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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Father tries to set 23-year-old daughter alight

A man was being held by police on Monday after allegedly trying to set fire to his grown-up daughter in central Paris.

Le Parisien newspaper reported that the man sprayed teargas in the young woman's face and then covered her in petrol on Saturday evening.

The father was apparently annoyed that the woman planned to go out with a group of friends that evening and considered her "too emancipated".

The newspaper quoted a source describing him as a "Muslim fundamentalist."

The 23-year-old daughter has a room in a building in the city's 11th arrondissement, close to the Place de la Bastille.

The 49-year-old man went there at around 11.30pm on Saturday evening and started arguing with her in the hall of the building.

He then attacked her with the teargas and poured petrol over her head and face, after which he pulled out a lighter, causing her to scream.

"She managed to grab the lighter from his hands while passers-by heard her screams," said a source close to the inquiry. "The man quickly made a run for it."

The woman told police her father had been harassing her for several weeks. "She explained he was unhappy that she had a Jewish boyfriend," said the source.

Police caught up with the man on Sunday and are questioning him in connection with attempted murder.

The newspaper reported that the man had only recently reconnected with his daughter, after abandoning her as a child.

He had recently taken her to his native country of Tunisia where he had tried to arrange a marriage for her.

She had resisted, while promising to behave in accordance with his wishes back in Paris.

Matthew Warren (

Respect funeral rites of Hindus, Prisons Dept told

Hindraf sees red over the department's denial to Hindu detainee from performing time-honoured tradition of lighting the funeral pyre of his deceased brother.

PETALING JAYA: Hindraf Makkal Sakthi leader P Uthayakumar today accused the Prisons Department of being insensative and disrespectful of Hindu funeral rites and rituals.

He criticised the department’s director-general, Zulkifli Omar, for refusing to allow R Nyana Piragasam, a drug addict undergoing rehabilitation, to attend his brother’s funeral.

It’s a time-honoured tradition that the eldest of the males in a Hindu family lights the funeral pyre of a family member who has passed on.

Piragasam, 38, who is being detained at Pusat Pemulihan Akhlak, Batu Gajah, Perak, was refused permission to attend the cremation ceremony of his brother, R Muraly, 30, who died in a road accident.

“The department obviously has no respect for Hindu funeral rites,” Uthayakumar said in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, a copy of which was made available to FMT.

“One prison enforcement officer told us that prison rules do not allow a detainee to attend funerals.

“When I asked him to specifically state the rule, there was no answer,” said Uthayakumar.

Arbitrary powers

Uthayakumar also claimed that detainees were “completely denied the rights to attend the funeral of their loved ones”.

He also highlighted a press report where a body in a coffin had to be brought to the Prisons Department to enable the last rites to be conducted by a kin.

Uthayakumar, a former ISA detainee, also expressed the disappointment of family members over this arbitrary powers of the Prisons Department.

He said that the arbitrary power of the Prisons Department is contrary to the spirit of 1Malaysia that promotes a caring and sharing civil society.

He also called for detainees to be given a second chance to reintegrate with society.

“To err is human, to forgive divine. Justice must not only be done but must manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.

“These powerless, helpless and vulnerable detainees must also be given a second chance at life and to reintegrate with society,” Uthayakumar said.

He wants an official from the Home Ministry to issue a circular to end this practice of denying Hindu detainees from performing the last rites.

Police report lodged over Felda fracas

Both Nurul Izzah and Nik Nazmi are demanding answers from Umno and Perkasa over the recent incidents of agression against PKR.

PETALING JAYA: PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar and communications director Nik Nazmi today lodged a police report over the attempted assault on the duo during last night’s fracas in a Felda settlement.

The report was lodged at the Tropicana police station during which photographic evidence of Umno supporters gatecrashing a ceramah at a coffeeshop at Felda Lepar Hilir in Paya Besar, Pahang, was provided. Two of the five pictures showed a man in a red T-shirt whom Nurul identified as her attacker.

The duo had arrived at the coffeeshop at 9.45pm last night where Felda residents had gathered to hear them speak. In the surrounding vicinity were about 10 policemen and Special Branch officers, as well as a group of Umno supporters in the neighbouring coffeeshop.

“The minute we arrived the other group blasted their music and held a karaoke session,” Nurul told a press conference at the party headquarters today.

“When Nik Nazmi began speaking they began hurling abuses at us, singing the Umno song and waving Umno flags. That’s when the tension really began rising.”

