As we say goodbye to 2008, Malaysians can look back at the momentous events of March 8 general elections that not only transformed the political landscape of our country but changed the mindset and perceptions of ordinary citizens. This paradigm shift is the real and significant transformation that we can see, touch and even feel.
Who would have thought it possible that ordinary citizens can combine in one overwhelming force to move barriers and remove governments in five states? Who would have thought that UMNO’s choice for Menteri Besar in states ruled by them could be easily over-ruled? Who would have thought that Sabah and Sarawak can demand and force the Federal government to acquiesce to their just demands?
This paradigm shift has empowered the ordinary Malaysian. And breathed fresh hope into democracy as an institution that can change our lives and transform our nation for the better. A nation that allows its people to say and write what we think without hearing that sudden knock on the door at midnight; a nation of laws and rules decided by learned persons of integrity; a nation that allows our children to grow up properly fed and clothed and safe from harm; a nation that encourages our children to learn, gives them equal opportunity and rewards their excellence; a nation that gives meaningful employment to workers and opportunity to business without having to pay a bribe; a nation that allows any hard working person to prosper without forgetting the poor; and a nation governed for their best interests and not for private benefit, to help and not harm them.
The Pakatan Rakyat state governments realize the heavy responsibility on us to make this transformation happen and paradigm shift works. In Penang we in DAP,PKR and PAS have begun with a people-centric government and a private public partnership. We have initiated a CAT governance based on competency, accountability and transparency. We want to incorporate consultation and participation into decision-making. We will build institutions centered on respect for the rule of law, democracy and fighting corruption. We will continue with emphasizing education and upgrading our skills.
We hope to end by transforming Penang into an international city-state that is the location of choice for investors, destination of choice for tourists and habitat of choice for Malaysians desiring sustainable living. Sustainable living simply means that the manner that we use resources today preserves the resources we’ll need tomorrow.
In 2009, we will try to accelerate this process by focusing on eight key challenges.
1. Fostering national unity through a democratic process emphasizing that despite our differences in religion and race we are all connected as one people, one bangsa Malaysia. On the one hand civilisational dialogues focusing on consultation and participation will continue just as the problems of hard-core poor must be addressed. Full respect will be accorded to Islam as the official religion of the state but its peaceful and tolerant nature also respects the rights of other faiths. Such diversity should be our strength as acknowledged and celebrated by the award of the UNESCO World Heritage status in July 2008.
2. Preservation, protection and promotion of Georgetown’s status as a world heritage site by UNESCO.
3. Introducing investor-friendly policies and enhancing government efficiency and delivery to attract new investments such as halal hubs, high-technology and biotechnology, retain old ones and save existing jobs.
4. Restoring Penang as a premier tourist destination to serve as the main engine of economic growth together with manufacturing sector since services sector contributed 57% of GDP in 2007 compared to the manufacturing sector 40%.
5. Building a knowledge economy by becoming the first wifi state in the country with free wireless and setting up an education hub in Balik Pulau to retain Penang’s competitive edge in education, professional expertise and skilled workers by continuous upgrading of knowledge, research and development, creativity and innovation.
6. Establishing good governance through CAT, democracy and pursuing social programmes for the poor
7. Finding solutions to 3Cs of crime, traffic congestion and cleanliness;
8. Making Penang a green state with initiatives that promote clean healthy and sustainable lifestyle (including hill slopes) and agricultural programmes that is revenue generating and optimizes land use.
These are ambitious plans. We will not achieve them in 2009 or even all of them by the next general elections. But we must be willing to fail trying than fail to try. What is important is our faith in the ability of each other, the people and the community. That we can succeed if we plan well and will each other to succeed.
As a new government, we have some successes such as the doubling in investments to RM 9.47 billion for the first 10 months of 2008(see MIDA table below) as compared to RM 4.77 billion for the whole of 2007. We have the highest domestic investment in the country at RM 4.9 billion, with foreign investment at RM 4.6 billion far exceeding 2007′s RM 3.1 billion. No one thought that we will surpass 2007′s investment figures with a new government and unfavourable economic conditions. Clearly, the business community has faith and confidence in Penang and in our CAT governance and open tender system.
Similarly for the first time Penang was recently named as one of the top Asian islands in “Travel & Leisure’s 2008 World Best Awards”, one of the world’s leading travel magazines. Penang gained popularity for our lively beaches, interesting architecture and amazing Asian-fusion cuisine.
The success in repairing the Bukit Bendera funicular train in 2 months instead of 6-9 months and for half the cost of RM 1.43 million has resulted in huge numbers of people visiting Penang Hill. But we still have a long way to go to enhance and introduce new tourism products and better organize events.
The Penang state government urges the people of Penang to come together in this effort to overcome the economic recession together so that we can enjoy the fruits of prosperity together. The recession will not be forever and the successes this year will put us in good position to take advantage of the ensuing economic recovery.
The people of Penang must believe in their own and each other abilities, trust in the people’s judgment and moral values and have the courage to take the responsibility for their efforts and actions. It is this belief that the PR Penang state government is confident of weathering the unfavourable economic conditions.
A government can only be as good as its people. It is this faith in the energy, expertise and entrepreneurship in the people of Penang that we believe that we can be a good government that can face up to the challenges of 2009. Let us work towards transforming Penang into a beacon of hope and opportunity for those who want a relaxed lifestyle at international standards.
Happy New Year!