Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Penang's Bottlenecks

A number of NGPs (non-governmental persons) have spoken up against the need of big infrastructure developments in Penang. Earmarked in the 9th Malaysia Plan are huge and expensive infrastructure projects such as the Penang second bridge, monorail and others. These projects will be funded by the federal government and this is where the problem starts.

When murmurs came out from some federal BN ministers that some of the federal funded projects in Penang may be postponed, the state government was furious. It criticized the BN government for not respecting the verdict of the people who are taxpayers too. The reaction was repeated when crucial funding for the state tourism promotion board was retracted.

The state's reactions gave many Penangites the impression that Penang cannot survive and thrive without these funding and mega projects. Over the last 40 years, the state government has gone overly dependent on federal support.

Malaysia's highly centralised government does not help the situation. State governments, under the BN rule, are only playing administrative roles and mostly providing support for federal government's implementations. Until the last general election, the Penang state government is being led by the federal. Hence, its dependence on federal help and financial assistance.

What Penang really need is not just mega infrastructure projects but process improvements and mindset change. For a long time, Penangites have cultivated a lacklustre attitude which tolerated uncleanliness, inefficiency, chaos and mediocrity.

We complained so much yet we allow our streets, beaches and back alleys turning into rubbish bins. Like other rent seekers, we amplified our subsidy mentality by depending on the government to do everything for us.

For the government to change, the people must first change their mindset and initiate change themselves. Only when the society sets a high standards for the rest to follow that the government will move in tandem with our demands and needs.

Economically, we have been far too dependent on FDIs and multinationals to the extend that we freak out when news broke out that some of them are moving their business abroad. These corporations do not have a sense of duty to the state only their stakeholders. These organisations will move to where they can get the best deals.

When jobs moved away, instead of learning to fend for ourselves we got into blame game. This is not the time to do so. Until and unless we are ready to take the lead, we will continue to wallow in self-pity and believe that only big federal projects can save the economy.

I would like to hear views from Penangites and Malaysians who cared for the state. I reckon that we need these gigantic steps to move forward:

1) Improve cleanliness through good maintenance, education, enforcement and responsible citizenry
2) Improve our processes e.g. manufacturing, training, tourism support activities, hospitality, retail, F&B and street economic activities - we need to be cleaner, better, more professional and accountable and customer friendly
3) Improve public transport system - think beyond just monorail and more highways. What about public buses and others? Lowering private car ownership?
4) Improve local environment - clean-up after yourself, improve public safety through joint effort between government-people-police, make our neighbourhood friendly and welcoming
5) Think entrepreneur...create, innovate and be better than foreign products and services

These are some initial steps to start moving towards the right direction. Let me know what you think...


khensthoth said...

I find myself agreeing with all your recommendations. Often we are described as a nation with "first world infrastructure, third world mentality". After years of having a Vision 2020, we are still mostly the same, in terms of mentality.

Although I agree that most large scale infrastructure are not needed - yet, it's just a matter of time before we need them.

I say the one of the first things we should improve on is public transportation, and hence alleviating the serious traffic problem in Penang.

srevyg said...

Excellent initiative!

With your permission, I would like to forward this to my friends/colleagues/etc for more awareness and support.

Let's do our part to make it a better living environment.

Fishhook said...

Wow. It would take a forum and not just comments to discuss this. But briefly, my opinion based on your suggestions as follows:

1. Penangites are peculiar when it comes to cleanliness. We can tolerate eating at literally next to rat infested drains but complain if we find a strand of hair in our food. Littering is still rampant probably because there is no enforcement. Education and enforcement is required here.
2. Improve processes. Less red tape and make procedures investor friendly. Penangites should have more civic-consciousness and ethics in business. I don't agree with just giving poor families RM6000 yearly of petronas money. Arrange for job opportunities and pay them something decent. Why hire foreign cleaners/operators/guards? Hire these poor people instead.
3. Don't agree with monorail or trams. A fine tuned scheduled bus service to scour through the narrow roads of Penang is more efficient and wider coverage. State gov to help bus companies if necessary to maintain high standard and reliability.
4. Promote neighbourliness. Urban penangites have become too private. Most don't even know their neighbours, what more to be bothered about each other's safety Don't go with CCTVs all over town, too costly to purchase and maintain for something that captures junk most of the time.
5. Promote entrepreneurship. Some may have ideas but don't know where to seek help or how to start.

