Penang island, Quo Vadis?

The DAP Organising Secretary, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, today (21.8.68) issued the following statement:

Penang island is today blanketed by a fog of anxiety, gloom and pessimism, as the islanders see no way out of the economic blind alley they find themselves in, particularly with both the State and Central Governments unsympathetic and unimpressed by the urgency and seriousness of the situation.

Over the years, trade has declined, while unemployment has soared; business has stagnated, while the cost of living has rocketed.

Instead of helping the island economy to tide over her difficulties, the Central Government instead dealt a series of body blows on the island.

The Penang free port status was relentlessly eroded, while the Bagan Luar wharves were built at the expense of $57 million, threatening loss of trade, livelihood and even jobs of the islanders.

The haphazard and bad planning involved in the construction of the Bagan Luar wharves can be illustrated by the fact that the Cabinet only established a committee to look into the unemployment problems it would create, less than a month before the wharves were to be commissioned.

During the last general elections, Alliance leaders warned that unless they were re-elected to the State Government, Penang island would lose her free port status.

Four years have past, and Penang Island’s free port status has virtually been strangled.

What is galling and shocking is that although the Alliance Central Government and decided that free port status must be abolished. It has done nothing to compensate the loss of economic activity for the island.

There were talk of a causeway linking the island to the mainland, of developing, Penang into a world tourist resort by building the Hill Road, the National Park, the Indoor Stadium and the Racing Track.

But up till today, these plans have remained hot air. When Penang is today poised on the eve of the abolition of her free port status with the commissioning of the Butterworth deep-water wharves, Penang’s tourist attractions remain the same as ten years ago.

What worries the Penang islanders is that with the abolition of the free port status, the Penang island and economy will shrivel and die.

With the free port status gone, it will also be debatable whether Penang could be a great tourist attraction.

As industrialisation on the island is insignificant and job opportunities will shrink, the Penang island seem destined to become an isle where retired people come and spend the evening of their lives.

Is this the fate the Alliance has in store for the island of Penang? An old people’s isle?

The State Government has proved singularly incapable of the dynamic and vigorous leadership needed to move the Penang island out of her economic malaise and depression, by fighting for the restoration of free port status, and by getting new lines of economic activity established and expanded.

All that the State Government is capable of doing is to try to compensate the loss of earnings suffered by the Pearl of the East, by converting her into the Brothel of the East, and appealing for more G.I.s to vacation in the island.

The issue of free port status is central to the future, viability and survival of the Penang island.

As the Alliance and the Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, has repeatedly promised that the status of free port will not be abolished without the consent of the people of Penang, we propose that the government immediately hold a referendum to let the people of Penang decide the question.

Audited on 2021-04-08