision For An International Liveable City" with the Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng to be held at Kompleks Penyayang from 2 to 5pm. Datuk Anwar Fazal must be commended for his letter to NST HERE highlighting a few points that NST missed in their write-up on the press conference.

I appreciate the noble motives of the organizers to "address new challenges..and for the betterment of Penang, its livability and its Unesco World Heritage Site status and outstanding universal values on which that recognition was based...and to enhance Penang's status through public engagement..."

Personally, I believe that while this dialogue is a good start to perhaps help many to get a better perspective of the situation, I hope it will not be a platform to launch a 'syiok sendiri' feeling, especially if any choose to brag about certain achievements and disregard pressing issues that Penangites face. Just ONE such event may allow some to feel they have done their 'duty' but the truth is - it is not even a prelude for action as public pressure for better governance must be consistent, dedicated, sincere and a continual process- and not a hit-and-run event. There has to be balance in all things. Penangites must not elevate the status quo to demi-God status. Neither should they lambaste till kingdom come. But, ADUNS, MPs and civil society need to play their roles responsibly failing which efforts would go in all directions and little would be achieved.

For me, it is pointless to have all the talk, rhetoric, questioning etc if in reality, what is being carried out may not seem to put the rakyat first. There is a lot of spending for social/environmental projects in Penang such as the Penang Heritage Square as discussed in detail HERE.

The state is also spending 499 000RM on the ‘Revitalising Intangible Cultural Heritage’ study is to help safeguard, preserve and conserve the site besides managing the living and built-up heritage of the area?

According to The Star, in the first part of the study, some 40 GTWHI surveyors will be going from door to door, covering thousands of homes and shops, with questionnaires for the survey. The second part will be a cultural survey of intangible heritage. The third part, that will commence next year, is a series of pilot development activities that includes oral history projects, artisan development and working with the young, she said.

Of course there are other achievements but far beyond all that, the fact remains that the traffic congestion problem remains unsolved and is getting worse. I really wonder how the State government intends to solve our traffic congestion woes. The Penang Transport Council has capable members. However, the Traffic Management and Decongesting of Roads was last updated on 8 Jan 2010; the entry for LATEST ISSUES is dated 12 October 2006 while that for RESOURCES was last updated on 2nd March 2011. Where I am concerned, there is no point dreaming about an internationally liveable city if we have problems getting into the city. Granted that the state government cannot do it alone as it needs Federal aid but what is the long term plan? I reckon things will get worse once the second bridge and third link are completed for these will merely bring more traffic into the island.

To me, accolades or statistics do not matter as much as our quality of life. Why develop when the infrastructure cannot support the increase in population density and intensive development that is being carried out? It is as if some are intent to transform Penang into something like Singapore or Hong Kong. God forbid!

Dr. Lim Mah Hui once asked:
  • What kind of development do we want?
  • Is it development that destroys our heritage and culture?
  • Is it sustainable development?
  • Is it green development or development that aggravates climate change?
  • Who benefits most from this development?
  • Who loses out in this process?
  • Is it development for the top 1 per cent or development for the 99 per cent?
Development must be located within a vision. What is the vision for Penang’s development? Perhaps the best way to concretise this vision is to ask ourselves, what is the “model” city that best approximates our vision? I am not suggesting we copy blindly another city. But what I am suggesting is we learn from and choose what are the best characteristics to suit our own situation. (Source: HERE)

Bear in mind that the CM is currently riding on the wave of glory after Penang was named as the country's most liveable city for two consecutive years as assessed by the annual **ECA Location Ratings research in April this year (The Star, 23rd April, Andrea Filmer). Penang had maintained its position as Asia's eighth most liveable city, while Kuala Lumpur had dropped from ninth to 10th. The criteria listed for the ranking included quality of living, climate, health services, isolation, social network and leisure facilities, infrastructure and political tensions.

According to the survey, Singapore maintained its grip on the top spot and also retained its global ranking as the number one most liveable city in the world. Kobe, Japan stayed at the second spot of Asia’s most liveable cities, followed by Hong Kong, Tokyo and Yokohama (tied at fourth), Taipei and Macau. Seoul, that was ranked as Asia’s 10th most liveable city in 2011, edged Kuala Lumpur to tie with George Town in this year’s ranking.

Is that anything to shout about? There is no point saying we are the most livable city in the country when in Asia, we are 10th! We have to get our perspectives right!

These are the world's most livable cities based on The Economist Intelligence Unit's Global Liveability Report

1 Melbourne  Australia  97.5
2 Vienna  Austria  97.4
3 Vancouver Canada  97.3
4 Toronto  Canada  97.2
5 Calgary   Canada  96.6
6 Sydney  Australia  96.1
7 Helsinki  Finland  96.0
8 Perth  Australia  95.9
Adelaide  Australia  95.9
10 Auckland   New Zealand  95.7

You can get more results AT THIS LINK.

In this speech given at the 4th LawAsia Family Law Conference, the CM said:

For the past two years running, George Town has been ranked the most liveable city in Malaysia for Asian expatriates. We believe that Penang is also a good place to do business, and we have topped the investment charts in Malaysia for manufacturing investment again for the second year running. In fact, Penang has contributed 30% of Malaysia's Foreign Direct Investment over the past 2 years.

