Friday, March 27, 2009

Penang Needs An Economic Plan, Not Tigers

I am amused by the tiger talk in Penang. In actual fact, we need a forwarding looking and well thought out economic plan and not tigers. The premise of having a tiger park is to attract more tourists. Tourism is touted as the next big thing in Penang. Hence, it is clear that the state government was not really that fond of tigers but wanted to use the strong appeal of the animal to enhance tourism.

If this is the case, do we really need the tigers to rake in more tourism dollar? So far, the socio-economic development plans announced by the state are piecemeal at best. It has started a fund to eliminate hardcore poverty. This is a good initiative. But the fund is bound to run out in the near future if the money collected is only used to supplement the income of hardcore poor.

The government should use the money to start a small cottage industry which can employ some of members of these families and help make some of them financially independent. Give them a fish, they may eat for a day. We should teach them how to fish. Rope in the Penang Heritage Trust, SMEs, local craftsmen and others to provide them with the necessary training and skills.

The top two most important things to improve in Penang are cleanliness and public safety. For a start, the state government can organise a voluntary monthly George Town clean up programme. Hotels, restaurants, pubs and shops are encouraged to send a few workers to participate in the clean-up exercise together with the local authorities and state assemblymen. Cleanliness is not purely a state matter. Penangites should take pride in their environment and backyard. This initiative is not something new. Hong Kong did it through large public participation when SARS hit.

A clean George Town will go a long way to make tourists feel comfortable. Tigers? You may have to clean up after them.

Next, the government had announced several initiatives to enhance public safety but none was ever implemented. It had wanted to install CCTV and security cameras around the island. There are better ways to start here. What about a better road lighting system? The government should work with the state police headquarters to create a security grid to identify high crime areas, high risk period and most vulnerable groups in order to assist the latter to better allocate scarce police resources. Again, this is not something new. It has been done in most vibrant cities around the world including many cities in China and US.

A better public safety will allow tourists to roam our streets and city freely and fearlessly. Many of them were victims of snatch theft and robbery.

As a tourism destination, Penang has had several key strengths and differentiated products. George Town was accorded a UNESCO World Heritage status last July. Surely this status can be expanded and explored to revive and rejuvenate performing arts, cultural performances, food, and a whole gamut of other cultural activities in Penang. Other countries are able to create interesting fusion of food, entertainment, culture and fun to attract tourists. Many did not realise that Penang used to have the largest pool of artists in the country. Even Cambodians can stage a successful theatre on the Angkor empire and turn it into a tourism must-see. What is Penang's unique identity and key selling points? Surely can't be just tigers.

Several areas such as China Town, Batu Ferringhi, Komtar, Queensbay, Autocity, Gurney Drive, Harmony Street Little India and others have a lot of potential to be developed into exciting tourism hubs focusing on food, retail, local handicrafts and products, entertainment and fun, high-end boutique, cultural performance and religious festivals. These places used to be buzzing with activities. They have a good base for the state government to focus some attention to revive and rejuvenate them again as tourism attractions. Today, tourists do not have much choices in Penang apart from sunbathing and hawker food.

The government can provide incentive to traders and retailers in China Town to extend their business hour to at least 10pm. If they can be given a subsidy for a year to offset some of their labour cost to stay open beyond 5pm, some of these shops might give it a try. The state government can work with the hoteliers' association, local newspapers, tour agents, tourism exco and others to promote these places. Tour agents are encouraged to bring their guests to these places. Once there are customers and patrons, these business hubs will prosper on their own.

The most important thing needed by the state government now is innovation, creativity and patience to see through the implementation. There is a danger in 'instant noodle' plans and projects. Tigers can't sing or dance to attract visitors. These hundreds of shops, food stalls, local lifestyle and cultural activities can help to do that. They are profit centres too and not meat gobbling beasts which need tens of thousand ringgit to upkeep. Local shops selling local products and services can bring down inflation and lessen our dependent on imports e.g. food.

The state government must start thinking now and help to address some of the most challenging questions:

1) What's Penang next economic model?
2) What are the new industries which can create more new jobs?
3) How to improve basic amenities, cleanliness and public safety?
4) How to mitigate the loss of jobs in the manufacturing hub?
5) Can Penang continue to depend on its manufacturing sector?
6) How to develop heritage and eco-tourism in the state?

It is obvious that we need a solid economic plan, not tigers.


Anonymous said...

