Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General, MP for Tanjung and Assemblyman for Kampong Kolam, Lim Kit Siang, in the Penang State Assembly on the Motion of Thanks for the Governor’s Address on Tuesday, 14.10.1986
The 1986 General Elections where the Barisan Nasional secured only 51% of the votes is a warning that unless it attunes itself to the aspirations of the people, it would be thrown out of office in the next general elections
I rise to support the Motion of Thanks to the Governor for his Gracious Address. The Governor had commended the people of Penang for their orderly and peaceful conduct in the recent general elections which he said, “reflects on the political maturity of our people”.
I cannot agree more with the Governor, especially as there were blatant and shameless attempts during the general elections campaign to frighten the voters from freely exercising their right to vote by threats of another May 13, or denial of development funds. Just before the polling, the people were worried enough by Barisan Nasional threats to raid the provisions shops and supermarkets to stock up canned food and essential provisions.
I cannot agree with the Barisan Nasional government, however, when it claimed that “The will of our people to give their support to the Barisan Nasional demonstrates the people’s confidence in the leadership of Y.A.B. Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir” is reflected by the general elections results.
Let us face the political fact of the general elections, that in the Urban areas, the Barisan Nasional was decisively rejected by the electorate; while in the rural areas, the Barisan Nasional succeeded only in getting some 70 per cent of the electoral support. Nationally, Barisan Nasional only secured 55 per cent of the national vote, and the DAP secured more votes than the MCA, Gerakan and MIC added together.
The election returns in the Penang State is even more decisive. The Barisan Nasional secured only 51% of the total votes cast in the State, while the DAP’s 37% of the votes is more than any two of the Barisan Nasional component parties combined.
The Penang State general elections results of August 3 is very revealing, as shown by the following figures:
UMNO – 62,554
MCA – 53,825
Gerakan – 69,735
MIC – 3,445
189,559 – 51%
DAP – 138,485
PAS – 29,914
PSRM – 6,214
SDP – 975
Nasma – 248
Ind. – 4,926
180,762 – 49%
The Barisan Nasional has nothing to gloat about its August 3 general elections results, for it was just fortunate that it managed to secure majority support of 51% or it would have to suffer the ignominy of being a minority government despite being a combination of four parties:
The Barisan Nasional parties should realise that the August 3 general elections, where it managed to secure only 51% of the popular vote, is a warning that unless it attunes itself to the aspirations of the people, it would be voted out of office in the next general elections.
The 1986 General elections results is also a clear expression by the people that the Barisan Nasional, whether at national or state level, had failed to defend the rights and interests of the Rakyat, and that its slogan during the general elections of ‘Tradisi Membela Rakyat’ convinced nobody.
The Yang di-Pertua, in his speech, urged all Assemblymen to set aside their partisan political differences and to carry out their duties as elected representatives of our people in a manner that can best bring about lasting solutions to the many problems that confront out people.
The DAP fully support the Yang di-Pertua in this call on all Assemblymen to rise above party political considerations, and to look at problems of the people and State of Penang on their merits.
This was why immediately after the August 3 general elections results were announced, despite the manu unkind and unjustifiable statements Dr. Lim Chong Eu had said about the DAP and about me in particular, I had risen above ‘partisan political differences’ to publicly express the DAP’s support for him to continue as Chief Minister in Penang. At that time, there were rumblings from within Barisan Nasional circles that Dr. Lim should not continue as Penang Chief Minister, but the DAP was not afraid to take a stand which was against our own party interest.
Let us face it. If the DAP is only motivated by our own partisan political interest, we should allow Dr. Lim Chong Eu to be removed as Penang Chief Minister, for then, the people would be so disgusted that in the next general elections, the DAP will win hands down!
The DAP, despite our unprecedented victory in the Penang State Assembly, has demonstrated right from the start out preparedness to rise above ‘partisan political interest’, and to offer our hand of co-operation to the Penang State Government.