Khoo Kay Peng said...

Thanks for your comments. Please get more of your friends to join in. I am sure some dedicated state representatives who read my blog will be able to adopt some of our ideas and suggestions.

Veon said...

Good idea! Sort of thinking out of box.

Ya, ALL Penang's politicians , both from ruling party and opposition, should take heed and cease the non-sense blaming game immediately.

Start brain-storming instead on innovative and creative ways and means to improve the living standard and quality of anak Pulau Pinang within the financial and political constraints.

Show us the results and Anak Pulau Pinang will certainly know how to reward those who come up with better, more efficient and pragmatic solutions.

Anonymous said...


1) For a start, gotong royong should take place more often, at least once in fortnight. Focus on certain areas before extending the coverage island wide. While stalls at coffee shops serve first-class food, taste-bugs enjoy their food at third-world environment. Basically, there is a lack of maintenance by shop owners.

2 & 3) As far as tourism is concerned, Penang is a must-visit place. Butterfly Farm, Penang Hill (need some makeover), Muzeum & Esplanade area, Gurney, Kek Lok Si Temple, Burmese and Thai temples, Snake Temple, Botanical Garden, beaches (major clean-up is required), Little India, century-old Mosque and the list goes on. The State Tourism could come out with a proposed 2-day itineary for tourists and have brochures distributed at Penang Airport. Please research more on those historical places and compile them into an informative leaflet.

Poor public transportation is a deterrant for foreign visitors while poor promotion effort fails to attract Malaysians. By the way, how many Penangites have visited those places?

4) Everyone has to do his/her own part. MPs can raise awareness repeatedly. The safety standard in Japan is a role model.

5) Support genuine and potential SMEs. Organise trade shows and select few ones to represent Penang for national-level trade show.

6) Recycling efforts should be stepped up. Education and have a few strategically located recycling centres (some might view as 'dumping' sites). Penangites might be wasteful on pet bottles, used but wearable clothes etc.) These recycling centres could be privately run or state-run. For instance, Tzu Chi had a collection centre at Jesselton but had since been relocated.

True Blue Penangite

Anonymous said...

how about a regional financial hub like singapore. kl's too complicated and labuan's too far away and we can tap on the thai-indo-northern malaysia triangle..

Richard said...


Voters tend to flex their muscles (after GE12)and demand from the new Government which they failed for fifty years to get any attention from the ex.

We must always bear in mind that there is only so much the present Government can do when they are as you term it "the state government has gone overly dependent on federal support".

There are over a million people in Penang including the part of mainland. Each and everyone will have their own ideas and opinions and if everyone demand that their ideas be implemented what will happen?

Maybe I would suggest that you blog on the major topics that will help rebuilt Penang and beneficial to the people. From there you can forward the suggestions to the state government.

A few takes from me:

1)Public Transportations/Infra-structures.

Before we can implement a full feasible public transportations, the overall road infra-structures have to be upgraded and improved.

2)A green lung.

We really need a green lung located in the heart of georgetown. All upgrades to item 1 must include greeneries along with it.

3) Cleanliness

The public must be educated first about cleanliness. Hawkers have to comply with cleanliness ruling. The coffee shops and hawker centers must be kept clean at all times. How we go about it, maybe someone else can have some suggestions.


Are the people of Penang willing to sacrifice a little bit more? Although we are paying taxes but the taxes are sapu by federal government and they are not so willing to disburse back for our progress.

So can I suggest that the State Government create a Penang Peoples Account for Progress and anyone can contribute any time, any amount to this account. The State Government will use this fund for all projects suggested by the people of Penang.

This account must be open to public through a monthly report and all projects awarded are transparent.

my 2cents

Richard Loh