PETALING JAYA: A group of Pakatan Harapan backbenchers in Penang have responded strongly to a comment by the Penang Forum that none of them had turned up to attend a forum to discuss development projects yesterday.
In a statement today, the 10 elected assemblymen said the Penang state administration had held more engagements with the public on its development plans than any previous state government.
“Invitations to the forum seems to be more of a publicity stunt in order to trap and tarnish the Penang state government.
“Invitations were sent out at the last minute and panellists were not balanced out with those who do not agree with their agendas. The forums become nothing short of an opposition political rally,” they said.
Lim Mah Hui, spokesman for the NGO, had said he had spent two hours a few nights ago e-mailing the state elected representatives but only “two or three” had the courtesy to decline his invitation to attend the forum, which had the theme “Peduli Rakyat: Towards Sustainable Development in Penang”.
At the four-hour forum, 20 NGO representatives talked about various transport plans, reclamation of three islands to the south, the plight of fishermen and other problems facing Penang.
The PH assemblymen said Penang Forum claimed to be a voice of Penangites but was “an unelected and undemocratic entity”.
“PH’s plans for Penang’s future were offered to Penang voters openly in the last general election. The democratic will of Penangites must be respected as we are now bound to deliver our promises to our voters.
“Penang Forum claims to be apolitical and a voice of civil society, yet a senior member of Penang Forum has been doing speaking engagements with Gerakan, which is an opposition party which once ruled Penang as part of BN.
“Another speaker is a PAS youth leader from Bayan Baru.
“With so much political connection and ambition involved, Penang Forum leaders should not continue to hide behind the veil of civil society and should join political parties or form a new one.
“Democracy is open to all, and they can compete for a mandate (from the people) just like everyone else,” they said.
The assemblymen also noted that Penang Forum was allowed to hold its forum yesterday at Dewan Sri Pinang, which is a government building.
“This opportunity and platform would have been nearly impossible during the era which BN ruled supreme.”
They said the state government’s priority is the success of Penang.
“Should Penang fail, then all we would be is an exporter of talent.
“While many have children abroad contributing to the economies of other countries, we want them to be able to return and stay.
“If Penang Forum only wants to oppose everything that we offer, then the story will definitely have a sad ending,” they added.
Earlier, Deputy Minister 11 P Ramasamy said Lim seemed to have gone overboard in his criticisms of elected representatives.
He said it was not proper for Lim to call for the removal of all state representatives, just because of non-attendance at the Penang Forum gathering.
“I am the first one to defend the rights of NGOs in raising matters of public concern. Given the lack of a credible opposition, the Penang Forum plays the role of this opposition.
“Just like the NGOs don’t swallow whatever is dished out by the state government, I don’t think it would be fair for the NGOs to expect the state government to swallow lock, stock and barrel the suggestions by them.
“The problem with the Penang NGOs is that if you are not with them or don’t attend their meetings, you are considered against them or even insensitive to the interests of Penang.
“This zero-sum thinking on the part of the NGOs is of concern to me.”
Ramasamy said the state was not opposed to everything suggested by the NGOs.
“In fact, in the various state-organised meetings, the NGOs are invited to participate and present their views.
“It was also the DAP-led government that brought about the idea of NGO members to be nominated as councillors in both the local governments in the state.”
Ramasamy said civil society in Penang had an important role to play in the overall development of society. NGO members are very passionate in matters that they believe in, but they should exercise responsibility in airing their views, he added.