By the time it was Nurul’s turn to speak, the opposing group had swelled to 50 people and had begun moving in on them.

According to the Lembah Pantai MP, she had barely spoken for a minute before a man in a red T-shirt stormed towards her and lunged at her with his outstretched hand.

“I’m not sure whether he was trying to hit me or grab my headscarve but a PKR supporter deflected his hand just as it was inches away from my face,” Nurul recalled. “The police advised us to stop the ceramah as the situation was getting out of control.”

‘Even police intimidated’

The man was later identified by the local police as Asrullah Affendi Abdullah. Nurul and Nik Nazmi were then escorted back to their cars by the police who were also verbally abused for “supporting the opposition”.

The Umno supporters, however, surrounded their cars and only let them through after the Felda police assistance arrived.

According to Nurul, the chairman of Majlis Belia Felda Malaysia Hilir Lepar 2 was also present among the Umno supporters but it was unclear if he was involved in the attempted assault.

“Even the police were intimidated,” she said. “And when we wanted to lodge a police report that same night we were advised against it as things could get out of hand.”

Both Nurul and Nik Nazmi slammed the act of thuggery and said that it was not the first time that Umno hired or forced the youth to play a part in its threats against the opposition.

“We are seeing more such acts as we draw closer to the general election,” Nurul observed. “Last night’s incident cannot be isolated from the attack on (PKR de facto leader) Anwar Ibrahim, the break-in at PKR’s Wangsa Maju branch and the attempted break-in at (PKR disciplinary committee chairman) Tan Kee Kwong’s residence.”

Last week, Umno supporters in Sembrong, Johor, allegedly threw stones, pieces of wood and firecrackers at the car Anwar was in.

Both break-ins were suspected to have taken place over the weekend when most PKR leaders were at the party’s weekend retreat in Kuantan.

‘Khairy cannot keep silence’

“We have a right to speak to anyone and you cannot use physical violence to stop us,” Nurul asserted.

“I want to know (Prime Minister) Najib Tun Razak and (Home Minister) Hishamuddin Hussein’s stand on this incident because no one – not even Umno members or supporters – should be threatened in this manner.”

Nik Nazmi, who is also the Seri Setia assemblyman, meanwhile demanded that someone from Umno take responsibility for the incident. And the person he wants to hear from is Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin.

“I want to know Khairy’s stand,” he stated. “He cannot just go to London and debate (PKR strategic director) Rafizi Ramli but keep silence over this. Umno cannot just wash its hands off this.”

“I also want to hear Perkasa’s stand. They are always talking about defending the Malays so what do they have to say about Malays behaving this way?”

PKR’s branch in Paya Besar had lodged a report with the local police there and the matter is under investigation.

India: Between Israel and Iran

Sticky bomb on an Israeli van in Delhi
Trade and military ties get complicated by India's energy needs
The western tensions ratcheting up over Iran because of Tehran’s suspected ambitions to develop nuclear weapons are delivering a whole new slate of diplomatic, economic and trade challenges for New Delhi.

These problems have been exacerbated by a Feb. 15 incident in which unknown persons attached a so-called “sticky bomb” to an Israeli embassy car. The bomb exploded, seriously injuring an Israeli diplomat’s wife and causing minor injuries to three others in the cars.

While the strike appears to have been the result of complex Arab-Middle East-West Asia politics involving Iran, Palestine, Israel, Saudi Arabia, with India just one of the many playgrounds of retribution, it means that India must balance its extensive energy relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia alongside its growing interest in sharing Israel’s defense, agriculture and counter- terrorism intelligence methods.

India’s position is delicate indeed, with some 200 million Muslims among its 1.3 billion people, many of whom regard Israel as a mortal enemy. After decades in which New Delhi refused diplomatic recognition to Israel, India has dramatically shifted position. Today Israel has become India’s second-biggest weapons supplier at a time when the Indian government is vastly increasing its defense arsenal.

At the same time, India remains one of Iran’s remaining customers for oil as the west continues to tighten its embargo screws.

New Delhi and Tel Aviv are now discussing the prospects of gas exports from Israel to India. The deepening Indo-Israel relations have the blessings of the United States, which would like as much as possible to wean India away from dependence on Middle Eastern natural resources or diplomacy.

Iran, of course remains a tricky nation to do business due to the threats of imposition of US and EU sanctions. To keep the US happy, New Delhi has reluctantly stayed away from the US$7.5 billion Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project despite its growing need for energy supplies to keep its economy moving, now growing at a 7.5 percent annual clip and expected to rise to 8.1 percent in 2013.

