Models for state and city | Selangor Times
Issue 118


Models for state and city
Writer: Tricia Yeoh
Published: Fri, 12 Oct 2012

As part of the Penang launch of my book, "States of Reform", as well as the FreedomFilmFest screenings of my documentary, "The Rights of the Dead" in the same state, I spent several days in Penang recently (a sister state of Selangor, in the sense that both are governed by the Pakatan Rakyat coalition as a result of the March 2008 elections). 

The trip was a personal exercise in analysing just how the Penang state government has done over the past almost five years in comparison with Selangor. 

One question I have been commonly asked, from the Selangor perspective, is why the Penang state government seems to have done a better job than Selangor in selling itself over this last electoral term. 

Indeed, news of its now cleaner streets, more vibrant arts life, a dedication to preserving its heritage and culture, and a more flourishing tourism industry has spread to the Klang Valley. 

And without a doubt, comparisons would be made between the two as they represent the new states governed, whilst having common characteristics. 

It is true that both states are similar in several ways, namely the fact that both are two of the most urbanised states in the country, as well as contributing significantly to the country’s economy through the existence of numerous industries including manufacturing and other business entities. 

There are, however, differences that one must note when comparing the two states. 

First, the geographical size of both states: Penang’s area is 1,048 sq km whilst Selangor’s is 8,104 sq km. Penang’s population is estimated at 1.5 million, compared to Selangor’s 5.4 million (the state with the largest population in Malaysia). Where Penang has two local councils, Selangor has 12 local and municipal councils combined. The ethnic breakdown differs, with Penang having 45.6 per cent Chinese, 43.6 per cent Bumiputera, 10.4 per cent Indians and 0.4 per cent others; and Selangor with 52.9 per cent Malays, 27.8 per cent Chinese, 13.3per cent Indians and six per cent other ethnic groups. 

Having established these figures, the spread of issues shared by both states are similar, especially with respect to the cities represented within (although managing them sometimes requires different modus operandi given the differences in size and ethnic makeup). In Penang, the main cities and towns concerned would be Georgetown and Butterworth; in Selangor, in order of population size, these would be Subang Jaya, Klang, Ampang Jaya, Shah Alam, Petaling Jaya, Cheras and Kajang. 

And the issues of city living are many: public transportation, water services and sanitation, waste management, roads and traffic control, sustainable development, ensuring sufficient public parks and recreation, crime and security, and the list goes on. 

At a recent public talk entitled “Your KL? My KL?” I spoke at, organised by Genta Media during the Art for Grabs festival at the Central Market Annexe, a quick poll amongst the participants on city living concerns reflected existing frustrations with traffic jams and the cost of living. 

Penang has done several things successfully, and these are several interesting models worth exploring. 

My little amble along the streets of Georgetown’s Heritage Trail was a pleasant one. Because of the city’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a number of organisations have contributed to its renewal. 

In a sense, it possibly gave new life to existing bodies dedicated to the preservation of the state’s history, like the Penang Heritage Trust, an NGO that existed since 1986, and the Georgetown World Heritage Incorporated (which comes directly under the chief minister).

Another interesting experiment is Think City, a special project vehicle established under Khazanah Nasional specifically tasked with implementing a grants programme in Georgetown. 

It selects projects to contribute small grants to for the purposes of conservation, restoration and revitalisation works. Old shophouses and hotels are given an incentive to beautify the exterior of their previously shoddy buildings, whilst streets have signboards elaborating on the history of their names. 

This demonstrates the ability of a federal government agency to work closely with the local councils of the Pakatan-led state government, for the sake of bipartisan interests. 

The formerly Gerakan-led think-tank for Penang, the Socio-Economic & Environmental Research Institute (SERI) was also transformed when Pakatan took over the state. 

One of its first projects was to revamp the existing newsletter, the Pennag Economic Monthly, into a monthly magazine that would eventually be sold all the way in Singapore and Selangor. This eventually became the Penang Monthly. 

The institute itself was also rejuvenated with new ideas and researchers, now renamed the Penang Institute, housed in a beautiful old bungalow and lovely grounds. The think-tank is responsible for conducting numerous public fora on a range of topics including most recently on the Malaysian Education Blueprint and on decentralisation (at my book launch-cum-forum). 

It has also established itself by inviting world speakers such as Jeffrey Sachs, world-famous economist and Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who is due to give a lecture on Oct 20. 

Selangor, given its many institutional and existing strengths, such as having a university under its helm, Universiti Selangor (Unisel), could also consider the possibility of establishing a think-tank under it. 

The university could also perhaps initiate short courses, lecture series, elective subjects and public discussions on public policy, political philosophy and so on. It is important to build a generation of thinking young Malaysians already exposed to current political affairs and engage them in conversation on these matters. 

Such a think-tank would also engage in public policy research and publications on behalf of the state. 

Plans for urban regeneration and renewal in Petaling Jaya are already underway, and ensuring local communities and civil society are thoroughly involved in its process is extremely important. Building a community of individuals who participate in the development of their own areas would allow them to decide for themselves what sort of city of the future they desire. 

Multi-stakeholder engagement, although sometimes tiring, truly does work when properly done. 

Pakatan-led states when collaborating would form the best possible model, adopting the best of each state’s examples, slowly laying the blueprint for other states to follow in the future – whether Pakatan or Barisan. 

