Penang : Pakatan’s Potemkin Paradise
In an email to the Editor, Calvin Sankaran wrote:
One of the most stunning examples of the power of propaganda can be seen in a documentary by the National Geographic called “Explorer: Inside North Korea”. This documentary chronicles the adventures of a Nepalese eye doctor who performs cataract surgeries on North Koreans who had been blind since birth due to the abject poverty wrought by the policies of their totalitarian government.
When their bandages were finally removed and the Koreans were able to see for the first time, instead of thanking the doctor and his team who performed the surgeries, the Koreans fell to their knees and profusely thanked their Dear Leader and the North Korean President Kim Jong Il. This incident is a powerful and eye-opening demonstration that while modern medicine can cure blindness of the eyes, nothing can remove blindness of mind caused by the extensive and skilful application of political propaganda.
It is a mistake to think that such all-pervasive propaganda only exists in dictatorships. Noam Chomsky astutely observed that “Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state”. In Malaysia, too, the rakyat are being bombarded on a 24/7 basis with a highly-focused and intense propaganda blitz — not by Biro Tata Negara (BTN) or the Main Stream Media (MSM) as most people seem to think, but by the PR-savvy Opposition using social media and the alternative online news portals.
One of the most elaborate and beautiful lies that Pakatan has carefully and painstakingly constructed over the last five years is the myth that the DAP-led state government has turned Penang into a Utopian Super State where good governance reigns while poverty and corruption have been totally eradicated. Lim Guan Eng, the Chief Minister, is relentlessly heralded and branded as a Superman and a Global Statesman in the mould of Lee Kuan Yew, Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln.
In truth, Penang’s much-lauded “success” is a mere mirage and the CM’s superhuman leadership abilities are as real as the Loch Ness monster, as the analysis below will clearly show. Like the Russian Minister Grigory Potemkin who constructed a fake settlement to deceive the Empress Catherine II, Penang’s image as a Super State is a fake wonderland constructed by the DAP leadership, ably supported by their horde of Cybertroopers.
1. Eradication of poverty
The greatest liars and the most successful salesmen know that the most convincing way of lying is by mixing lies with half-truths. One of the DAP’s proudest boasts is the claim that they have magically eliminated poverty in Penang. What they cleverly and cunningly conceal from their audience is that back in 2008 (when they assumed power) the incidence of hard-core poverty was a mere 0.1% and that Penang was already the second-richest state in the country.
Reducing the hard-core poverty from 0.1% to 0% by 2012 is hardly an achievement that is worth crowing about, especially since there were three other states that achieved “zero hard-core poverty” well before Penang.
2. Open tender
Guan Eng never fails to boast about his Open Tender policy in every ceramah, debate, forum, interview or newspaper column when he speaks about the DAP’s management superiority over BN. He credits this policy with eliminating corruption and cronyism in Penang and saving millions in public funds. Unfortunately there is a massive gap between this fiction and the reality on the ground.
Penang’s Open Tender policy has been so discredited, decimated and mired in endless controversies that it is seen as the DAP’s greatest liability by Penangites. The only thing open about the Open Tender system is that it is being openly abused by Lim and his minions to award multi-billion ringgit projects to their favoured developers and contractors.
No one is quite sure how the system works but it has produced numerous controversial and highly-suspicious contract awards. For example, the Bayan Mutiara deal, the eSpice exhibition centre contract, and lately the Tunnel-Highway mega project have all created so much confusion, anger, opposition, bitterness and controversy in the state despite the CM claiming to have awarded the contracts via the Open Tender system. Despite being pressured by the rakyat, political parties and NGOs, the CM steadfastly and mule-headedly refuses to reveal the details on how these contracts were awarded. These contracts clearly enriched the private companies who stand to rake in billions in profits at the expense of the rakyat and the long-term benefit of the state.
