Governing with a Vision: Part One


It was a Monday, the beginning of a working week and the start of a hopeful time for Malaysia. At 11.10am on May 14, 2018, four days after it became official that Pakatan Harapan had won the general elections, and that it (earlier as Pakatan Rakyat) had retained power for the fourth term in the state of Penang, Chow Kon Yeow was sworn in before the Yang di-Pertua Negri Tun Abdul Rahman Abbas as the state’s fifth chief minister.

Two days later, the 60-year-old Chow, now in charge of matters related to Land Affairs, Land Development, Transport and Information, oversaw the swearing in of the 10 executive councillors whom he had chosen to run the state government.

These are:

  1. Datuk Ahmad Zakiyuddin Abdul Rahman (Deputy Chief Minister I), in charge of Industrial Development, Islamic Affairs and Community Relations
  2. Dr P. Ramasamy (Deputy Chief Minister II), in charge of Economic Planning, Education, Human Capital Development, and Science, Technology and Innovation
  3. Chong Eng (Women and Family Development, Gender Equality and Non-Islamic Religious Affairs)
  4. Jagdeep Singh Deo (Local Government, Housing, Town and City Planning)
  5. Phee Boon Poh (Welfare, Caring Society and Environment)
  6. Dr Afif Bahardin (Health, Agro-based Industry and Rural Development)
  7. Zairil Khir Johari (Public Works, Utilities and Flood Mitigation)
  8. Datuk Abdul Halim Hussain (International and Domestic Trade, Consumer Affairs and Entrepreneurship Development)
  9. Yeoh Soon Hin (Tourism Development, Heritage, Culture and Arts)
  10. Soon Lip Chee (Youth and Sports)

Six months have now passed, and Penang Monthly has carried out short interviews with the excos on the issues that matter most to them.

Raising Social Mobility by Empowering People

by Ooi Kee Beng

Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow.

Chow Kon Yeow, the fifth chief minister of Penang; and Member of Parliament for Tanjong and state assemblyman for Padang Kota, is in charge of Land Affairs, Land Development, Transport and Information. From 2008 to 2018, he held the heavy state portfolios for Local Government, Traffic Management and Flood Mitigation.

On August 28, 2018, three months after his new government was installed, Chow presented his plans for Penang at a town hall meeting at E&O Hotel. His vision, Penang2030, carries the heading “Family-focused, Green and Smart State to Inspire the Nation”, and stands on four pillars – four themes – namely (1) Increase Liveability to Enhance Quality of Life; (2) Upgrade the Economy to Raise Household Incomes; (3) Empower People to Strengthen Civil Participation; and (4) Invest in the Built Environment to Improve Resilience.

With all members of the Executive Council giving full support, and having publicised this dream for developing the state over the next 11 years, Chow intends to delegate much of the work to all the arms of the government and affiliated organisations, and feels that much of the government’s job should be about giving direction, and beyond that, to facilitate and encourage society as a whole to participate. Getting the private sector and the community at large to be part of Penang’s development is his way of ensuring that his main goal – leaving no one behind – will come close to realisation.

Being chief minister, ideas tend to be raised to Chow himself. Over time, though, he hopes he can concentrate on the broader picture and show the way more than being bogged down with details.

“In fact, the state government, the private sector and the community at large are the major stakeholders in Penang2030. My job as the chief minister is really to provide overall leadership and to make sure that people understand what the vision is.

“Once people understand that we are actually empowering them, that we are encouraging them to be part of the state’s development, then the four themes will be filled up more and more with important projects coming from below as well as from above. Our job is to help coordinate ideas and resources, and to spread relevant information in the right direction to stimulate synergy and enthusiasm.”

According to Chow, not many new and exciting ideas have been raised so far, but as more people embrace the culture of consultative and openness, and realise that “empowerment of the people” means that they are free to think up ideas with which to engage society and the government, things ought to take a turn.

“What I have come to realise more and more in the last few months is how much help many people need. They need jobs, they need to have high enough incomes if we are to have widespread social mobility.”

Penang’s economic situation in general continues to be positive, and Chow feels it is the economic well-being of the less privileged that the focus of his policies should be on.

“There are segments of society that face challenges over very basic needs. We must recognise that. We have done a lot of welfare programmes, no doubt, but we need to do more. Everybody needs to have a job, to have an income, in order to feel a sense of self-worth. They need housing, they need good transport, they need jobs. They have families to care for. So, the focus on family which I recommend is to allow us to approach these basic needs with a broader perspective. I hope to see all Penang having that feeling of self-worth. Now, some may improve their life situation over time, some only by a bit; but people must be given conditions that make their hope realisable.”

Government measures that are available as a last resort for the poor and needy are well and good, says Chow, but the government and society at large need to seriously look at why these people are in the sorry situation they are in, in the first place: “Penang2030 is a concerted and broad-fronted approach to pull, push and inspire as many people as possible to move upwards socially.”