DAP leaders are not in politics for the objective of ‘Opposition for Oppositions sake’, nor did 49 per cent of the Penang electorate voted against the Barisan Nasional because they are also enamoured to the lure of ‘Opposition for Opposition’s sake’.
I hope that the Barisan Nasional Government will not itself fall victim to the disease of ‘Opposition for Opposition’s Sake’ to whatever is said and proposed by the DAP.
A responsible and democratic Barisan Nasional Government of Penang must listen to the voice of the 49 per cent of those who voted against it during the general elections, so that it could be the government of 100% of the people of Penang, and not just the 51% of the people who voted for it. We the DAP see it as our duty to help the government to understand and respect the aspirations of the 49% of the people who could not support Barisan Nasional, so what it could truly be the government of 100% people of Penang.
It will be in the spirit of promoting this national unity, to reconcile the government with the 49% of the electorate, the DAP State Assemblymen will speak up fearlessly inside and outside the Assembly, and we hope that the Government will pay serious attention to what we have to say rather than by the fact that it is the DAP who speaking.
The Yang di-Pertua spoke with wisdom when he said that the people “must face the fact that it will be some years before Malaysia will fully recover from the grievous consequences of world-wide recession”. In fact, there are economics and analysts who believe that the worst in the economic recession has yet to come, and it is imperative that the government, whether at Federal or State level, should set the leadership to tide over the nation’s greatest economic crisis since Independence.
The State Government believes that the Federal Government’s new policy on investment regulations as announced by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, in New York recently, will attract more foreign investments into Malaysia.
This confidence of the State Government may be grossly misplaced. The State Government should know that the most important factor determining the investment climate of a country is not rules and regulations, but ‘confidence’ in the government, system and country, and that unless Malaysians themselves have confidence to invest in their own country, it is too much to expect foreigners to have the confidence.
As Peang State’s investment climate is inextricably linked to the national investment climate of Malaysia, I would urge the Penang Chief Minister and State Government to express their concern at the damage to investment climate by various post-general elections developments like:
• The extremist speeches by Datuk Abdullah Ahmad in Singapore, followed by the extremist speeched by UMNO Youth leaders at the UMNO and UMNO General Assemblies;
• The refusal of the government to come to terms with the aspirations of 45 per cent of the electorate who voted against the Barisan Nasional in the general elections, in their demand for justice, equality, freedom and democracy; and
• The crack-down on the foreign press, like the Asian Wall Street Journal, the International Herald Tribune, the Far Eastern Economic Review.
As a result, there is nothing to show for the Prime Minister’s announcement in New York of relaxation of investment rules and regulations. There are those who thought the visit of the American Study Group of American business is the result of the success of Dr. Mahathir’s visit to woo American investors, but I understand that this visit was pre-planned by MIDA and funded by the Malaysian Government.
The Penang State Government should send a memorandum to the Federal Government urging it to restrain UMNO Ministers and leaders from making extremist speeches which could only frighten away investors, both foreign and local.
DAP calls for a five-year suspension of New Economic Policy to produce a productive and fruitful investment climate to engineer a economic recovery
The Tuan Yang di-Pertua said the people must diligently strive to work very hard to make the investment climate productive and fruitful.
The greatest problem is that it is the government which, through its insensitive and stubborn policies and regulations, which had made our investment climate so unproductive and unfruitful – where foreigners are not only not putting their monies here, but Malaysians are pulling our their monies to send abroad.
As the nation is facing its greatest economic crisis in its 20-year-history, the State Government should suggest to the Federal Government that new and bold steps are needed to engineer an economic recovery, which should include a five-year suspension of the New Economic Policy.
When I say ‘Suspend NEP for five years’, I am not suggesting that the government should stop fighting poverty, for the ‘elimination-of-poverty’ prong of the NEP is mere lip-service of the government, and never intended seriously. What I mean is that the various regulations and rules on percentages and ratios, which is aimed at the creation of a small elite of new bumiputera rich, and which has done so much to dampen and impede economic activities in the country, should be suspended for five years.
