The unraveling of CAT in Penang

A file picture showing an aerial view of the Gurney Drive shoreline.

IN THE aftermath of the 12th General Election in 2008, the Chief Minister of Penang, Lim Guan Eng, promised a rupture with the past.

He promised a distinct and cooperative style of governance alleging that 39 years of Gerakan/Barisan Nasional (Barisan) rule and 12 years of MCA/Alliance rule before that threw Penang into a steady decline.

Voters, who unceremoniously punished Gerakan, MCA and MIC in Penang, believed that it was a start of something new; a new beginning anchored on competency, accountability and transparency (CAT). In fact many traditional supporters of Barisan were taken in by this promise and supposed political utopia.

Eight years down the road, this cannot be farther from the truth. It took 51 years for the Alliance and Barisan to incur the wrath of the people of Penang but in a short span of eight years, some 16% of Alliance/Barisan’s total rule, Penang is witnessing systematic desecration of its heritage, a pompous and arrogant state government hellbent on appropriating its religious and cultural heritage and a CAT government that has lost its fangs.

Let us start with the demolition of the centuries old Runnymede Hotel. The Runnymede Hotel, believed to be close to 200 years old, was the former home of the Penang governor’s assistant secretary, Sir Stamford Raffles.

The buildings, that predate the 1800s and endured bombings by the Japanese during World War 2, were once considered the most luxurious hotel East of Suez.

Allegedly relying on a 17 year old planning permission, the authorities in Penang facilitated the demolition of a portion of the Runnymede and it has shocked activists and heritage enthusiasts alike. The state executive councillor in  charge could only provide a terse and pathetic response and sought to lay blame at the feet of the previous Gerakan-led Barisan state government.

The Penang Barisan chairman, Teng Chang Yeow, countered that during his time in government, planning permission can only subsist for a total of 10 years and until now the state government has not clarified that this policy has been altered.

As the federal government progressively embraces the need to protect and restore our heritage and the latest move involved the declaration of the Menara Condong in Teluk Intan as a national heritage, the Penang state government has embraced a policy of heritage desecration.

If upending our national heritage is not bad enough, the Penang state government decided to pick a fight with the famous Chew Jetty Kongsi on the organisation of the Hokkien “pai ti gong” and Jade Emperor's birthday celebration on the 9th day of the 2016 lunar new year.

Due to petty differences and being slighted for not given the primacy only the childish and petty would demand, the state officials sought to initially appropriate the cultural extravaganza that the Chew Jetty Kongsi has been organising for over 100 years.

However, good sense and cooler heads prevailed and the state government backed down and allowed the festivities to continue uninterrupted.

The next target was the Chettiar Association of Penang. The Chettiar community in Penang, for over 160 years, have organised the Thaipusam chariot procession from the Chettiar Hindu Temple in Market Street to Waterfall Hindu Temple.

Tradition and significance mean nothing to the DAP-led state government of Penang and now they want to “take-over” this procession injecting themselves directly into the religious affairs of the Hindus in Penang.

This naked usurpation of the historic role of the Chettiar community in Penang is another sign of an intolerant regime seeking to create a state that is submissive to their whim and fancies and indulges their vanity.

Despite the Alliance/Barisan’s preponderance for 51 years in Penang, never have we allowed ourselves to deluded into thinking that “controlling” the tradition and heritage of Penang is indeed fair game.

The Deputy Chief Minister of Penang, in an article that was published on Malaysiakini, had the cheek to claim that Gerakan and Barisan do not have a moral standing as a political opposition in Penang.

This ludicrous claim belies a more pernicious tendency, that any check and balance only works if they decide the check and balances. All of this is happening while they claim that the Federal Government is stifling checks and balances in Malaysia.

Using Dr P. Ramasamy’s warped and devious logic, I can also say that the DAP is not fit to be opposition at the federal level given their failures to govern according to the standards they had set for themselves in Penang.

Lest I am not trained in political arrogance, so I would not make such outrageous claim.

But the people of Penang must awaken from their slumber and bring their romance with the state government in Penang to an end.

They must ask the tough questions and accept there is a need for an effective opposition in Penang to hold the state government accountable. Failure to do so will result in Penang losing its traditions and heritage to political meddling and machinations and Malaysia as a whole will end up a lot poorer.

Indeed, the CAT in Penang is unravelling and the opposition in Penang must ensure a more robust form of accountability replaces it.

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