This, perhaps, is an example of what the heads of states had in mind when discussing the "economic network" of Pakatan states two years ago during the second Menteris Besar Summit held in Shah Alam. 

Indeed, this would go well to demonstrate to Malaysians that the coalition is determined to improve people’s lives, which is ultimately the chief reason for which governments are elected into power. 


 Selangor Times



Also by Tricia Yeoh:

Towards a New Malaysia

THE term “think tank” may evoke images of stuffy bespectacled researchers sitting behind desks towering with stacks of paper.

The Personal and The Professional

YET another Malaysian incident has made it into international news. 

The PAS conundrum – or is it really?

At a recent policy dinner at St. Mike’s, a cozy Ipoh restaurant, I spoke of civil society, reform issues and my experience of having worked at the Pakatan Rakyat-led Selangor government. The discussion eventually centred on one subject alone, that being the ‘PAS conundrum’ (titled by me); conundrum being defined as a confusing and difficult problem or question. 

‘Tis the season to be rallying

THE past weekend has been a busy one indeed. Not only was the city’s annual arts festival, Urbanscapes, taking place, but this time Sigur Ros, the atmospheric Icelandic band graced the occasion and performed right in the heart of Petaling Jaya. 

Can overseas Malaysians contribute?

At the Singapore FreedomFilmFest 2012 where the three documentaries were screened (including The Rights of The Dead, on the late Teoh Beng Hock’s story), a sizeable number of Malaysians interspersed the audience. Roughly making up 20% of the crowd size, the question-and-answer session following the screening reminded me of the aspirations Malaysians living overseas continue to have about their country, back home. 

Lessons from Selangor show way forward

It was an entertaining thought that my friend, Keith Leong, would have spent long hours in the very English Cambridge University writing his MPhil thesis on the Selangor experience under Pakatan Rakyat. 

Dark look at the country’s financial situation

In the lead up to the 13th General Election, economic issues will inevitably be hotly debated by all sides of the political divide. It is within this context that a book of great relevance to Malaysian readers and voters has been recently published. 

Walking the narrow path

I had the privilege of speaking to a group of young interns under the Otak-Otak Internship Programme this week.

Decentralisation the way forward?

At the launch of my book, “States of  Reform: Governing Selangor and Penang” last Saturday, three esteemed panelists, YB Liew Chin Tong (member of Parliament, Bukit Bendera), YB Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad (state assemblypersom, Seri Setia) and Dr Ooi Kee Beng (Deputy Director, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore) took on the increasingly popular, but also controversial, subject of decentralisation of government in Malaysia.

Wading through the so-called ‘water crisis’

Election fever is in the air, and the games have begun. Last month, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak stated that Selangor was heading towards a water crisis, after the state government blocked the building of the Langat 2 water treatment plant.

That Religious Issue: Faith, Space and Justice

Every now and then arises a hot potato issue that few are inclined to comment upon, namely that of religious sensitivities. This week former Selangor state executive councillor and head of new NGO JATI, Hasan Ali, revealed a video of purported proselytisation of Muslims by a group of Christians.

Four years of PR in Selangor

What the Debate says about the Chinese

The much hyped-up debate between Lim Guan Eng and Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek last weekend took place with as much drama as there was in the days leading up to it.

Politics vs Policy: How do people really vote?

Malaysian lessons from Bolivia

At the Centre for Independent Journalism’s Human Rights in Outer Space series of events last week, I was asked to speak on a panel analysing the Our Brand is Crisis documentary and draw comparisons between issues arising within it and the Malaysian context.

Sewerage privatisation once again?

Cyberspace was on fire last week after the Auditor-General’s 2010 annual report revealed a host of financial irregularities perpetrated by several government agencies and government-linked companies.

Of schooling and the Budget

In my conversation with Malaysian parents, the topic almost always steers back to the issue of the country’s education system. They are most often in a dilemma about which schools they should place their children in, and which system to opt for.

Setting the tone with Selangorku

Selangor was one of the first governments in Malaysia to have officially celebrated Malaysia Day on Sept 16 in 2009, which was followed thereafter by the federal government in 2010 when it was declared a public holiday.

This year, Selangor launched its version of an agenda in con- junction with Malaysia Day, called "Selangorku", or “My Selangor". The project took about a year to complete, having been initiated when I was then Research Officer at the Selangor Menteri Besar's office. Although I have since moved on, it was indeed a gratifying moment knowing the agenda has finally


Assimilation versus integration

Last weekend, I was invited to speak at a forum organised by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and Institute of Strategic and International Studies (Isis).

Water deal makes Malaysians RM6.5b poorer

A new chapter has unfolded in the long-drawn-out Selangor water saga recently. Acqua SPV, a Special-Purpose Vehicle set up under the gederal government body PAAB (Pengurusan Aset Air Berhad), has announced plans to acquire 100% of Selangor water bonds. The total outstanding bonds come up to RM6.5 billion.

Let’s start talking to one another as a nation

It seems to be a worldwide phenomenon that people are driven by insecurity and fear, especially of what they do not understand or know.

The dead have rights, too

Malaysia is in desperate need of a reliable and trustworthy institute to conduct autopsies, especially in relation to deaths in custody. Last week, the body of customs officer Ahmad Sarbani was found on the grounds of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Federal Territory office.











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