This is a mere extension of the Prime Minister’s announcement of relaxation of investment rules and regulations for foreigners to benefit Malaysians as well.
We must all recognized the fact that we are in a deep recession, which will get worse before it gets better, and if we are to pull through the worst economic crisis in Malaysian history, then we need an entirely new approach, attitude and commitment from boom times.
I understand for instance that the Penang Chief Minister will be making a visit to the People’s Republic of China in the very near future. I presume he will be visiting China to try to increase economic and financial ties between the two countries, and in particular to benefit Penang, especially as the Government is now talking of forging economic and commercial interchange between Penang and the various Cities and States.
However, unless there is a complete change of government mentality, Dr. Lim’s visit to China would be as pointless as Dr. Mahathir’s visit to China last November. Malaysians who want to pursue economic and commercial portunechis with their counterparts in China find themselves in a maze with the Immigration authorities, who reflect top government suspicion that every Malaysian Chinese is disloyal, and would become a fifth-columnist if he or she visits China.
The Tuan Yang di-Pertua had urged all Assemblymen to deliberate with great wisdom and fairness on matters affecting the citizens of Penang to strengthen the foundations of National Unity. The Penang State Assembly must have the courage to set the example to deliberate on issues which greatly affect all Malaysians, so that other State Assemblies can follow suit, and make collective representatives to the Federal Government.
The Tuan Yang di-Pertua reminded us in his speech about the Government’ s Policies on “Malaysia Incorporated”, “Privatisation”, although he omitted reference to “Look East Policy”.
By “Malaysia Incorporated”, we are supposed to emulate the concept of “Japanese Inc”, where the Japanese, both government and private sector, operated as one mighty team to conquer the world markets. But “Malaysia Incorporated” is more often “Malaysia Uncorporated”, where the government and the private sector, and sometimes different government departments, work at cross purposes. The China trips of Ministers are a good example, where trade and economic opportunities are nullified by subsequent government suspicion, bureaucracy and obstruction, which typifies “Malaysia Uncorporated” rather than “Malaysia Incorporated”.
Penang is well placed to promote close trade and economic relationships with China, and before Dr. Lim Chong Eu makes his China visit, he should convince the Federal Government to give his mission free hand to promote such a relationship, which will not only benefit Penang but also Malaysia.
Penang Government the most inefficient in implementing the Federal Government low-cost privatization policy of 80,000 units a year
The Government has emphasized that it these difficult times, it would enhance efficiency and improve productivity with existing manpower and resources. The government’s promise of greater efficiency, however, had remained more promise.
The best example of the government’s incompetence and inefficiency is its failure to implement the Federal Government’s ‘Programe Khas’ for building low-cost housing units. In the Yang di-Pertua’s Address, the State Government said that it is making the necessary preparations for the signing the arrangements with successful developers for the privatization of low-cost housing projects, in line with the Federal Government’s ‘Programme Khas’ for building 80,000 low-cost housing units all over the country for the next three years.
The State Government is misleading the people of Penang if it meant that the Federal Government;s three-year programme for building 80,000 low-cost units a year is from 1987-1989, for in actual fact, this programme was announced in November 1985 by the then Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Musa Hitam, and for implementation for 1986-1988.
If Penang is one of the foremost states in implementing Federal Government programmes, it should have built its quota of the privatized low-cost housing, which is 80,000 a year, for the year 1986, instead of just about to sign agreements with private developers to implement the ‘Programme Khas’ – 10 months after it was to be implemented.
Other States had already started implementing the Federal Government programme to build 80,000 low-cost units by privatization throughout the country every year for three years from 1986-1988. what is the reason for Penang being one of the last to most, if not the most, inefficient in this low-cost housing programme?
In fact, I understand the Penang State Government had been one of the earliest state governments to talk about privatization of low-cost housing, going way back to 1983 and 1984. Why is it the first to talk and the last to act?
