Penang2030, C4: Accelerating Programme Delivery and Institutional Reforms
The Covid -19 pandemic continues to affect the world. The situation in Wuhan, China shocked everyone early this year, and now in September, the situation in India is the one that is very alarming in our region.
Closer to home, our Southeast Asian neighbours are also suffering badly as we move towards the end of 2020. Luckily, Malaysia has fared well. Penang has so far stayed a green zone for most of the period since the Movement Control Order was first imposed in March.
Over these difficult months, the Penang State Government has learned a lot about its own strengths and its weaknesses.
Already before the pandemic, we were clear about the need to energise the state and its people, and to take advantage of Industry Revolution 4.0. In Penang2030 Vision which I launched in August 2018, our ambitions for the next decade were already comprehensively worked out. For example, the State Government founded Digital Penang earlier this year to coordinate and accelerate the digitalisation process – in governance, in the economy and in society at large.
The pandemic is affecting many aspects of social life in many unexpected ways – and all at once. But from this, there is much we can learn.
First, it is now clearer than ever before, that a digital economy and a digitally savvy society is better able to manage a crisis, and that the competition we face from other cities, and from the rest of the world, is in the standard of our digital infrastructure, in the creativity and the level of digital literacy of our people, and in the ability of our government to respond quickly and in a well-informed manner to present and future challenges.
Second, in a time of crisis, synergy among all players needs to be maximised. A system, especially bureaucracies, tends towards work being done in silos, and we should now try our best, step-by-step perhaps, to limit this tendency.
I believe that vertical structures need to be complemented by horizontal structures in order to be effective, transparent and dynamic. One of the major goals of Penang2030 is “Accelerate programme delivery and institutional reforms”; that should be one of our top priorities.
In planning the socio-economic recovery from the pandemic, the Penang State Government sees the opportunity to enhance its governance, and to make it more effective in its goal to leave no one behind.
Three Institutional Innovations
The first step for me to take, in light of the pandemic and even though we are in the middle of our mandate period, is to reform the portfolios of the State Executive Council. We wish to exemplify to the people that the new normal requires members of the government and of the state bureaucracy to rethink some of the things we have been taking for granted, and that the state government understands the need to enhance its capacity to act in these trying times.
There are other steps that I am taking at the same time. The larger context, our longer term goals, are these:
• Policy discussions need to be more thorough, broad and more expert-based;
Portfolios for Members of the Executive Council, from September 15, 2020
- Policy-making needs to be more evidence-based and more academically informed;
- Collaboration between the government’s departments and agencies needs to be more dynamic and systematic; and
- Policy implementation needs to be constantly monitored.
In short, we seek to raise the level of synergy in all these processes in order to take full advantage of the present crisis, and to meet future ones effectively.
Today, I announce three areas where institutional changes will be made. They should all be considered as part and parcel of measures being taken to improve policy-making and policy-thinking in Penang.
- Some mid-term changes are made to the EXCO portfolios. Details of these are listed below.
- The think tank function in policy-thinking, in policy-making, and in policy implementation and monitoring will be intensified through the involvement of Penang Institute staff in the EXCO offices at an early stage in policy-making. A policy discussion platform based on this involvement will be set up at Penang Institute, and will involve various experts and actors from the public sector, the private sector, the academic world, non-government organisations, and other think tanks. This will be set up as soon as possible.
- The government is working on rationalising the reporting and decision-making processes and channels within the State apparatus. With more effective paths, much-needed synergy within the system can be generated. Penang Institute has been instructed to work in coming months with the various agencies and to report to the EXCO by the end of the year.
Clarifications for the Reshuffle: A Focus on Economic Recovery and Enhancement
Some portfolios are merged and renamed, some are renamed to highlight their new focus, while several have been moved in the merging process. What should be noted is the focus that the Penang State Government is putting on economic recovery and enhancement. This is exemplified in the following ways:
- The creation of a Land and Economic Development portfolio under the Chief Minister, based largely on the fact that economic planning and development at the state level is inescapably tied to land management.
- Horizontal support to all EXCOs and agencies for the development of Penang’s digital economy, through the creation of Digital Penang under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister.
- The creation of the Creative Economy portfolio to stimulate and boost youth creativity and technological innovations in relation to Penang’s unique Heritage, Art and Culture.