3. Debt reduction
Another of Guan Eng’s Jesus-like miraculous claims is that he reduced the state’s debt by 95% from RM630 million on 8 March 2008 to RM30 million at the end of 2011. However his claim was soon to be exposed as a sham. It was revealed that the debt was reduced not due to any efforts by Guan Eng or his administration but due to a payment of RM655 million by the federal government to the state as compensation for taking over Penang’s water assets. Despite being exposed, Guan Eng continued to conceal the truth and kept up his claims on the ceramah circuit, which were lapped up by the adoring and swooning Pakatan supporters.
Penang is presented as a shining example of a state free of corruption and ruled by a state administration which has “zero tolerance” for bribery and cronyism. Guan Eng markets himself as a tireless anti-corruption crusader. However, as with other claims, the reality is vastly different. What DAP leaders conveniently neglect to mention in their ceramahs is that the state’s first Deputy Chief Minister 1 (DCM1), Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin, was forced to resign in 2009 when the MACC started investigating him for corruption.
More recently an aide of the current DCM1 was arrested and charged for offering a bribe to a complainant to cover up a sexual harassment case. Another shocker was the arrest of Roslan Yahya, the District Offer for Seberang Prai Tengah and one of the most senior officers in the state, by the MACC.
5. Asset Declaration
Much has been made of the public asset declarations by Guan Eng and his exco. However, this move again was heavily criticised and mocked for a lack of sincerity. Firstly, the state government took almost four years to make the asset declaration. If Lim Guan Eng and his administration are really sincere they would have done this within weeks of assuming the state’s reins back in 2008.
Secondly, the rushed and abrupt manner in which the declaration was made seems to indicate that it was made for political expediency and with an eye on the coming 13th General Election.
Thirdly, the declaration did not include the councillors’ spouses and family members. It is well known that corrupted politicians escape detection by transferring their assets to their spouses and family members.
Finally, it was claimed that the declaration was verified by a leading audit company. However the online version of the asset declaration did not carry any indication of this verification
6. Financial Management
Another oft-quoted and much-hyped “achievement” of Penang under Guan Eng is the state’s supposedly superior financial skills and prudence. Guan Eng even claimed that the Auditor-General (AG) had commended Penang as the best-managed state in the country. The only problem with the statement is that the AG never made the commendation, nor has Penang been shown to be the best-managed state in the nation.
In fact, the DAP government conveniently omits some very worrying points highlighted and uncovered in the 2011 AG’s Report. The most stunning revelation was that the state government’s spending has ballooned by a shocking 84 percent over the last five years! Such reckless wastage and uncontrolled spending of public funds is certainly not a mark of a prudent and responsible government at all. At this rate, the state’s spending will overtake its income. At the current rate of spending increase it is estimated that in another four years the state will go bankrupt!
Another major expose in the AG Report was the sources of income for the state. LGE has been in chest-beating mode about how Penang has increased its income by leaps and bounds. However the AG’s Report lays bare this claim by revealing that most of the state’s income is derived from land-related sales and tax-related matters. This means by selling off state land, increasing development costs and other land-related fees, the state has managed to hike up its revenues rather than as “the dividends of anti-corruption measures”.
Another of Guan Eng’s so-called achievements was the surplus budget of the state for the last three years. Of all the CM’s boasts, this is the only valid claim – on the surface. However, a budget surplus does not by itself equate with financial skills but very often indicates accounting chicanery. The trick that Guan Eng employs to fool people is easy to spot since it has been often utilised in financial shenanigans in the business world to defraud investors. What he does every year is to table a huge deficit budget – for example for the year 2013 he is planning for a deficit budget of RM213million. And then he spends less than the monstrously inflated budget and then claims to hit a surplus at the year’s end and voila! He’s a genius!