It's ok

Penang has lasted without an economic plan for yonks under Gerakan. At least now there are tigers instead of the useless ostriches from Gerakan who had their head in the sand

June Ong said...

No Tigers, please. We just do not have enough human resources, expertise & long term dedication to implement any animal park. Why not encourage the expansion of Bird Park on the mainland & Butterly Farm in Teluk Bahang instead ? Both places attract reasonably good crowds. I've just visited the State Museum to see the Kokeshi Dolls and the museum deserves due attention & publicity. It has many interesting but neglected exhibits and certainly needs a bigger environment to accomodate visitors & displays. When tourists come to see Georgetown for its living heritage, surely they are also keen to explore the island's history through a walk in the museum ?

Lim said...

Public hygiene and public security are good places to start. I like the suggestions.

Next up, public transport and public healthcare.

These little things go a long way to make a city vibrant in a sustainable way.

keneoh said...

I absolutely agree with the issues of cleanliness and safety for Penang. I have frequent visitors to Penang and have to constantly apologise for the dirty streets and litter and also to warn them of snatch thieves. No point having sunset cruises around the Jetties if the surrounding waters and areas are strewned with rubbish.

Anonymous said...

The current administration needs to fulfill its 8-point election promises first before embarking on any new economic models.

Another "penampak hantu" calling other useless ostriches..Talk is cheap!

Anonymous said...

personally i think something can be done on the ground . local goverment need to create some incentive for ppl to participate eg. cleaning, beautifing penang so on and so forth. something local goverment can do to benchmark from singapore.

Anonymous said...

You know even Singapore government can't see the direction decisively as before, don't expect LGE can do wonders! If LGE does, he must get Singapore minister salary. hahaha
Just go through all his media statements. Some of them are quite good. One of them is copied idea from Singapore national shares. Making Singaporeans stakeholders
Giving freehold titles ->Borrowed idea from HDB asset enhancement scheme. Becareful wey........

I still think LGE should be focussing on

1) reducing wastage (Reduce 60% revenue spent on emolument)

2) Increase revenue

Can do that? Beri good already lor!

Anonymous said...

Penang what? Who cares - let it slip to break the pendatang's grip and Penang be part of Kedah once again

Tg Bunggah Resident Association said...

This is happening in Penang.

Look at the cry of Tangjung Bunggah Resident Association here

Serious allegation that CM Lim Guan Eng is having close relationship with developers!!!

Hillslope project up of 60 degree gradient and resident complains CM do not want to listem to them.

What CAT is CM talking? Phakatan politicians all same, cakap tak serupa bikin!

Anonymous said...

Not true Pakatan all the same. Some of those pakatan were and still r bloggers. Haa all blogers are the same racist and anti Malay and anti NEP

Oxy said...

Kay Peng, you could have said everything in just 2 words,
"Remove Lim Guan Eng"
He was given a chance with so much hope, but from the start he was disappointing.
He wants Pg to be like Hong Kong!!!
Let him become the CM of HK then,
but not Penang. He has no sense of identity.
Please look seriously at the 2nd
Penang bridge and its disterous consequences? PORR is another
curse on the island.
By shaking hands with Badawi he has outright betrayed Penang people, full stop.

arctanck said...

Having an economic plan is definitely better than not having one. Even my mum knows that. I think the main problem is Penang state government hasn't got that much money to play with. And what's wrong with shaking hands with Badawi, Oxy, if that can release more federal funding to Penang.

As much as I would like to cut down the number of public servants in Penang, it is unfortunately politically not good to do it under such economic climate. Prioritising what to do and what not to becomes vital. I support the idea of improving the cleaniness and public safety of Penang. Penangites need to contribute, and authories need to enforce cleverly. Making night time appears like day time by putting on more lights IMO is going to cost a lot of money and yet not going to achieve much. We still have day light robbery and snatch theft. These are more like social issues. People who are desperate will find ways to steal.

To think that the state can mitigate job losses in this global downturn is naive. Western developed countries are talking about big money stimulus, what can Penang state government do, really? People need to tighten their belts if don't have plenty of money. It's always easy to talk with hindsight that Penang rely too heavily on manufacturing. Putting more money into promoting tourism is good but people also need to understand that the tide is against Penang now that less people want to travel in general, which is not the fault of Penang. So even stimulus packages may not always work.

A plan is certainly needed. Whether it is going to be solid all round given the tough economic conditions we are now facing, and with the added animosity from BN and their supporters, will always be debatable. And when there's a plan, it is most certainly not going to please every single one of you, unfortunately.