Governing with a Vision: Part Two


Step by Step Towards Gender Inclusiveness

By Andrea Filmer

Chong Eng.

Holding office since 1995 where she was the sole opposition representative in the state assembly, Chong Eng moved to the Dewan Rakyat as Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam for three terms before returning to help helm the state in 2013.

This term, her portfolio has one of the most changes, with her taking on two new portfolios and handing over the Youth and Sports committee to first-time exco Soon Lip Chee.

Chong Eng now heads the newly minted Gender Inclusiveness committee, introduced this term. “At least now we have a very clear scope of work. The most important thing is to increase the representation of women in decision-making positions, as the higher you go, the less women you see. The reason we need gender mainstreaming is because women are being left far behind, both economically and politically,” she says.

The first step under this portfolio will be to assess the true picture of women representation, starting with government agencies. “Now, I can get all the government agencies to give me the gender composition of their staff according to their positions. I will also try to ask religious bodies like churches, mosques and temples to look into their gender compositions within their communities. It will make a difference (to have more women in these organisations); for example, take Jakim. If you had more women in there, I’m sure the family law will be different,” Chong Eng says.

Chong Eng is also taking over the Non-Islamic Religious Affairs portfolio, initially held by previous chief minister Lim Guan Eng. “Under this portfolio, we try to facilitate and cater for the practise of religious freedom. A lot of our non-Islamic religions have problems building places of worship, either due to the cost of land or issues with town planning. As the country’s official religion, Islam is taken into account in planning at all stages, but other religions are not,” she says, adding that development policies need to be expanded to include this.

The state is also looking into identifying and cataloguing small pieces of government land that have previously been earmarked for religious sites. “The purpose of this is so that if there are religious sites like temples that need to relocate, there is a list of land available on hand for them to apply for,” she explains.

Chong Eng will also oversee the state RIBI (Non-Muslim Places of Worship) fund that offers allocations of up to RM50,000 for these houses of worship to repair, renovate or expand their premises and the new Harmony Centre on Scotland Road, due to open its doors soon.

The centre, housed in a 4,300 sq ft bungalow next to the state library, is being refurbished to a tune of RM3mil to include offices, function rooms and a community hall to cater to cross non-Islamic religious activities.

Alongside these two portfolios, Chong Eng will continue to oversee Women and Family Development. “Childcare was part of the first speech I ever made in the state assembly back in 1995. Childcare is the most important enabler for mothers to progress. We still don’t produce many qualified nannies, babysitters or centres that can take children for a few hours if the mother needs to do things,” she says.

In the past, Chong Eng explains, the extended family was usually present to help with child rearing, but recent times have seen families being pulled geographically and conventionally further from one another. “Society is transforming, but the government has not caught up with the speed of change,” she says.

High on the list of priorities for the family portfolio is tackling the registration of childcare centres and kindergartens – a complex issue that involves many issues like land use and conversion, safety and health permits as well as parking regulations. “I’m hoping to set up a one-stop centre just for kindergartens, childcare centres and old folks homes to come and more easily resolve any issues that stop them from continually getting temporary licenses instead of being fully registered,” she says.

The most important thing is to increase the representation of women in decision-making positions, as the higher you go, the less women you see.

Chong Eng is also embarking upon setting up a Women’s Talent Pool for the state to provide a steady stream of good candidates to sit on the boards of government and government-affiliated agencies and companies. “Our hope is that these women, after gaining some political and government awareness, will also offer themselves to be councillors in the local government and to perhaps run for public office,” she says.

She also encourages activists who are concerned about gender equality to start setting up organisations like Emily’s List in the US that focuses solely on training women to stand in elections and occupy seats at all levels of government.

Housing for a Smarter Penang

Jagdeep Singh Deo.

Adding the weighty portfolio of Local Government to his existing Town and Country planning and Housing portfolios, Jagdeep Singh Deo has his work cut out for him in his second term as an exco.

Feeling positive about the change of government at the federal level, Jagdeep has already been in close contact with new Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin to begin the process of ironing out long-standing problems in the housing arena.