It is feared that the delay of the Penang State Government to implement the privatization of low-cost housing has now jeopardized the entire privatization programme, as the economic recession has worsened, and purchasing power has been further slashed, what with $1.6 billion of savings of the small-timers being locked up and frozen in the 24 deposit-taking co-operatives. Is this the reason why the signing the government on the low-cost privatized these forced for Oct. 4 had been postponed, and face even more delays?
The Penang State Government has not shown sufficient urgency and seriousness in making housing its priority problem, when we consider that there are some 60,000 applicants for low-cost housing.
A question the State Government should answer is whether the really poor and homeless could even afford the $25,000 privatised low-cost housing under these terribly difficult economic times. It is unlikely that the really poor can benefit from the privatized low-cost housing priced at $25,000.
The Penang State Government must assume responsibility to provide low-cost housing for the really poor, by subsidizing the poor with low-cost housing.
The Penang State Government has accumulated a huge Land Bank which should be released at nominal price for subsidized low-cost housing for the poor.
The Federal Government had announced various incentives to encourage low-cost housing, but the Penang State Government had not acted on them. I understand there are developers in Penang who want to build low-cost housing, but the absence of clear guidelines for low-cost housing in Penang has placed obstacles in their way and dampened their enthusiasm.
In the Penang State Government, for instance, prepared to waive or reduce conversion fee for change of land use from agricultural purpose to low-cost housing?
I understand that the Federal Government requires every State Government to establish a Task Force for the ‘Programme Khas’ for the 80,000 low-cost houses by privatization, each year, but Penang has not set up such a Task Force yet. Why such a year-long delay?
The State Government urged the people “to fully understand the Government’s commitment to meet their housing needs. They must be patient and co-operate with the Government so that the Government’s programmes of housing can reach the people in a fair and orderly manner.”
Unless the State Government can explain to the people of Penang its dismal performance in implementing the Special Programme for 80,000 low-cost houses a year by privatization, it cannot convince them that it is really committed to resolve the acute housing problem in Penang.
I will come to the PDC flats later, as I want to continue with the theme of government bureaucracy and red tape, which impedes development, hampers economic activity, and stifles economic recovery.
I have received complaints from developers, about arbitrary rules and conditions imposed by Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang on development plans. Developers are told that their lay-out plans for development cannot be considered because of various studies, which nobody knows whether they are being pursued or not. The propriety and legality of such rejection of development plans by the Council on such vague and dubious grounds is highly suspect.
In one case, in the area bounded by Transfer Road, Burmah Road and Futteon Lane, which had been frozen under notice of intended government Acquisition in the 1970s as it was considered as a possible site for KOMTAR. The notice was lifted in late 70s or early 1980s, and a plan was submitted by a private landowner, but was told that the plan cannot be considered as the area was under ‘comprehensive plan study’. Surely, the public are entitled to know what is this ‘comprehensive plan study’ which entitled the Council to reject development plans. Isn’t this an illegal exercise of Council power?
In another case, a lay-out plan for a 16-storey building in George Town was submitted in March 1983, resubmitted with amendments in January 1984, and in December 1985, the developer was informed that the lay-out plan could not be considered because of the Penang Island Structural Plan Survey.
In this case, the lay-out plan had taken about two years and three months for rejection on the ground of pending Structural Plan Survey for Penang Island, which is not only unjust, but inefficient.
In third case, the Council arbitrarily imposed a maximum height five-storey building for the frontage of Chualia Street, which is contrary to the existing building regulations on plot ratio for commercial buildings, allegedly to present a uniform skyline. What is the legality of such ruling, and why wasn’t it made public.
Another ‘study’ which is used to reject development plans is the ‘Integrated Agricultural Development Plan’ Study for Balik Pulau, where proposals for over 2,000 housing units of the cheaper types had been rejected since the early 1980s.
