Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Penang needs the money too

Brave New World (The Star)
September 17, 2009

"George Town as a Unesco heritage site may have to play second fiddle to ‘twin’ Malacca if petty politics gets in the way of responsible governance."


IN November last year, then Prime Minister Datuk Seri (now Tun) Abdullah Badawi said that RM50mil would be allocated to Penang and Malacca for conservation purposes. That’s RM25mil each.
The reason for this is because the cities of George Town and Malacca are on the Unesco World Heritage list. This means that in the eyes of the UN, our two cities are of such value and worth that they are a heritage, not just for Malaysia but for the entire planet.
Quite an honour really and our Prime Minister at the time recognised this. Good for him, I say.
Both the towns have truly beautiful bits (I grew up on the island and have over the years enjoyed many an evening strolling the streets of Malacca); but they both need money to conserve, preserve and restore those beautiful bits.
Then, this week, I read that the money was not going to Penang. I have no solid news as to whether it is going to Malacca or not, but the minister in charge, Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim, most definitely said the money would not be given to Penang.
He said that the money promised by Abdullah was a “misconception”.
This got me to scratching my head. How can “The Federal Government is going to give Penang RM25mil for conservation purposes” be misconceived?
It’s not as if Abdullah said something vague like “The Federal Government is going to give a town somewhere in the north of the peninsular an undisclosed amount of money for some purpose or other. Maybe.”
But then, I am not surprised really. Rais once wrote an impassioned plea to rid the nation of the ISA and then later said it was a fine and dandy law. I guess his book was a misconception.
I am also not surprised because Penang is no longer under Barisan Nasional rule. Malacca still is, and from my informants I gather that 40 heritage projects have been appro-ved there.
This is not the only example of differential treatment. Agriculture Minister Datuk Noh Omar gave an order in July to all civil servants in his ministry to not attend meetings with opposition state governments, upon pain of disciplinary hearings.
He said this is because money for agriculture projects come from the Federal Government, so why should they cooperate with the Opposition state governments?
Let me explain a little about federalism to these two gentlemen. In a federal system, you have a Federal Government with its own powers. You have state governments with their own powers. They each exist in their own worlds but there will be situations where they have to cooperate, and there will be situations where they have responsibilities to one another.
Now, if the Federal Government has a responsibility, for example, to develop agriculture or if it placed the responsibility upon itself, like making a promise for money to be used for heritage conservation, then it has to live up to that responsibility.
This is a responsibility between two governments — federal and state. It is not about political parties. This is a question of good governance, and once elections are over those in power have a duty to us, the people of this country, to get on with governing properly, fairly and indiscriminately.
The people of Penang, indeed the world, will risk seeing a heritage site neglected. For what? Cheap political points?
I would also like to remind Rais that once a site has been declared a world heritage, then the nation has an international obligation to care for it. Being the sophisticated man of the world that he is, well versed in international laws, I am sure he understands this.
Yesterday was Malaysia Day. We have come a long way in terms of infrastructure and wealth. It’s a shame that our political maturity is still so stunted that we are unable to draw a line between governance and party.
If we are to blossom into the true democratic country that we have the potential to be, then it is high time we grew up.

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