Give recommendations after understanding federal-state separation of powers as well as the existing laws and limitations
Recently the Penang Forum held a dialogue on flood and dialogue issues in Penang. The situation quickly degenerated into a political forum as BN and other “new” Penang parties started to condemn the Pakatan Harapan Penang State Government openly in a political manner. However, I do not want to talk about that right now as I believe there have been enough exchanges on the matter. As I have mentioned before, no governments are beyond criticisms and the Penang State Government definitely does not consider itself an exception. This government has always been open for criticism as long as it does not degenerate into a political mud-slinging session like what happened the other day. Organisers of any dialogues should control and moderate the sessions to ensure that all feedbacks are made in a constructive and non-emotional manner as emotional non-factual debates can often get out of hand.
During the presentation however, there were many sessions by many of the experts. One particular one was by Dr. Kam Suan Pheng who is an expert in soil sciences who warned that Penangites should brace for more flash floods in the future. (http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2017/10/29/brace-for-more-intense-flash-floods-in-penang-warns-expert/) She proceeded to warn that climate change had also increased the rainfall in the recent years and she gave her points for all to see. Indeed I do agree that climate change has indeed increased the rainfall in recent years but I would like to point out that floods are also one of the most common natural disasters around the world and ranks number one in the United States of America. Climate change has definitely made floods a more common phenomenon in Penang. Remember the floods that hit Kelantan in 2014? At the time it was considered one of the worst floods to hit Malaysia in decades. Malaysia’s federal and state government infrastructure as a whole can definitely improve to deal with climate change.
It was also mentioned by Dr. Kam that the Seberang Perai area had a different landscape but as what happened recently, part of the heavy rainfall that caused Penang to experience one of the highest rainfall in its history was Typhoon Doksuri that acted like a vacuum pulling in rainclouds from around the vicinity of South East Asia. That caused floods to not only occur on Penang island but Seberang Perai, and towns in the neighbouring state of Kedah including Langkawi. Sadly, the mainstream media chose to highlight just Penang and one even accused the State Government of giving excuses despite the fact that unlike the Prime Minister in 2014, no member of the Penang State Government were out playing golf with the US President when the floods hit, rather everyone was on the ground trying to minimise the damages and provide relief for those affected. Penang recovered from the flash floods within a little more than 24 hours but was condemned even though when many other parts of Malaysia were to suffer the same fate, the recovery process took almost a year and some are still without homes today.
Anyway back to the dialogue, Dr. Kam gave many interesting points that she feels are the answer to future floodings in Penang. Of course, this administration has been appointing a member of the Penang Forum to the City Council of Penang Island for many years now and even though there have been heated exchanges, we are all still committed to doing what is best for Penang. Through all the points and her recommendations that more trees should be planted, more large-scale parks created and the island’s rivers should be given space to widen and also that development projects should not be allowed on riverbanks. I would also like to request that Dr. Kam look into the separation of federal and state laws and their scopes and limitations of power as well as private property laws. As you know, recommendations often look good on paper but the implementation of policies needs to be cleared through the process of the law as well. Malaysia is a highly centralised nation and members of civil society should know that by now.
Now I am not giving excuses on behalf of the State Administration but rather remind civil society of reality which includes private ownership, not everything on this island belongs to the government. Issues like continuous improvement of cleanliness to prevent debris and rubbish from clogging up waterways and drains will of course be pursued, that includes public education as well but it also important to note that not everything else can just be bulldozed through without legal implications. These days even enforcement of illegal hawkers are politicised racially, so yes, the challenges of administration are real and you need to understand that and give recommendations that can actually be implemented and if there are roadblocks, work with the administration to overcome them and not just make an issue out of it. Join in the relief and rescue work when a disaster strikes and understand the challenges Penangites face on a daily basis. Things are not as how they are in the books, I can guarantee you and please also be reminded that we will hardly get any help from the federal administration but rather more politics.
Some federal laws need to be amended and improved as well and thus I would also like to call upon Dr. Kam and her Penang Forum colleagues to open a debate with the BN elected representatives who attended the same dialogue on what the federal government will actually do to back up the recommendations as well instead of just giving a state government-bashing political ceramah. They can also be lobbied to give the approvals for the Penang Transport Master Plan and the federal government’s affordable housing scheme (PR1MA) as well to satisfy Penang’s transport and housing needs. You cannot just say that these issues are not important to Penangites as they are definitely important.
If Dr. Kam and Penang Forum are sincere about working together to find a solution, I suggest that their members verse themselves on the power limitations of the local council, state and federal as well as how certain federal laws can be amended in order to accommodate improvements. Many laws can only be amended in Parliament and until they are amended, the state can only refer the wrongdoers to the courts with no control over the penalties. Pressures to the federal government can also be extended to the lobbying for more funds for the state’s flood mitigation project which the state is already carrying out. The federal government claims it had allocated RM 2.6 billion for flood mitigation when in reality only RM 443 million had been spent. The state government and local councils had to add in an additional RM 405 million despite only getting around 0.0074% of the total federal budget before. You had claimed that flood mitigation is only a temporary relief, but the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says that with every US$1.00 spent on flood mitigation, US$ 4.00 is saved from potential future disasters.
Working together is always the key to progress but in order to achieve that, let us work with what is pragmatic. Anyway, there are always more room for debate and discussion, let us engage constructively and not antagonistically.
Chris Lee Chun Kit is a City Councillor with the City Council of Penang Island representing the DAP