Surely, the building of these houses in Balik Pulau would have helped the alleviate the housing problem in Penang, and I call on the Chief Minister to explain why housing development in Balik Pulau is disallowed.
Is Penang Bridge Falling Down?
While on bureaucracy, red type and inefficiency, I want to raise the subject of the safety of Penang Bridge. I have been given to understand that a recent under-sea inspection has shown faulty, bad and slipshod worksmanship in the construction of Penang Bridge. Divers have found that at least 70 out of 206 pile-caps of Penang Bridge are defective.
Over 3,000 pre-stressed piles are joined or grouted to to 206 pile-caps or ‘piers’, which support the concrete columns which hold up the Penang Bridge. As a result of faulty ‘grouting’ of the pile-caps with the piles, the cement have tore off and the bars in the piles have been exposed to sea-water, causing it to rust and form layers of oxide, and attracting considerable marine growth. Over a period of time, this would lead to expansion of the reinforcement bar, which will crack the reinforced concrete in the piling, undermining its structural strength and affecting its bearing load.
If these defects are not properly rectified, they can lead to structural defect of the Penang Bridge in 50 or 60 years time, and we know what happens when there is a structural defect in the tragedy of the New World Hotel in Singapore which suddenly collapsed.
Engineers are shocked that such defects in the pile-caps can take place so soon after the completion of Penang Bridge, which can only mean bad workmanship by the Korean contractors, Hyundai, and poor supervision by the consultants, HNTB/JK (SEA). The defects are not the result of normal wear and tear.
I understand that the Malaysian Highway Authority (Lembaga Lebuhraya Malaysia) has still retained the final 5 per cent of $25 million for Hyundai’s contract price for the construction of the Penang Bridge. The Korean contractor must be required to rectify the defect regardless of cost, and this rectification must be supervised by a third party as both the contractors and the consultants had been found wanting.
I understand Hyundai is prepared to pay only $500,000 for the rectification of the defective pile-caps, when it should cost about $3 million.
We want the Penang Bridge to last hundreds of years, and not to start falling down after 50 or 60 years. The Penang State Government should take a direct interest with the Federal Government by appointing a third-party inspection team to ensure that the remedy work for the defective Penang Bridge pile-caps are properly carried out.
Call on Penang State Government to advance $250,000 as a loan for reviving Sing Pin Jih Pao and save the 47-year-old daily from closure.
The Yang di-Pertua referred twice in his Speech to Rukunegara as the basis and guidance for all Malaysians in nation building. The Rukunegara have five end and five principles, and one of the ends is to “ensure a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural traditions.”
In the spirit of Rukunegara, therefore, I propose that the Penang State Government advance $250,000 as a loan reviving Sing Pin Jih Pao and save the 47-year-old daily from closure.
Yesterday, all Assemblymen received a petition from the Defend Sing Pin Jih Pao Action Committee, representing the over 300 employees, asking for support from the Assemblymen in the Sing Pin Jih Pao crisis which had stopped publication for 16 days since Sept. 29.
Sing Pin Jih Pao is not an ordinary business undertaking, but a cultural institution, not only of the Penang Chinese but of the entire Malaysian society. If we are to build a united Malaysian nation, then the life or death of any economic community’s cultural institution must also be regarded as the life or death of a Malaysian cultural institution.
Sing Pin Jih Pao is part of the Penang heritage, and to allow Sing Pin Jih Pao to die, is to allow part of Penang to die!
In this connection, I call on the Penang State Government to form a Special Committee to consider how, with $250,000 loan advance from the State Government, an iterim and long-term scheme could be worked out to save Sing Pin Jih Pao from closure.
Here, I want to ask the Sing Pin Jih Pao proprietor, Datuk Lim Kheng Kim: “Lim Kheng Kim, where are you? Come forward, and tell the public whether you can save Sing Pin Jih Pao personally, or surrender your propriety right to the Chinese community to find a salvage plan.”