Even though finance minister Pranab Mukherjee recently said that India will keep intact its hydrocarbon relations with Iran – its second biggest supplier after Saudi Arabia -- matters are not so simple.

New Delhi has been facing major payment issues for oil imported from Iran, which supplies 12 percent of India’s oil needs. The situation is forcing Indian refiners to seek crude elsewhere. Earlier this month, Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals (MRPL), India's biggest importer of Iranian crude oil, bought its first cargo of oil from Libya as it seeks to diversify oil sources.

Last month, MRPL’s head said there are concerns about possible supply disruption due to international sanctions on Iran and the company is keeping all avenues open.

Meanwhile, Indian state-owned explorer ONGC has so far kept away from developing the Farsi gas field where it has been granted interests by Tehran, for fear of sanctions.

Crude imports by Reliance Industries Limited for its refineries’ in Gujarat have been substantially curtailed to avoid problems in fuel sales to America that have been on the rise. Reliance is seeking to keep Washington happy as it has invested nearly US$3.6 billion in US shale assets and does not want suffer any US political actions. RIL was warned of penalties by the Obama administration for its business ties with Iran.

Given such a scenario India will need to calibrate its relations in a way that suits its interests. The practical approach would be to nurture independent and parallel lines of communication with both Iran and Israel despite the troubled relations between the two nations.

Giving in to international pressures would mean shutting out Iranian oil, which increases dependence on Saudi Arabia, which in turn is at loggerheads with Tehran. While Riyadh has already indicated that it is more than happy to oblige, New Delhi’s price negotiating position will be impacted.

In a fiercely competitive market there is no reason to believe that Saudi Arabia won’t exploit any monopoly position in India’s energy import basket.

Managing security is another aspect that will need careful handling. Terror and rebel networks globally are known to quickly adopt new devices and mechanisms given the ease of communication, first hand training and information exchange. For example, connections have been found between the Maoist rebels in India and the now decimated LTTE in Sri Lanka.

The use of the sticky bomb on the Israeli vehicle also raises the issue of pinpointed assassination attempt of important persons. The small explosive device, which can fit into the attacker’s palm, can be planted instantly on a car or a person using a magnet or adhesive. It can be set off by remote control or even tossed at any target, with the bomb exploding on impact.

So far Indian security and intelligence agencies have had to deal with terror strikes that have been broadly of two genres – heavily armed jihadi terrorists storming a location to cause loss of life or difficult to detect crude devices or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted in crowded places to cause maximum human damage.

More sophisticated explosive material such as RDX has been used in the Mumbai blasts of 1993 and the troubled regions of the northeast. But, the incidence has gone down. RDX needs to be secretly smuggled into the country and requires expert handling making the entire logistics prone to detection by security agencies.

IED attacks in trains, temples and markets have caused heavy casualties across cities in India with New Delhi and Mumbai two prime targets, though strikes have been orchestrated in Varanasi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Surat, Guwahati, among others.

The crude devices, such as bombs hidden inside pressure cookers, can be locally assembled and executed by those lowest in hierarchy of terror cells of outfits such as the Pakistan-based Laskar-e-Toiba. The exercise can also be easily outsourced to petty mercenaries.

The more daring jihadi suicide attacks include Mumbai 2008 and the attempt to storm India’s Parliament in 2001.

The advent of sticky bombs raises new challenges for security agencies already under pressure to get their act right. Indian diplomats, the oil and home ministry also have their task cut out. With its large Muslim population, and with more militant Muslims over the border in Pakistan, the growing security and energy relationships with Israel mean that balancing Israel and Iran will not be easy.

(Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist. He can be reached at

Nurul: Mata Saya Hampir Lebam Seperti Papa

Naib Presiden PKR Nurul Izzah Anwar berkata, jika tidak ada campurtangan penyokong Pakatan Rakyat pada ceramahnya di Gambang, Pahang semalam, beliau pasti mendapat ‘mata lebam’ seperti bapanya Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim sebelum ini.

Katanya, serangan terhadapnya oleh lelaki pada ceramah di Felda Lepar Hilir I pada malam semalam itu hampir-hampir mengenainya

“Ia hanya beberapa inci (hampir mengenai), kamu pasti tidak mahu ukur, ia sangat tidak menyenangkan,” kata Nurul Izzah.

Menurutnya lagi, penyerang yang memakai baju merah perlahan-lahan memasuki tempat ceramah di sebuah kedai kopi sebelum melancarkan serangan.

