May 3, 2008
For the first time in over 40 years, non-governmental organisation (NGO)representatives were among the 24 Penang municipal councillors sworn in during a ceremony at City Hall yesterday.
Four non-political party representatives joined 10 DAP, seven PKR and one PAS representatives to form the new Penang Municipal Council committee while two district officers were retained.
The four were Penang Malay Chamber of Commerce president Rizal Faris Mohideen Abdul Kader, businessman Finn Choong Khuat Seng of Penang Chinese Chamber of Com-merce, Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) committee member Lim Kah Cheng and Universiti Sains Malaysia professor Loh Kok Wah @ Francis.
“This council is being appointed to see through sweeping reforms that will pave the way for a democratically elected local council.
“For the first time in decades, non-partisan representatives are being appointed to the council in their own right,” Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said in a speech.
Non-political councillors:(From left)Prof Loh,Rizal Faris,Kah Cheng and Choon clasping their hands as a sign of unity after the swearing in ceremony.
He said that the state government’s com-mitment to reinstating local government elec-tions was as strong as ever and pledged that elections would be held, at the very latest, before the end of the state government’s term in office.
“Local government elections were sus-pended in 1965 and later abolished in 1976 and the state government intends to reverse these undemocratic practices gradually but forcefully,” Lim said, adding that the state was contending with legal issues on the matter.
Kah Cheng said that she saw the selection as a good starting point but admitted to being being disappointed.
“In our opinion, there are only two non-governmental organisation (NGO) representa-tives as we do not see chambers of commerce as NGOs,” said Kah Cheng, who is also the legal advisor for the Society of Disabled Persons Penang.
The 56-year-old lawyer said she hoped to be put under the planning portfolio to work on making every building in Penang disabled friendly.
While saying that the councillor selection “was not the best of all situations”, Prof Loh agreed that the appointing of NGOs represen-tatives was a good first step.
“It’s a honour and a privilege to be appointed and I hope my expertise and experience will be able to make the council better.
“I understand that there must have been a lot of pressure from inside the parties and I think there was a need to give the business community representation within the council as well,” said Prof Loh, a lecturer in political science and the secretary of Aliran.
Prof Loh added that the NGO representa-tives would push for increased transparency by lobbying for MPPP committee meetings to be opened to the public.
Chinese Chamber of Commerce executive committee member Choong said he was pleased with the appointment as it had been many years since non-partisan and non-NGO representatives were given places in the council.
“I think it’s a positive step in giving recog-nition to the private sector. There’s a lot of hard work to do and I hope to be put under the economic planning portfolio to help find a way out of the council’s tight financial situation,” said Choong, who is also the Penang Master Builders and Building Materials Dealers Association president.
Rizal said the Malay Chamber of Commerce saw his appointment as a gift to the Malay entrepreneur community.
“This is an opportunity for us to work together with the state government in plan-ning and implementing programmes that will steer Penang towards a better future.
“By our representation, all major decisions and programmes performed by the council will be able to have our input,” he said.
State Local Government, Traffic Manage-ment and Environment Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow, who was present at the swearing-in ceremony, said the tenure for the councillors would last till the end of the year and the first meeting for MPPP councillors will be held by early May.
State Secretary Datuk Jamaluddin Hasan, MPPP president Datuk Zainal Rahim Seman, several state executive councillors, MPs and assemblymen were also present at the ceremony yesterday.