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Is Penang CM Chow under siege?

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COMMENT BY PROF DR.P.RAMASAMY,
FORMER DEPUTY CHIEF MINISTER II, PENANG

Is Penang CM Chow under siege?
Can the Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow remain in office for the remainder of the second five year term? Is it true that there is an opposition to remove him from office?

Chow was the chief minister for the first five year term.

Before the recent state elections, there were rumours of his replacement.
However, before the rumours became unmanageable, the DAP national leadership announced that Chow would be the candidate to be the chief minister for the second term.

However, Chow’s renomination did not prevent the purge of six state assembly men from being dropped from contesting, including me.

The party leaders called this as a rejuvenation exercise, but I called it a political purge.

A political purge of those who were seen to be aligned with Chow. Whether we were aligned to Chow in terms of loyalty or to the chief minister in functional terms remains to be established.

I subsequently resigned from the DAP and all state government posts.
Chow never defended those who were aligned with him.
In the aftermath of the state election in Penang, he had the temerity to say that the DAP central executive committee (CEC) made the right decision in the selection of the candidates in Penang.

It didn’t occur to him that he was hardly consulted and the CEC’s decision went against the democratic decision making of the Penang DAP state committee.

Anyway, Chow is hardly in office for few months in the second term that there are already rumours that he might be replaced.

In function a few days ago, Chow himself talked about the opposition to him and urged members to support him so that he could focus on his job.

However, later when he was pressed for the details about the opposition to him, he said that he was taking about the situation before the recent state elections.
Whether there was genuine opposition to his stewardship of Penang or whether he was “crying wolf” remains to be seen.

Whether Chow’s reference of opposition to him was related to the controversial PDC’s land sale to Umech Land is difficult to say.

Anyway, related or not, the rumours of the opposition to Chow coincided with the PDC’s controversial land sale to a company called Umech Land.

Although the PDC board has terminated the S&P agreement between the two parties last week, many issues regarding the land sale remain hanging in the air.
As I have said before, the termination might be the proper thing to do but questions remain unanswered about why the PDC went into the land sale when the company Umech Land was not considered financially sound.

It is felt that while the PDC board cited the last minute change in share ownership of Umech Land as the reason for the termination, the land deal was defended as sound one.

This is something unacceptable because the problem is why PDC sold the 559 acres of land in Byram to Umech Land without the necessary due diligence and what is more as pointed by the Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce (PCCC) that Umech Land had no financial standing to undertake the massive industrial land development.

There were allegations that Umech Land in selling the majority shares (70 percent) to Sunway could have sold the land far above the buying or original price.

Chow as the chairman of PDC defended the PDC land sale to Umech Land as something proper and above board. But he by relying on the reports from
PDC gave feeble answers as to why the land was sold at low rate, why there was no open tender and others.

It was Chow’s uncritical defence of the land sale to Umech Land and his reluctance to appoint an independent investigation body to investigate the practice of governance in PDC have been the source of public concerns.

Chow could only give instructions to the PDC to come out with the report on the past land sales of the development agency. This hardly a way to reform the PDC, a bloated and unresponsive state agency that is considered key to industrial land development in Penang.

Meanwhile, Chow with the support of the members of the Penang executive council has threatened to initiate legal suit against Tan Kok Peng the advisor PCCC for using unsavoury words against him.

Chow might think that with the support of his Exco members and with the passage of time, the controversial land sale might become an academic issue.
He might be wrong because the land sale controversy might stubbornly persist for some time to come unless there is an acceptable closure on the matter.

Even if there was no opposition in Penang, Chow by his defence of the land sale had unwittingly given a role for the opposition.

Whether this opposition to the land sale might metamorphose into an opposition against him as the chief minister remains to be seen.  At the heart of the problem is not so much the PDC land sale, but the manner in which significant government agencies such as the PDC and others function with no sense of transparency and accountability.

Unfortunately, Chow by not instituting mechanisms of checks and balances have given state agencies such as the PDC a free hand in buying and selling state lands.

It is not just Umech Land, there have been cases of land acquisition where the aggrieved parties had gone to court to seek justice.

Given the high profile nature of the controversial land sale, Chow must be seen to act in the larger public interest. Land being scare commodity in Penang requires its optimal use.

Foreign investors who are already in Penang and those potential investors are keenly watching the developments in Penang.

If the land deal controversy is going to be swept under the carpet or there is a pretension that nothing has happened, then what message is the Penang state sending to investors.

It serves no purpose to boast about Penang’s 2030 Vision if its leadership cannot resolve the problem of governance.

It serves no purpose for Chow to take legal action against a member of the influential PCCC if the rot in the state agencies go unnoticed.

As I have said before and would reiterate again, the rot is not in the proverbial state of Denmark, but in the state agencies such as the PDC.

If Chow wants to stay in office for the rest of the term, shouldn’t he be thinking seriously about reversing the rot in the state agencies.

Why is he so reluctant to act?