Bercakap kepada pemberita selepas membuat laporan polis di Petaling Jaya hari ini, Nurul Izzah berkata sekiranya tiada penyokong yang menahannya, beliau pasti menerima nasib seperti Anwar yang dipukul menjelang perbicaraan kes liwat pertamanya lebih sepuluh tahun lalu.

Nurul Izzah mendedahkan, polis tempatan berjaya mengenali identiti penyerang itu sebagai Asrullah Affendi Abdullah. Bagaimanapun, maklumat lain masih belum diketahui setakat ini.

Nurul Izzah turut menunjukkan kepada pemberita beberapa keping gambar ketika kejadian bagi menyokong dakwaannya.

Pagi tadi, akhbar web PKR Keadilandaily melaporkan, anggota Umno setempat sengaja mengganggu ceramah Pakatan dengan menganjurkan sesi karaoke dan menghantar SMS ugutan sebelumnya.

Menurut Pengarah Komunikasi PKR Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, ketika giliran Nurul Izzah berucap, kumpulan itu mula menyerbu ke lokasi ceramah sambil melemparkan kata-kata kesat kepada anak perempuan Ketua Umum PKR itu.

Dakwanya, “budak-budak muda” itu cuba memukul Nurul Izzah sehingga beliau dan puteri Anwar itu terpaksa diiringi polis meninggalkan kawasan berkenaan.

Mahathir past cascading into the Najib present – powerful reasons for full accounting for the RM100 billion “black hole” caused by Mahathir’s financial scandals