Three main issues are on the cards – increasing the number of affordable houses (AH), delivering units to people via a RentTo-Buy (RTB) scheme and building more People’s Housing Projects (PPRs) for the hardcore poor. “For housing, our priority is to ensure that there is an adequate supply of affordable housing including LC (low cost) and LMC (low medium cost).

“In our election manifesto, we pledged to make available 75,000 units of LC, LMC and AH in Penang. I’m glad to report that two months post-May 9, this pledge has not only been honoured, but we have exceeded it. The latest (AH) numbers (as of July 16) is at 80,000. From this, 28,000 units have already been built since 2008, 22,000 are currently being built and 30,000 have been approved to be built,” Jagdeep says.

The state has also moved ahead with its RTB plans, buying over two private projects in Jawi, and identifying another two projects on the mainland for the same scheme.

The Jawi projects, in Taman Sungai Duri Permai and Taman Seruling Emas, with 158 homes collectively, were launched as pilot projects three years ago with rental periods of 15 and 20 years.

Jagdeep says they attracted an overwhelming response and a plus point of this RTB scheme is that residents will feel a sense of ownership to the unit and work to maintain the housing project as they will ultimately own the home after the rental period was over.

In relation to PPRs, Jagdeep aims to improve the number of homes for the hardcore poor who are living on the island. A plot of land in Kota Giam, Jelutong has been earmarked for a minimum of 2,000 PPR units with plans for the project submitted to the relevant authorities.

Under Town and Country Planning, Jagdeep says the State Structure Plan (SSP) was first on his list for completion. “The State Structure Plan (2007) is under review and has been under review from my first term (as an assemblyman in 2008). This has been one of the big complaints from NGOs and hopefully we can finalise the reviewed plan soon,” he says.

Under the Town and Country Planning Act 1976, SSPs must be reviewed every five years and represent a statement describing the policy and general proposals of the state in respect of development and land use.

Local Plans (LPs), on the other hand, consist of maps and more detailed statements prescribing to issues like land use, development, open spaces, the preservation and enhancement of buildings, and the protection of the physical environment.

Jagdeep says the state’s LPs were also at the tail end of being finalised: “One of the reasons for the delay is that last term, we decided that instead of having five LPs – one for every district – we will have one for the island and one for the mainland. So, it had to go back to the consultants to accommodate what we wanted. These LPs are also a priority to be finalised and gazetted as soon as possible but they will take a bit more time than the SSP,” he says.

In our election manifesto, we pledged to make available 75,000 units of low cost, low medium cost and affordable housing in Penang. I’m glad to report that two months post-May 9, this pledge has not only been honoured, but we have exceeded it.

When both are gazetted, all areas in the state will be officially earmarked for specific purposes like industry, housing or commercial intent which will aid the state, developers, businesses and individuals plan for the future.

Finally, under the Local Government portfolio, Jagdeep says the overall aim is to continue to make the state cleaner, greener, healthier and safer. “One of my first instructions to the local councils both here and on the mainland, is to work towards the target of becoming the first state in the country to have 100% LED lights in our street lamps,” he says.

By year 2020, he adds, the state will have 33,000 LED-lighted lamp posts – a pledge that will fulfil and exceed the election promises made this term. Penang has a total of 80,000 street lamps – 45,000 on the mainland and 35,000 on the island.

Jagdeep adds that a total of 1,041 CCTV cameras will also be installed throughout the state to boost overall security. “In general during this term, I want to make the local government more user-friendly and efficient and with an enhanced delivery system. It is also very important to realise our objective of making Penang a smart city, meaning we want to try to digitalise all our systems. This is the direction the world is heading in and we don’t want to be left behind.”

A Caring State is a Wholesome State

Phee Boon Poh.

Returning as an exco for the third time – a feat only matched by the current chief minister and his second deputy – is Phee Boon Poh. Over the last decade, the state exco for Welfare, Caring Society and Environment and state assemblyman for Sungai Puyu has been synonymous with the state’s Program-Program Emas (or Golden Appreciation Programmes) and the “No Free Plastic Bags” initiative.

Now, looking forward, Phee is elated over the new channels of communication that are opening up with Putrajaya’s Cabinet line-up.

