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Engage constructively, not antagonistically

October 31, 2017

Working together is the key to progress, not hurling condemnations or participating in political mud-slinging sessions.



By Chris Lee Chun Kit

Recently, the Penang Forum held a discussion on flood and dialogue issues in Penang. The situation quickly degenerated into a political forum as Barisan Nasional (BN) and other “new” Penang parties started to openly condemn the Pakatan Harapan Penang state government in a political manner.

However, I do not want to talk about that right now as I believe there have been enough exchanges on the matter. As I have mentioned before, no governments are beyond criticism, and the Penang state government definitely does not consider itself an exception.

This government has always been open to criticism as long as it does not degenerate into a political mud-slinging session like what happened the other day.

The organisers of any dialogue should control and moderate the sessions to ensure that all feedback is made in a constructive and non-emotional manner as emotional, non-factual debates can often get out of hand.

During the presentation, however, there were many sessions by many of the experts. One particular session was by Dr Kam Suan Pheng, who is an expert in soil sciences. She warned that Penangites should brace for more flash floods in the future.

She proceeded to warn that climate change had also increased the rainfall in recent years, and she gave her points for all to see.

I do agree that climate change has increased the rainfall in recent years, but I would like to point out that floods are also one of the most common natural disasters around the world and rank number one in the US.

Climate change has definitely made floods a more common phenomenon in Penang. Remember the floods that hit Kelantan in 2014? At the time, it was considered one of the worst floods to hit Malaysia in decades.

Malaysia’s federal and state government infrastructure as a whole can definitely improve to deal with climate change.

Kam also mentioned that the Seberang Perai area had a different landscape, but that Penang recently experienced one the highest rainfalls in its history as Typhoon Doksuri acted like a vacuum, pulling in rainclouds from the vicinity of Southeast Asia.

This caused floods to occur not only on Penang island but in Seberang Perai, and towns in the neighbouring state of Kedah, including Langkawi.

Sadly, the mainstream media chose to highlight just Penang, and one even accused the state government of giving excuses despite the fact that, unlike the prime minister in 2014, no member of the Penang state government was out playing golf with the US president when the floods hit. Rather, everyone was on the ground trying to minimise the damage and provide relief for those affected.

Penang recovered from the flash floods within a little more than 24 hours, but was condemned even though when many other parts of Malaysia suffered the same fate, the recovery process took almost a year and some victims are still without homes today.

Anyway, back to the dialogue. Kam gave many interesting points which she felt were the answer to future floods in Penang. Of course, this administration has been appointing a member of the Penang Forum to the City Council of Penang Island for many years now, and even though there have been heated exchanges, we are all still committed to doing what is best for Penang.

Kam’s recommendations were that more trees be planted, more large-scale parks created and the island’s rivers be given space to widen. She also recommended that development projects should not be allowed on riverbanks.

I would like to request for Kam to look into the separation of federal and state laws, and their scopes and limitations of power, as well as private property laws. As you know, recommendations often look good on paper but the implementation of policies needs to be cleared through the process of the law as well. Malaysia is a highly centralised nation and members of civil society should know that by now.

Now, I am not giving excuses on behalf of the state administration. Rather, I am reminding civil society of reality which includes private ownership – not everything on this island belongs to the government.

Issues like a continuous improvement of cleanliness to prevent debris and rubbish from clogging up waterways and drains will, of course, be pursued. This includes public education as well. But it also important to note that not everything else can be bulldozed through without legal implications.

These days, even the regulation of illegal hawkers is politicised racially, so yes, the challenges of administration are real and you need to understand that and give recommendations that can actually be implemented. If there are roadblocks, work with the administration to overcome them instead of just making an issue out of it.

Join the relief and rescue work when a disaster strikes, and understand the challenges Penangites face on a daily basis. Things are not like they are in books, I can guarantee you. Please also be reminded that we hardly get any help from the federal administration, just more politics.

Some federal laws need to be amended and improved as well. Thus, I would also like to call upon Kam and her Penang Forum colleagues to open a debate with the BN elected representatives who attended the same dialogue on what the federal government will actually do to back up the recommendations as well, instead of just giving a state government-bashing political ceramah.

They can also be lobbied to give approval for the Penang Transport Master Plan and the federal government’s affordable housing scheme (PR1MA), as well to satisfy Penang’s transport and housing needs. You cannot just say that these issues are not important to Penangites as they are definitely important.

If Kam and Penang Forum are sincere about working together to find a solution, I suggest that their members verse themselves on the power limitations of the local council, state and federal authorities, as well as how certain federal laws can be amended in order to accommodate improvements.

Many laws can only be amended in Parliament and until they are amended, the state can only refer wrongdoers to the courts with no control over the penalties.

Pressure on the federal government can also be extended to lobbying for more funds for the state’s flood mitigation project which the state is already carrying out. The federal government claims it allocated RM2.6 billion for flood mitigation when in reality, only RM443 million was spent.

The state government and local councils had to add RM405 million despite only getting around 0.0074% of the total federal budget.

Some claim that flood mitigation is only a temporary relief, but the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) says that with every US$1 spent on flood mitigation, US$4 is saved from potential future disasters.

Working together is always the key to progress, but in order to achieve that, let us work with what is pragmatic. Anyway, there is always more room for debate and discussion, but let us engage constructively and not antagonistically.

Chris Lee Chun Kit is a city councillor with the City Council of Penang Island, representing DAP.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.


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