GEORGE TOWN (April 23, 2008): By Opalyn Mok, Kimberley Lau and Tan Yi Liang
Five Umno assemblymen were offered seats in Penang's administrative committees recently but they were directed to turn down the offers due to party policy.
Penang Umno liaison committee secretary and state opposition chief Datuk Azhar Ibrahim said it is the Barisan Nasional (BN) and Umno's policy that its assemblymen should not accept any offer to serve in the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) state government.
"We want to give the PR a 100% free hand to do whatever they like in running the state, so we do not want to be involved," he told theSun in a telephone interview.
Azhar said PR had made a lot of promises to the public during the general election, "so lets see how they fulfil their promises". "We believe they are trying to do a good job, so lets see what they can do."
The five assemblymen offered to sit in administrative committees were Sungai Acheh assemblyman Datuk Mahmud Zakaria, Pulau Betong assemblyman Muhamad Farid Saad, Teluk Bahang assemblyman Datuk Dr Hilmi Yahya, Seberang Jaya assemblyman Arif Shah Omar Shah and Teluk Ayer Tawar assemblyman Datuk Jahara Hamid.
Penang Agriculture & Agro-Based Industry, Rural Development and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Law Choo Kiang, said he offered Mahmud, Muhamad Farid, Jahara and Hilmi to sit in "my committees".
"They reportedly said it was a 'political trap' but they are wrong. It's a sincere gesture for them to continue to contribute to the public," he said, adding that "what we are doing is to create a new political culture".
"Just because they are the Opposition does not mean they can't join in in the state administration to contribute to the people," he said.
Penang Health, Welfare and Caring Society Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh, who also offered Mahmud a position, said: "This is a way for the Opposition to learn about what's happening within the state administration without having to rely on hearsay all the time. Their refusal to accept the offers only reflect their quality and sincerity to serve the people."
Penang Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Committee chairman Abdul Malik Kassim said: "I just want the people in their constituencies, Seberang Jaya and Sungai Acheh, to be represented in my portfolio. It is not because we need their help and that we will fail without them."
Abdul Malik had offered Arif Shah and Mahmud to sit in his committee.
Deputy Chief Minister II Prof P. Ramasamy said the appointment of people to any of the state administrative committees were based on their abilities and not on political affiliations.
"We don't invite them to sit in just because they are from a certain political party," he said.
Deputy Chief Minister I Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin concurred, adding that it is more important to ensure that the people they invited are clean, dedicated and efficient.
Other than former Gerakan deputy secretary-general Datuk Lee Kah Choon who has taken up positions in Penenag Development Corporation offered by Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, former Penang BN secretary Tan Sri Khalid Ahmad Sulaiman, 71, also accepted his reappointment as deputy chairman of the Penang Appeals Board.
Former Bukit Tambun assemblyman Lai Chew Hock is also serving on the Penang International Dragon Boat Festival committee as vice-chairman.
"I have been in this committee for many years and I feel that I can still continue to contribute towards the festival, that's why I am still in this committee," he said.
Penang Tourism Development, Culture, Arts and Heritage Committee chairman Law Heng Kiang said: "There should not be any calls for Lai to pull out as it is a sports event and not a political event."
It is learnt that former Penang state executive councillor Datuk Dr Toh Kin Woon is still a director of Socio-Economic and Environmental Research Institute (Seri), the state government's think-tank. He could not be reached for comment.