- The creation of an Agrotech and Food Security portfolio to stimulate investments in the adoption of technology in the development of the agriculture sector. This is vital to the future of the peri-urban and rural sectors in Penang.
- Chief Minister YAB Chow Kon Yeow will be responsible for:
- Land and Economic Development, an integration of functions once sorted under:
- Land Affairs and Development
- Economic Planning
The economic challenges that Penang’s people are facing require that Economic Planning be given top priority. Where MNCs are concerned, Penang has no doubt been managing very well, but given the expected shifts in global supply chains, and the benefits that Penang can reap from this, the Chief Minister will now be responsible for the merged portfolio called “Land and Economic Development”.
The importance of SMEs to Penang’s economy and the livelihood of a large segment of Penang’s people also require the Chief Minister to coordinate policies that can best help them to survive, to be resilient and to thrive.
The Transportation portfolio is relinquished to the EXCO in charge of Infrastructure (see below).
- YB Zakiyuddin Abdul Rahman (DCM I) remains responsible for:
- Islamic Affairs
- Cooperatives (a function formerly placed under Entrepreneurial Development)
- Community Empowerment (formerly Community Affairs)
Penang2030’s goal of empowering the people is highlighted through the change in name from Community Affairs to Community Empowerment. The importance of this function needs it to be supplemented with a Cooperatives portfolio, which is therefore also placed with DCM I.
- YB Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy (DCM II) remains in charge of:
- Human Resources
- Science and Technology
The importance of talent upgrade remains higher than ever, and this is highlighted in these three portfolios continuing under DCM II. The Economic Planning portfolio is relinquished, and is now merged with Land Affairs and Development and placed under the Chief Minister.
- YB Chong Eng will be responsible for:
- Social Development, which combines functions once sorted under:
- Women and Family Development
- Gender Inclusiveness
- Caring Society
- Non-Islamic Religious Matters
This portfolio results from the merging of three earlier ones, bringing together functions that are largely related. Given the pandemic, the need is ever stronger to bring together assets and efforts to encourage and assist social groups in contributing to, and influencing the development of a future society that values equality, fairness and compassion.
The Welfare portfolio is intentionally kept separate, and placed elsewhere, since its major function is specifically to offer immediate aid to the immediately needy in society.
- YB Jagdeep Singh Deo remains responsible for:
- Local Government
- Town and Country Planning
The three portfolios are substantial ones, and the interconnectedness among them does not allow for a mid-term change.
- YB Phee Boon Poh is responsible for:
The Caring Society portfolio is relinquished to be merged into Social Development. This allows for greater focus on environmental management at a time when there are new challenges and strongly renewed public interest.
- YB Zairil Khir Johari will be responsible for:
- Infrastructure, a combination of functions once sorted under:
- Flood Mitigation
- Public Works
The three portfolios combined to form Infrastructure are substantial ones, and the interconnectedness among them does not allow for a mid-term change.
- YB Abdul Halim Hussain remains responsible for:
- Trade and Industry, a combination of functions once sorted under:
- Domestic and International Trade
- Commercial Affairs
- Entrepreneurial Development (minus the Cooperatives function, now placed with DCM I)
- YB Yeoh Soon Hin will be responsible for:
- Creative Economy
- Art and Culture
Tourism and the many players in that field have been especially badly hit by the pandemic, and re-strategising and rethinking are sorely needed in the coming months to save and rebuild what is a critical economic sector for Penang and its many small companies.
The art and culture sector has also suffered badly. In order to rejuvenate the sector and to encourage the many individuals involved, the state is convinced that new energies, new thinking and new optimism need to be injected into the sector. Putting Art and Culture and Heritage under the new portfolio of Creative Economy is pointedly aimed at energising these sectors and developing them in their own right, and separating their raison d’etre from, and diminishing their dependence on the tourism sector.
Penang art and Penang culture are unique and the source of much pride for its people. The pandemic calls for new efforts to be made to excite young energies in Penang and to import new technologies, art media and marketing channels for a cultural renaissance in the state.
- YB Soon Lip Chee remains responsible for:
- YB Dr. Norlela Ariffin Omar remains responsible for:
- Agrotech and Food Security
- Rural Development
The Agriculture and Agro-based Industries portfolio is renamed Agrotech and Food Security to highlight (1) the state government’s ambition to develop Penang’s agriculture sector through digital and other technologies and other industrial innovations, and (2) the need for food security in preparation for future crises.