7. Investment ranking
Guan Eng has been quick to congratulate himself for the fact that Penang was ranked number one in Malaysia for the year 2009 and 2010 in attracting investment. While there is no disputing this fact, the real question is about who is actually responsible for this feat. It is a known fact in the industry that the state’s investment procurement was entirely due to the efforts of the federal government and MIDA as well as Guan Eng’s predecessor Koh Tsu Khoon. It is also a known fact that Lim’s administration has failed to attract even a single major investor to the state during the last five years. As such it was no surprise that Penang fell to number six in the investment ranking in 2012 and will likely plunge further this year. The drop in the amount of investment received was a shocking 73 percent!
8. Good Governance
One of the key themes of the Pakatan coalition and the DAP is democratic rights. Winning Penang gave the DAP a perfect opportunity and platform to introduce democratic practices and policies in administrating the state. Instead of looking at the best practices of the more advanced democracies, Guan Eng has elected to Look East and has copied the North Korean model of dynastic dictatorship. The CM runs the state like a despot with him as Penang’s Dear Leader controlling every aspect of the government. The Deputy CMs and the rest of the Exco are mere puppets and rubber stamps to the CM. He has cultivated a cult of personality and bulldozes his decisions through the rubber-stamp State Assembly and Exco. Anyone who dares to question Lim is hounded and mercilessly attacked by the DAP’s highly-organised “Brown-Shirts” – the thuggish supporters and cyber-troopers.
9. Competency, Accountability and Transparency (CAT)
Guan Eng’s mantra of Competency, Accountability and Transparency (CAT) has been his trademark since he first assumed the post of CM. While he has been ceaselessly promoting this CAT slogan, it has remained a mere marketing gimmick and political rhetoric rather than ever being put into practice. We have seen the numerous blunders of LGE’s government that completely negated his claim of “competency”. Guan Eng’s penchant for quickly claiming credit for the achievements of others while blaming his predecessor, BN/UMNO and the Federal government is a well-known fact.
There has never been a case where Guan Eng has admitted to his mistakes and apologised. In transparency, too, he has failed to live up to his hype. Despite his promise of making government records public, he has so far only released partial minutes of meetings, and even that is only the records of the previous government. He has refused on many occasions to release minutes of his exco meetings, contents of contentious contracts or other details. As such, CAT remains as a mere political marketing slogan with a bite.
10. Local council elections
Despite promising to restore the local government elections in their manifesto for the 2008 General Election, the DAP administration failed to carry out its pledge by employing its typical modus operandi – dishing out excuses and playing the blame game. First it formed a Working Group (WG) to study the feasibility of holding the polls. Why the state government would need to conduct the study is a puzzle since the DAP had been claiming for years that the law allows local council elections and even included it in the election manifesto. Unsurprisingly the WG concluded that the law doesn’t allow for such elections and ridiculously recommended that the state government should pass the motion in the state assembly urging the federal government to enact laws to allow it.
In another equally asinine and laughable move, Guan Eng wrote to the EC requesting it conduct the elections. The EC replied, unsurprisingly, that it couldn’t do so legally so under the existing law but told Penang to go ahead and hold the polls themselves. However, in order to confuse people and avoid holding the election, Guan Eng kept giving excuse after excuse. When he ran out of excuses he went ahead and passed a law at the state assembly on local government elections, knowing full well that this was against not just the law but also common sense.
A few weeks ago, when it was clear that the GE was around the corner, he dramatically filed a petition in the Federal Court to allow the state the right to hold local council elections. That Guan Eng has no intention of ever restoring the Third Vote is crystal clear. If he were really serious in his intentions he could have done it long ago. It is a shocking fact that there are more political appointees in MPPP and MPSP (the local councils of Penang) now under Guan Eng’s administration than during his predecessor’s reign. In fact Guan Eng treats MPPP and MPSP as his personal fiefdom and an extension of his administration, which can be seen from numerous episodes. As such, independently-elected local councils would not serve his interests and political games.
I am sure that many Penangites will agree with the following personality analysis that seems to describe the leadership style of the Penang Chief Minister very succinctly and accurately: “His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”