I want here to repeat my warning to Malayan Banking not to be the first bank to close down a Chinese newspaper in Malaysia, and that it should not complicate and aggravate the Sing Pin Jih Pao crisis by either terminating the services of the over 300 employees of the daily or putting it into liquidation.
Eight Proposals for making Penang the front-line state in Malaysian Politics
I have eight proposals for making Penang the front-line state in Malaysian politics, to set the lead and provide the beacon for political changes and reforms, which will be beneficial not only to Penang but the entire nation.
1. Public Declaration of Assets by all Assemblymen
The Yang di-Pertuan reminded all Assemblymen of their “task of providing the leadership to build a united, self-reliant and disciplined society.”
In Keeping with the government’s motto of ‘Leadership by Example’, and to restore local and foreign confidence in the integrity of public leaders in Malaysia, the DAP proposes that all Assemblymen, including the Chief Minister and Executive Members, should regularly declare publicity their assets and that of their next of kin. They should not only declare their assets, but also their loans and indebtedness, for the $20 million loan a Deputy Minister is as relevant as his assets.
2. Elect Dr. Chandra Muzaffar as Penang Senator to start Dewan Negara reforms
The second proposal is that the Penang Assembly should take the first step to initiate Dewan Negara reforms, to stop it from being a rubbish dump for political rejects. Penang must send to the Senate a eminent son of Penang, who will do Penang and Malaysia proud because of his idealism, integrity and independence. Dr. Chandra Muzaffar’s appointment as a Senator for Penang would add luster not only to the Dewan Negara but also to the Penang Assembly, and I hope the Penang Chief Minister could give serious consideration to my proposal that the Aliran President should be elected Penang State Senator to fill the vacancy in Penang.
3. Penang State Government should make representation to Federal Government to elect State Senators by direct voting of the electors.
Penang State Assembly and Government should take the lead to have Senators directly elected by the voters in the State.
Article 45(4)(b) provides that the State Senators may be elected by direct vote of the electors of the State by ordinary parliamentary legislation.
Penang State Assembly should formally resolve to have direct elections for its State Senators, whether other states wish to follow suit or not. This will make Senators representatives of the people, instead of being sinecure.
4. Appointment of Specialist Committees in the Assembly to enable Assemblymen to specialize and be more knowledgeable and authoritative in their respective fields
The Penang Assembly should form Specialist Committees so that Assemblymen could specialize and be more knowledge and authoritative in their respective fields. This will make for a higher standard of Assembly debate and political maturity in Penang.
5. Appointment of an Ombudsman to inquire into all administrative injustices, wrongs and inefficiency
Complaints of administrative injustice, wrongs and inefficiency where the ordinary rakyat is bullied and pushed from pillerar to the past have become very widespread. This problem should be dealt with by the appointment of an Ombudsman. The Ombudsman should have the power to investigate into all complaints of administrative injustice, wrong and inefficiency which will definitely make for a better, more responsive and responsible civil service.
6. Restoration of elected Municipal Council
The decade-long system of the appointment of Municipal, District and local councilors have proved most unsatisfactory in that the local ratepayers have no way to participate in the process of local government.
Councilors are not elected by the ratepayers, which make them unresponsive, irresponsible and unaccountable to the public.
A democratically-elected Municipal-Council is superior to a nominated system, in fostering grass-roots democracy to enable the people to participate in their local government.
The Penang State Assembly and Government should summit a representation to the Federal Government to allow Penang State to be the first State to return to the elective system for Municipal Government.
7. Assignment of nominated Municipal Councillors to specific constituencies in the Municipality
Until elections are restored to Municipal government, the nominated Councillors should be assigned responsibility to specific constituency in the Municipally, so that ratepayers who have problems can go direct to the Councillor assigned to their mepeelive area.
At the present, the nominated Councillors have no area or constituency responsibilities, and as a result, is responsible for nothing or to nobody, except to those who appointed them. This is most undemocratic, unsatisfactory and gross waste of public funds.