Will 10 years be enough? Chow’s government recently put a two-term limit on the chief minister position.

“We do what we can, and then others will take over,” he says.

The high pace of work has a high personal cost that the chief minister has had to pay. Before any health issues turn up, he feels a strong need to implement an exercise routine into his weekly schedule. His New Year’s resolution is to manage his time better. Family life remains very important to him. A more balanced daily routine will allow for him “to work, to think, to strategise, to rest.”

Chow has consciously been willing to meet as many people as possible who have wanted to see him, but in the coming weeks, that punishing routine will change as his administration moves into its next phase.

Chow hopes that the federal government will agree to fund infrastructure projects in the state in the near future. Where the plan to reclaim three islands south of Penang is concerned, which the Pakatan government had announced as its way of financing infrastructure building without federal help, he suspects that the public has not understood fully that the new islands will help propel Penang forward economically: “The idea to create them is not merely as a source of funding for other projects. They in themselves are worthy and important assets to develop.”

Where relations with Penang NGOs are concerned, Chow fears that when what are really disparate voices project themselves to be in agreement in criticising the government, little room is left for discussion, and what manifests itself is simply an antidevelopment lobby.

“As a government, we have to encourage development. Who will care for the less privileged? Those people are a major concern to us.”

Enhancing Liveability in Industrial Parks

by Andrea Filmer

Datuk Ahmad Zakiyuddin Abdul Rahman.

Deputy Chief Minister I Datuk Ahmad Zakiyuddin Abdul Rahman was a government scholar and served a decade in public service under the Public Works Department (JKR) before heading to the private sector and eventually, opening up his own consulting practice. He now also helms the state Islamic Affairs committee.

“After I handed over the consulting company to my partners in 2015, I was involved in NGOs, centring on mosque affairs. Since I came from mosque management, this portfolio fits very well and is a continuation of what I have been doing,” he says.

Explaining that the portfolio oversees all affairs relating to Islam and Muslims, Ahmad Zakiyuddin works on issues relating to wakaf (Islamic endowment), zakat, syariah law and fatwa, among others. He also supports the management of some 210 mosques, over 500 surau and about 100 Islamic religious schools located in the state. “The policies, well-being and governance of all of these come under my purview,” he says.

Ahmad Zakiyuddin adds that the portfolio also encompasses the issues of poverty and social problems in the Muslim community, particularly in the more rural areas of the state. “Education is a challenge, so we support mosques to vary their activities. Among them are running kindergartens and having religious classes for the community – especially for the young because we believe that from there, they can inculcate knowledge and a positive value system,” he says.

On Industrial Development, Ahmad Zakiyuddin explains that the portfolio was originally joined with the International Trade portfolio, with the latter now paired with the Domestic Trade portfolio that is under fellow first-time exco Datuk Abdul Halim Hussain.

Now that Industrial Development is on its own, Ahmad Zakiyuddin says the first order of business is to define the scope and goals of the new stand-alone portfolio. “Basically, what we decided is that the work of Penang Development Corporation (PDC) and investPenang now falls under the Industrial Development portfolio. What we will try to do is expand what they have been doing, particularly in the maintenance of the state’s industrial parks in Batu Kawan, Bayan Lepas and Mak Mandin.

When we talk about industrial parks now, we don’t think of them as only having factories. They are now a place where people can work, play and perhaps even live.

“We hope to look into not just the running of these areas, but also the planning as well,” he says.

He adds that PDC is an established “giant” with over four decades of experience in industrial development. “PDC has become one of the leading industrial players in the country but there are areas where improvement can be done and we want to help fill those gaps. Comparing what we have to what Kulim Hi-Tech Park has, for example, we still have improvements to make in terms of infrastructure and facilities,” he says.

“When we talk about industrial parks now, we don’t think of them as only having factories. They are now a place where people can work, play and perhaps even live. To have that in Bayan Lepas may be difficult because of the way it was (originally) planned but we can add some features to it to make it a more liveable area,” Ahmad Zakiyuddin adds.

Community Relations is another portfolio that was initially connected with another – in this case, Cooperatives – and in this term, has become a separate area of management. With it comes the heavy task of managing and overseeing over 300 Village Community Management Councils (MPKKs).

In June last year, Village Development and Security Committees or JKKKs were restructured and rebranded as MPKKs by the Rural Development Ministry under new minister Rina Mohd Harun.

“MPKKs are the lowest arm of the government’s service delivery system. In mid-December, the exco approved additions to the number of MPKKs in the state, now totalling 364 from about 300,” Ahmad Zakiyuddin says.

He explains that the majority of the new MPKKs come from constituencies previously held by BN representatives, where new Pakatan Harapan elected officials have found a need for more smaller management councils.