Recently, the past has fast cascaded into the present – or to be more specific, the Mahathir past cascading into the Najib present.
Today the High Court in Kuala Lumpur fixed March 5 to decide whether to end the multi-billion ringgit legal battle between Malaysian Airlines (MAS) and Tan Sri Tajudin Ramli, by striking out MAS’ mega claims against Tajudin as well as his RM500 million counter-claim against the government and the national carrier.
Tajudin has been entangled in a complicated series of expensive suits, countersuits and appeals with various parties arising from his failure to service a billion ringgit loan he took to purchase a major stake in MAS in 1994.
Tajudin was the executive chairman of the airline from 1994 to 2001.
In 2002, MAS lodged its first police report against Tajuddin, accusing him of allegedly causing the flag carrier to suffer losses in excess of RM8 billion.
According to a report to the Anti-Corruption Agency, a major contributor to the record losses under Tajudin was the relocation of MAS’s cargo operation in Amsterdam and Frankfurt to a single hub in Hahn, Germany, where the airline was forced to enter into a disadvantageous aircraft lease contract with a company, which was later linked to Tajudin’s family.
The new cargo hub operation had caused MAS to suffer losses of between RM10 million and RM16 million a month before the project was terminated after the government regained control of MAS in 2001.
The termination resulted in a RM300 million arbitration claim against MAS by the company.
MAS has had a turbulent past decade after the government bought back the airline from the former corporate high-flyer at RM8 per share or about double the market price at the time. The airline was at the time saddled with a debt reported to be RM9.5 billion.
In 2009, Danaharta and two of its subsidiaries won a RM589.143 million suit against Tajudin. The case arose after the tycoon borrowed RM1.792 billion from a group of syndicated lenders in1994 to purchase a 32 per cent stake in MAS.
However, from 1994 to 1998 he failed to service the original loan, causing it to become a non-performing loan (NPL).
In 1998, Danaharta acquired the NPL from the lenders but Tajudin also failed to settle his debts to Danaharta until it was in default of RM1.41 billion as at October 8, 2001.
As part of a settlement agreement, Tajudin was to pay RM942 million in four instalments over three years and that he was permitted to redeem his charged shares at a minimum price per share.
Tajudin, however, defaulted in the payment of the quarterly interest payable under the settlement agreement and on April 27, 2002, the plaintiffs terminated the settlement agreement and demanded RM1.61 billion from him.
On April 29, 2002, Danaharta, together with its subsidiaries Danaharta Urus Sdn Bhd and Danaharta Managers Sdn Bhd, sold part of the charged shares consisting entirely of Technology Resources Industries (TRI) shares at RM2.75 per share, resulting in total proceeds of RM717.39 million.
As at December 31, 2005, the amount outstanding was RM589.14 million and on May 11, 2006, Danaharta and the subsidiaries commenced action to recover the money. The national asset management company won its case against Tajudin in 2009.
But the ex-MAS chief filed a counter suit claiming RM13.46 billion from some 22 parties and individuals.
Tajudin alleged, in his affidavit, that he was directed by former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and former Finance Minister Tun Daim Zainudin in 1994 to buy a controlling stake in MAS to bail out the government.
Tajudin had claimed that former premier Mahathir had made him buy MAS to help bail out Bank Negara after the central bank suffered massive foreign exchange losses due partly to speculation in foreign currency markets as a “national service” with an “Overriding Agreement” to indemnify him against any losses suffered.
Although Tajudin’s claim has been denied by Mahathir, the former Prime Minister’s rebuttal has little credibility.
Last August, Putrajaya intervened and commenced action to put an end to the controversial legal battle by ordering all suits against Tajudin to be dropped.
On February 14, Danaharta and Tajudin reached “out-of-court settlement”, the terms of which remain confidential between the two parties, where all suits pertaining to the RM589.14 million that Tajudin was ordered to pay to the firm in 2009, would be dropped and Tajudin agreed to withdraw a total of 27 appeals, 11 against Danaharta.
The question, whether the RM580 million out-of-court “renunciation” of Tajudin’s debts is proof that Malaysians today are still paying for the RM100 billion financial scandals perpetrated in the 22 years of Mahathir premiership, has been asked but not answered.
There is now the seccond question – whether a settlement of the multi-billion ringgit litigation between MAS and Tajudin, with the striking out of their mutual claims against each other, would also be in consequence of the same factors and forces resulting in the government “surrender” of the RM580 million court judgment against Tajudin?
It is indeed time to revisit the RM100 billion “black hole” created by Mahathir’s financial scandals in his 22 years of premiership, especially if the present generation of Malaysians are to pay for the sins of Mahathir’s past premiership.
There can be no better start to revisit Mahathir’s financial scandals in his 22 year as Prime Minister than to refer to Chapter 6 “Scandal, What Scandal?” of Barry Wain’s “Malaysian Maverick – Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times”, which started with the following two paragraphs:
“Dr. Mahathir’s administration took office in 1981 with the slogan bersih, cekap amanah – clean, efficient, trustworthy. Almost immediately, however, it became embroiled in financial scandals that exploded with startling regularity, some of them truly spectacular. A few were of an order of magnitude that could have bankrupted most developing countries. But tropical Malaysia was generously endowed with natural resources, notably offshore hydrocarbon deposits, and commanded by a leader committed to rapid development. The expanding economy absorbed the shock of much of the dissipated wealth, and where necessary, the gaps left by the missing billions were plugged with the proceeds of oil and gas exports.
“Almost all the scandals involved the government directly, or senior officials and businessmen closely connected to UMNO. In some cases, impropriety – whether illegal or merely ill-advised – was officially authorized or condoned for an allegedly higher purpose. Public funds were stolen in various ways, or simply poured into a big black hole in the name of ventures that bordered on the reckless, improbable or criminal. The extent of the losses – and in some cases the way the money disappeared – was never fully documented. Dr. Mahathir’s administration generally did not hold Malaysians accountable for the financial disasters, and often laid the blame on others. By the early 1990s cynics remarked that it had been a good decade for bad behavior, or a bad decade for good behavior.”
In this chapter, Barry Wain estimated that Mahathir’s financial scandals would have created ”a big black hole” of RM100 billion.
With the Mahathir past fast cascading into the Najib present whether because of the MAS “double bail-outs” triggered by the 1992/3 RM30 billion Bank Negara forex scandal, they are all powerful reasons demanding full accounting for the RM100 billion “black hole” caused by Mahathir’s financial scandals of 22 years.

MIC Welcomes PM Announcement For Indian Students

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 27 (Bernama) -- The MIC on Monday welcomed the announcement by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak to increase the quota for Indian students to pursue courses at government matriculation colleges.

MIC Youth Chief, T. Mohan said the announcement proved that the Barisan Nasional government was concerned and did not neglect the welfare of the Indian community, who are a minority in the country.

"The Indian community certainly welcomes such announcement as previously, after the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) was announced, parents were worried about their children's direction in pursuing further studies.

"With the announcement, the problem can be overcomed and it is a positive action that provides Indian students a place to further their studies," he said when contacted by Bernama.

The Prime Minister, in his speech at the Ponggal Festival celebration in Kapar, Klang yesterday, said the number of Indian students in matriculation colleges in the country would be increased from 559 currently, to 1,500 in the 2012/2013 session.

What kind of development do we want for Penang?