8. Establishment of a Centre for the Promotion of the universal values of the great religions in Malaysia
Tuan Yang di-Pertua hoped that the people of Penang will develop their spiritual strength and religious beliefs in accordance with the tenets of the Rukunegara. Penang is ideal site to establish a Centre for the Promotion of the universal moral and spiritual values of the great religious in Malaysia, so that Malaysians will develop a common value system which will be the basis for bringing Malaysians of all races, religious, languages and cultures together into one common nationhood. This will be a great service which Penang can play in Malaysian nation building.
Call on PDC to refund similar deductions for PDC flat-buyers as earlier buyers
My college, the Assemblyman for Pangkalan Kota, Teoh Teih Huat, would be speaking on the demand of PDC flat-buyers for refund of their purchase price of PDC flats at Mecallum Street Ghaut, Bayang Baru, Sebarang Jaya and Sungai Ara in line with the reduction of PDC flats and houses by between $5,000 and $33,500 in January this year.
All I want to stress is that justice and equity demand that the PDC and the State Government accede to their just demands, for the PDC purchases cannot be said to have bought in a free and open market. PDC acted in trust of the lower income groups, holding out that it has built houses with social motive to meet the housing needs and not to profiteer.
It is now clear that the PDC had been making a huge ‘hidden profit’ from the sale of its flats and houses. If the houses at Permatang Damar Laut could be built at $17,900 per unit by the State Government, why couldn’t PDC build its houses or flats al less than $25,000, especially as PDC got cheap nominal land from the State Government.
I am sure if Dr. Lim Chong Eu had been a PDC flat purchaser in December 1985, he would feel greatly aggrieved is the price of a similar type in the same block or area is reduced from between $5,000 to $33,500 two weeks a month later.
I call on the PDC and the State Government to refund the balance of the purchase price to the purchasers, or allow an independent inquiry to ascertain what is the real cost of the PDC flats and houses, and whether the PDC had made a great hidden profit from the earlier batch of purchasers.
Call on Government to review the Balik Pulau IADP to stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars to keep padi farmers in poverty, but should help them convert to more remunerative crops
Under the Balik Pulau Sebarang Prai Integrated Agricultural Development Project (IADP), the government is expected to spend $233 million from 1983-1998.
According to an Agricultural Ministry Survey in 1983 and by Consultants Binnie and Associates in 1983, 21% of the padi farmers gets an income of less than $100 a month, and 45.6% of them come from Balik Pulau.
As a sizable chunk of the $233 million in the 15-year IADP plan for Balik Pulau Sebarang Prai is to go for upgrading the present irrigation facilities of the padi schemes, the question that must be asked is whether the government is going to continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to keep the padi farmers in poverty.
The Penang Island Structure Plan Study Technical Report No. 7 on Agriculture has very revealing finding on padi farming in Balik Pulau, where it said:
“Abandment of padi land over the past 10 years had been widespread. Most of the padi areas practice single cropping. Double cropping is only done in Sunagai Burong.
“For an average farm of about 0.8 ha, the returns with double cropping would be only about $1,970 per annum for an owner-operated holding. If hired labour costs are included, and for tenant farmers the net returns would be much less. Incomes for single cropping would be expected to be even lower. Even with aduitional income that a padi smallholders receives from the price subsidy and the fertilizer subsidy, the farmer’s earning can barely keep his household above poverty level.”
The government has already spent millions of dollars on pilot padi mini estate schemes in Sebarang Prai, and experimental padi scheme in Sungai Burong, Balik Pulau, meeting with failures.
The government should stop its strategy to trap the padi farmers in Balik Pulau and Sebarang Prai in perpetual poverty to produce high-cost, low-quality domestic rice, but should help the Malay farmers to convert to more remunerative crops, like vegetable gardening, orchard fruits, etc.
Otherwise, the IADP is merely to keep the padi farmers ‘barely above poverty level.”