Penang development is for the masses, not the elite

I refer to “An RFP is not an open tender” by Ahmad Hilmy and Lim Mah Hui.

I ask amidst all the investigations and restructuring at the federal level, will we see similar transparency in the states? The transport master plan is an example of where the debate has reached a good standard in which a transparent bureaucracy can decide one way or the other.

There have been too many initiatives which are examples of hypocrisy where open tenders are not used, especially ones which average companies can bid for.

Why are states now left to run on their own devices with increasing power without balance? In Penang, we have the Chief Minister Incorporated (CMI) for projects which are largely for private sector entrepreneurship, expertise and development. In recent years, aside from the Peel Road land, there have been other land banks including plots bordering Lebuhraya Codrington, Lengkok Burma and Jalan Burma, and Penang Hill where the unused convalescent bungalow currently sits.

There is also the case of two hectares of land bordering Jalan Brown, Jalan DS Ramanathan and Lebuhraya Rose which CHANT (Citizens Awareness Chant Group) correctly pointed out was transferred to CMI before being leased or sold to a private hospital for medical tourism.

CMI also issues RFPs for development – no open tenders, only RFPs. But how many of these have actually been successful? Or was all this land transferred to CMI to allow (for) a total lack of transparency, which would be shocking because this is exactly why 1MDB was created: to raise funds without bureaucracy standing in the way.

On city development within George Town, what is CMI’s role with Think City, and why is Think City, a Khazanah subsidiary funded by millions from Yayasan Hasanah (a fully owned subsidiary of Khazanah) allowed to be the sole provider of urban regeneration ideas? Think City is not subject to any form of supervision – what businesses does Think City promote, and who owns it?

We have seen an excellent hipster-type coffee culture emerge in George Town which promotes a lifestyle for the elite. Which architects are used, and which engineers are used? Why are these services so elitist? If we want true dynamism in Penang, we need to open up these ideas, regeneration and services or risk a government promoting the elite and lacking transparency in its processes.

Think of Singapore where an overreaching government has largely crowded out entrepreneurship. In 2015, CMI brought in not only Think City but also the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, no doubt an experienced body, but make no doubts about it – linked for profit and a purely private enterprise. Again, why are strictly government roles in urban regeneration and projects now subject to opinions from private bodies, and as common criticism goes – entire privately funded project proposals now freely passed on to Think City and its network of business associates?

Let us increase transparency in state institutions. Penang development is for the masses, not the elite.

Urban Regeneration Architect is an FMT reader.

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