He adds that MPKKs fall directly under the purview of each individual assemblyman as well as the District Office that holds the allocation for MPKKs to carry out projects and activities. “Under the state Community Relations committee, we manage the appointment and setting up of MPKKs as well as evaluate the performance of the MPKKs in helping and supporting their communities. MPKKs carry out small projects, like the maintenance of community infrastructure, which fall outside the duties of the municipal council,” he says.

Ahmad Zakiyuddin adds that the Community Relations portfolio also entails forging positive relationships in different community groups like Rukun Tetangga and Resident Associations and works closely with the Department of National Unity and Integration as well as the Department of Information to forge harmonious connections among communities.

More Science For The Young

Dr P. Ramasamy.

Deputy Chief Minister II Dr P. Ramasamy is one of the most experienced members in the state government line-up, and now serves his third term in that prestigious position. Now representing the Perai constituency for DAP, the former UKM lecturer retains four portfolios under his purview

Education is the first. “It is a huge subject matter and the bulk of it is under the federal government but now, of course, we (the federal and state governments) are one. So, I would expect the state to have a bigger role (in education in Penang) compared with the last two terms,” he says.

Ramasamy, who just three years ago was denied entry into a secondary school in Simpang Ampat while attempting to resolve a publicised bullying case, says a change in the federal government has allowed a closer working relationship between Pakatan Harapan-held states and state education departments(JPNs).

Among the first initiatives in this newly forged camaraderie in Penang is the approval of a RM3mil allocation for government schools or sekolah-sekolah kebangsaan (SKs).

The state has consistently assisted government semi-aided schools – consisting of mission schools, religious schools and vernacular schools – for years, but this is the first time aid will be extended to the some 200 fully aided government schools in the state. “We give around RM12mil to semi-aided schools from the state allocation and now, RM3mil will be set aside for SKs,” Ramasamy says, adding that some of these fully government institutions are in dire need of repairs.

A further RM120,000 is being put aside to run small education projects that put less emphasis on the current national school syllabus. Ramasamy says this includes activities for special needs children and he hopes that the funds will go to addressing certain issues that do not have a primary focus in the mainstream education system.

On the State Economic Planning committee, Ramasamy says its role is to seek and collect economic indicators in Penang that can assist the government in undertaking future planning.

With a modest budget of RM50,000, those under this portfolio work with organisations like Penang Institute and government arms like the Labour Department to formulate reports on various economic issues that affect the state.

Ramasamy says that he will be seeking a doubling in the portfolio’s allocation this year to allow it to expand its role. “I would like it to do more to publicise the trends in Penang’s economy and embark on more data-based initiatives. With these we can build up a database that can be accessed by all the excos and departments, to assist in the planning of their initiatives,” he says.

The Human Capital Development committee that Ramasamy also helms works closely with over 20 organisations and departments that form a Human Resource Council. These include unions like the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) and government representatives like the Labour Department, and allocations are made available for small projects like trade union seminars, law and employment conferences, and TVEC (Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission) training aimed at enhancing the state’s skilled manpower.

Ramasamy says the state assists the federal government to regulate the relationship between management and employees. “Regulatory powers to take action in cases of wrongdoing and abuse lie with the Ministry of Human Resources, but we do help to intervene and provide assistance and guidance in specific cases,” he says.

Finally, under the Science, Technology and Innovation portfolio, Ramasamy says that the primary focus is stimulating interest in the sciences among the state’s young generation.

Placing the areas of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) at the forefront, initiatives are pushed forward by the Penang Science Cluster (PSC) – an industry-led public-private partnership with the state.

With undertakings like the annual Penang International Science Fair (PISF), which is the first of its kind in the country, and a steady stream of eye-opening workshops on subjects like animation, woodturning and 3D painting, PSC aims to spark an interest in science and technology in the community. They also run three notable programmes for schools: Code on Wheels, Project Ignite and TechMentor; and have an impressive list of heavyweight sponsors such as Intel, HP, National Instruments, Motorola, Agilent, B Braun, Jabil, Bosch, British Council, First Solar, Plexus, Sony and Western Digital.

“The whole idea is to build up a kind of skill base in Penang to ensure that children from primary and secondary schools tune in to the latest developments in science and technology. Most of these STEAM projects are actually provided by the industry with some seed funding of a few million from the state,” Ramasamy says, explaining that the industry is encouraged to take the lead in these initiatives.

PSC also has very visible physical bases like Tech Dome Penang at Komtar, the Karpal Singh Penang Learning Centre at Jalan Kaki Bukit, the Penang Digital Library and three Penang Science Cafes at Wisma Yeap Chor Ee, Krystal Point and Pusat Perniagaan Alma.

“We want to make sure that science is interesting and stimulating for students because there is a decline in the interest of science in schools. Here, in science and technology, Penang is taking the lead,” he says.

Related Articles