Yes, all that is good but what about the quality of life in Penang????

The State government has succeeded in some areas but they need to get down to the brass tags of improving the quality of life of Penangites eg the built environment, physical and mental health, education standards, providing more places for recreation and leisure time, and developing a deeper sense of social belonging. I have observed that over the past few years, more and more have become self-centred, selfish etc exhibiting the malaise of materialism.

I just feel that we cannot look at Penang through rosy-tinted glasses. It is very dangerous to feed the egos of anyone. A check and balance system is always needed to ensure that those in power do not become arrogant, delusional or too big for their boots. Humility is the key and most of all, a listening ear to people's problems, concerns and to translate these into people-centric policies.

When considering how liveable is a place, the authorities should consider The Economist Intelligence Unit’s quality-of-life index where they carry out a survey based on nine quality of life factors to determine a nation's score including:
  1. Healthiness: Life expectancy at birth (in years). 
  2. Family life: Divorce rate (per 1,000 population), converted into index of 1 (lowest divorce rates) to 5 (highest). 
  3. Community life: Variable taking value 1 if country has either high rate of church attendance or trade-union membership; zero otherwise. 
  4. Material well being: GDP per person, at PPP in $. 
  5. Political stability and security: Political stability and security ratings. 
  6. Climate and geography: Latitude, to distinguish between warmer and colder climates. 
  7. Job security: Unemployment rate (%.) 
  8. Political freedom: Average of indexes of political and civil liberties. Scale of 1 (completely free) to 7 (unfree). 
  9. Gender equality: Measured using ratio of average male and female earnings. 

I am glad that The Star carried a brief report about the concerns of some NGOs. I really hope they will voice these at the dialogue tomorrow. Excerpt:

Penang Consumer Protection Association president K. Koris said he planned to pose five questions. 
He said the previous administration was strict, resulting in two major developers leaving the state in disgust after their proposals were rejected. 
“Now they are back here. So, does this mean the state government is not as strict as the previous administration?” he asked. 
Koris said he would also ask for the rationale behind ap-proving “special projects” on hillslopes. “What's so special about these projects that the Penang Municipal Council must approve them?”
 Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) Penang branch adviser D. Kanda Kumar said the perception by certain quarters that the NGOs were less critical of Pakatan Rakyat was inaccurate.
“We (the NGOs) send letters, meet elected representatives and question the authorities when we feel something is not right but sometimes, these go unreported so the public do not know (what we've done),” he said. 
Meanwhile, former PKR leader Lim Boo Chang said public dialogue sessions should not be used by the state government as a “window dressing” to put on a show of adopting best democratic practices. 
He said Guan Eng liked to jot down notes when engaging with the public. “What is the point if there is no intention of incorporating the feedback into policies?” he asked.
So will it make any difference? I believe it will only if Penangites become more vocal, have greater social consciousness and dare to speak up for their well-being, even that of their neighbours without being blinded by selfishness or misguided political allegiance. It is our state and we have to ensure that this Pearl of the Orient does not ever lose its shine, especially because of greedy parties.

I hope that at the dialogue tomorrow, Penang Forum can give participants a progress report of their Resolutions and Memorandum from Penang Forum 4 (held on December 18 2011) which was handed to the CM.

Recommended Reading:

Quo Vadis, Penang?

Preservation and destruction in Penang’s development by Dr Lim Mah Hui (A Must-Read)

**The official website of ECA states that it "is the world’s leader in the development and provision of solutions for the management and assignment of employees around the world. Our highly skilled teams help to ensure that businesses’ international assignments operate efficiently and cost-effectively."

2 comments to Will It Make Any Difference?

  1. says:

    AB Cordellion Very interesting, as I didn't know very much about this: I should do though! ...My tutor at uni wrote a book about Malaysian consumerism, and focused on Penang. His name is Matthew Hilton...

  1. says:

    walla Penang is not yet like Hong Kong, Singapore or Tokyo where every square inch of urban land is minutely utilized to some commercial end or other.

    In Tokyo, for instance, it is quite common to have a mini garden on one's balcony made of dwarfed miniature and artistically rendered bonsai plants. In Hong Kong, even the most opulent condos can only have one tiny cubicle for the third washroom and the hallway is just fit for a shoe rack. Singapore itself is facing urban pressures of mannerism clashes and the queue syndrome.

    These may be what will be in store for Penang but to try and stem them from happening by reducing her rate of development will be to deny others what one has been enjoying, especially if in enjoying the same they can also add fuel to her engine of growth and thus more funds for her better rationalization of the growing demand for better communal infrastructure.

    As one knows, a high-income economy will mean higher costs as well translated as more pay for better work which provides the only incentive for personal development at the price of greater inconvenience to those who have already "arriv'ed".

    As with the concept of bonsai plants, lebenstraum is just a state of mind.

    Penang as Pearl of the Orient? Pearls must also grow too, you know. Ah, mikimoto ....sighs...

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