Under the Welfare portfolio, Phee says the first order of business is revamping the eligibility guidelines for those in need. “In terms of welfare, the guidelines are too rigid, especially in terms of salary capping. Salaries are gross salaries, but disposable income is never taken into consideration. When we talk about senior citizens, single mothers, the disabled and the bedridden, we need to look at their commitments and the cost of living of the area they are in,” Phee says. A better system, he argues, would be to allow the state authorities some leeway or flexibility in extending aid to applicants.

The second pertinent issue Phee hopes will be addressed is a switch from the current system of “unconditional giving” of welfare aid to a “conditional assistance” policy. “Today, we are just giving out aid unconditionally. This cannot continue forever, so there must be programmes to help these aid recipients get out of the circle of poverty,” Phee says.

Ignoring the previous lack of provisions and federal support for this new approach, Phee launched pilot projects of urban farming in his Sungai Puyu constituency – a district he is representing for his fourth consecutive term. “Even a small plot of reserve land can be used to organise groups of people into farming. For highrises, how difficult is it to plant 10 pots of cili padi outside your apartment? It can be done – I have done it in my constituency for more than seven years with success,” he says.

On the Caring Society portfolio, Phee is focusing on the introduction of two new “golden programmes” to add to the current six: yearly allocations of RM1,000 to women whose households earn less than RM2,000 a month; and annual RM300 provisions for childcare assistance to full-time working mothers with children under the age of six.

Currently, Program-Program Emas provides yearly appreciation handouts to senior citizens, single mothers, homemakers, students, the hardcore poor and children born in the state.

In terms of welfare, the guidelines are too rigid, especially in terms of salary capping. When we talk about senior citizens, single mothers, the disabled and the bedridden, we need to look at their commitments and the cost of living of the area they are in.

Catering to the state’s growing demand for dialysis centres is also a foremost concern with a total of 1,964 dialysis patients registered in Penang as of mid-July last year. Phee says the state currently runs one centre – the CAT Dialysis Centre in Balik Pulau, launched in 2013, currently has 14 machines – and collaborates with two other centres on the mainland, one in Bertam and the other on Jalan Baru Prai.

He says initially, the plan was for the state to support at least one dialysis centre in each of the state’s five districts; however, a new plan is being formulated to work with private dialysis operators to extend the reach of these health services to the public.

“We are reaching out to private licenced dialysis centres to discuss how they can cater for poor patients living in their vicinities. In the plan suggested by the chief minister, we hope to request that they subsidise a portion of the costs, while the state sponsors another portion,” Phee says, adding that poverty-stricken patients currently undergoing treatment at the CAT centre pay a token sum of RM10 a session compared to about RM150 at private dialysis centres.

On his goals under the Environment portfolio, big plans are in store for the Jelutong landfill. Phee says since around the year 2000, the 80-acre site has only accepted construction and demolition (C&D) waste and green waste; all other rubbish is now sent to Pulau Burung, of which Phase Three is set to be opened after the first two phases reach over-capacity

The state is planning to adopt a “waste generator pays” policy where developers and those embarking upon renovation works will be charged to dump their waste according to weight. “We are aiming at a ‘zero discharge’ goal where all C&D waste is segregated, recycled and used back in the projects. We hope to come up with a mechanism for this in the next five years,” Phee says.

Any additional C&D waste would be sent to a new site in Bukit Teh, Central Seberang Prai, where legal proceedings are underway to legalise a previously unlicensed C&D recycling centre. The state is also pushing for the creation of lucrative green industries to stop the lure of illegal C&D dumping.

Meanwhile, there are 30 million metric tonnes of garbage to be dealt with at the Jelutong site and a material recovery facility will need to be set up. In the future, however, if all goes well, the landfill will see the emergence of a new mixed-development site of which an RFP by the state has already been called.

On another front, Phee says the state is moving forward with a revamp of its plastic bag ban, with plans to increase the cost of each over-the-counter bag from 20 sen to 50 sen, increase the minimum thickness of plastic bags offered, and impose a ban on biodegradable plastic bags that are said to be no better for the environment than normal plastic bags.

A Healthier and More Productive Penang

Dr Afif Bahardin.