Something to reflect on: what kind of development do we really want for Penang? Surely we need a balanced, sustainable model that also preserves our social and cultural heritage.
MPPP councillor Dr Lim Mah Hui made the following address at a full council meeting of the MPPP on 24 February 2012.
In the past 12 months, we have painfully witnessed the demolition of several historical buildings, some illegally. The latest victim is a mansion at 177 Jalan Macalister, opposite Loh Guan Lye Specialist Centre.
First, I would like to request the Council to provide data on all the historically, architecturally and/or culturally significant buildings that have been demolished last year and this year, or for which demolition was approved since 2008.
Let me mention a few of these buildings that were torn down. The beautiful mansion of Khaw Bian Cheng (son of Khaw Sim Bee) at Pykett Avenue, two historical bungalows on Burma Lane, one of them once occupied by a former prime minister of Thailand, Phraya Manopakorn Nititada (1884-1948), and two bungalows along Brooks Road.
Khaw Bian Cheng’s mansion was torn down without permit.
In the case of the Burma Lane and Brooks Road residences, two of three buildings in each location were torn down and only one building in each location was left standing. This is not preservation. This is architectural and historical mutilation. It is like cutting of one limb and preserving the other limb.
Prime Minister Phraya Mano sought refuge in Penang island when the military launched a coup in Thailand in 1932. He lived in Penang for several years and passed away here 1948. Mano Road in Pulau Tikus is named after him. In many ways, his history is similar to that of Dr Sun Yet Sun, who also took refuge in Penang during his struggle for Chinese independence. We are fortunate to maintain the heritage and history of Dr Sun in terms of a museum and the house where he spoke and launched his fund raising campaign. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for celebrating the history of Prime Minister Phraya Mano in Penang. The houses in which he once stayed have been demolished and an important part of the history of the Thai Malaysians in Penang has been destroyed in the pursuit of profit but under the rationale of “development”.
The present attitude is that only houses in the heritage zone or those that are designated heritage are protected. We need to take a more holistic view of heritage. One reason Penang was awarded the world heritage status is because of the large stock of pre-war houses in the island. It is myopic to only preserve the buildings in the core heritage zone and wantonly destroy important buildings in the buffer zones and other parts of the city. Tourists come to Penang to experience the whole city, not just the heritage zone.
Many Japanese and European visitors have commented to me their disappointment at the demolition of beautiful buildings. The building of 30-storey apartments surrounding a heritage building is not preservation; it is suffocation of heritage sites.
It is convenient to justify what is happening in the name of development. As I said last year, we must be more thoughtful. We must ask the following questions:
What kind of development do we want?
Is it development that destroys our heritage and culture?
Is it sustainable development?
Is it green development or development that aggravates climate change?
Who benefits most from this development?
Who loses out in this process?
Is it development for the top 1 per cent or development for the 99 per cent?
Development must be located within a vision. What is the vision for Penang’s development? Perhaps the best way to concretise this vision is to ask ourselves, what is the “model” city that best approximates our vision? I am not suggesting we copy blindly another city. But what I am suggesting is we learn from and choose what are the best characteristics to suit our own situation.
I have heard from some people and policy makers they would like Penang to model itself after Singapore and Hong Kong; both are densely populated international financial centres in the world. Are they appropriate for Penang? Might it not be more appropriate to look at a combination of Kyoto, a heritage city, and Xiamen, a city with similar characteristics in size, geography (hills and sea), and services (education, high tech and former trading ports) as models.
Let me say something about Singapore. There is much that can be said for Singapore – it is a clean, safe and a well-planned city with a good public transportation system. These are some of the positive lessons we can draw from it.
But we can also learn some negative lessons from it, of which I mention two. First, is Singapore, in the early days of development, demolished many of its traditional houses and buildings (not necessarily heritage). They have since learned it was a mistake and are now taking pains to preserve them. We should not repeat the same mistake.
Second, in their quest to make Singapore an international city, the government has swung to the extreme so that many of its local citizens are left behind in this “development” process. Despite Singapore having the best public housing schemes in the world, many of its young population feel they cannot afford housing or find good jobs. The dissatisfaction is so great that it cost the PAP government many seats in Parliament. This could also happen to Penang if more and more middle and lower class citizens feel they are left behind in this frenzy of property development.
Finally, allow me to suggest that for the moment, we should impose a moratorium on granting approval for demolition of all buildings in the island that were built before 1962 (more than 50 years old) and have architectural value. The present list of protected buildings should be immediately made available, and a technical committee made up of qualified professionals, civil society and input from other relevant bodies be established to study this matter immediately