PKR Deputy Youth chief Dr Afif Bahardin is returning for his second term in the Penang exco line-up with an unchanged portfolio. A doctor by profession, the 33-year-old is looking forward to creating a cleaner, healthier state that provides more opportunities for all.

Under the Health committee, Afif says he aims for Penang to become a smoke-free state in the next five years. “We want to implement a smoke-free policy across the whole state so it avoids confusion. Now, people can’t smoke in George Town, but if they go out of George Town, they can smoke. It’s better to make it state-wide and begin to break the tolerance of Malaysians toward smokers,” he says.

Currently, there are seven smoke-free zones in the state – the George Town Unesco World Heritage Site, Penang Hill and several recreational parks. These are additional to the nationally regulated smoke-free zones that cover places like hospitals, government premises and schools.

Afif says designated areas for smoking will be created to cater for those who want to take a puff. “Last time, we gazetted certain areas where people could not smoke like hospitals, schools and shopping complexes but now, we want to change this to only designating areas where people can smoke. Smoking is a matter of choice and you cannot say that others must bear the consequences of your individual choice. We are not saying you cannot smoke. However, you must respect the rights of those who do not,” he says.

Also under the Health portfolio, Afif says the state is planning the launch of the Penang Sihat scheme where households earning a monthly salary of RM5,000 and below will receive an annual RM300 subsidy for private healthcare. This will allow the lower income group to receive primary healthcare in a private setting – be it a private hospital or clinic – to get consultation, medical treatment or medication, he says.

Under the Agriculture portfolio, Afif hopes to kick off the much-anticipated Aquaculture Industrial Zone (ZIA) in Penaga. He cites the project, talked about as far back as 2013, as one of the state’s initiatives that hit a brick wall in the past due to a lack of support and communication with the former federal government.

We are looking forward to building our own Green Valley that produces quality vegetables and even seeds, not only for plants but also "seeds" in terms of breeds of good shrimp, fish and oysters for the region.

“We have now restarted this idea for 600 acres of land in Penaga that is currently vacant, state land. This project has been in the pipeline for quite some time but we were never able to push it through,” he says, adding that if successful, a second and third ZIA can be launched in the state to capitalise on the booming aquaculture industry.

“Penang has potential to grow in this area as we have good support from the industrial side; we can build processing plants here, halal certification is available and the location we are in along the main trade route of the Straits of Melaka allows us to export live fish to Hong Kong and even China,” he says.

Afif is also aiming to establish a tuna port in the state. “Malaysia has more than six companies that have licenses to fish for tuna in the Indian Ocean and we want them to bring it here,” he says. Adding that Penang already has one tuna processing and packaging facility, Afif says the state hopes to embark on a public-private partnership to build a formal tuna port in the state – a potential hub for South-east Asia’s 600 million population whose demand for mid to high-end food is growing.

A seed hub is also on the cards for the state following the opening of an Enza Zaden plant in Bukit Minyak in March. “Enza Zaden is a company based in the Netherlands and are sixth in the world in terms of seed production. This will definitely have a ripple effect on our local farmers here. So, we are looking forward to building our own Green Valley that produces quality vegetables and even seeds, not only for plants but also ‘seeds’ in terms of breeds of good shrimp, fish and oysters for the region,” he says.

For the Agro-based Industry and Rural Development sector, Afif is focusing on generating income and creating job opportunities for rural communities, particularly for the younger generation. “The problem that we have now is that more than 60% of our farmers are above 50 years old. We want younger farmers to enter this profession,” he says, adding that continuously introducing technology into the industry, for example for the creation of more stable and accessible water supplies, and moving beyond a traditional way of farming could attract younger farmers.

To this end, Afif says vocational colleges and institutions like GIATMARA would be integral to train and provide high-skills courses to the young who live in rural areas. “Not everyone goes on to tertiary education and we don’t want those who don’t enter universities to feel left behind. Under TVEC (Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission), we can still enable them to find proper jobs,” he says.

In this term, Afif wants to focus on empowering rural youths and also bridge the gap between raw skills and technology by working to pair up those with the digital know-how with rural-based startups for the expansion and benefit of both quarters.

Andrea Filmer is a freelance journalist who has lived in the US and Australia but, for reasons unknown to herself, finds it impossible to call anywhere but Penang home.

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