Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The real challenge is to root out bad hats

100 days in office: The real challenge is to root out bad hats
By : Sharanjit Singh

Penang's new Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng talks to SHARANJIT SINGH about his first three months.

Q: What has the state government achieved so far?

A: We have achieved much since we took over. We started off by:

- cancelling summonses issued before March 8;

- implementing open tenders, subject to the provision that all projects below RM200,000 would be limited to Class F contractors by rotation;
- a new land reform policy that allows people to take back ownership of their land;

- cutting down on expenses by cancelling orders for new cars, saving us over RM600,000; and

- cutting down on travelling cost of state government officials, for example taking economy class flights, deluxe rooms instead of suites and holding functions at government complexes. We also cater food from small entrepreneurs to give them a chance to earn some money.

We have asked the Welfare Department to distribute disaster relief to victims within 24 hours of any fire or flood. We have also given free rice to the poor for the first time and we are going to give some 100,000 households RM100 each as a one-off payment to help them after the fuel price increase.

It is going to cost the state RM10 million. The crime rate in Penang has also dropped by two per cent in the first five months compared with last year.

Q: How has life changed for you?

A: Well, it is now easier to get journalists to cover my press conferences. I also don't have much opportunity to go out for a drink nowadays. First of all, it makes me tired and then there is the issue of sensitivity. It is difficult and not nice to deal with civil servants with alcohol on your breath the next day. I have become very dull and boring... no time for football or golf, also.

Q: What are some of the major challenges you have faced?

A: There have been many, right from the start. We faced challenges when we announced that we were going for the open tender system. When we managed to get investors to come here, we were also challenged.

Q: How are you dealing with the high expectations that people have of you?

A: It is something we have to deal with, but we have to work within parameters. The civil service has to adjust to us just as we have to adjust to them. The real challenge is to root out the bad hats. This is a process of transition, adjustment, accommodation so that we can move as one team to forge ahead.

Q: What is the financial status of the state government?

A: We have some money as we have been implementing cost-cutting measures. It has helped as it goes right down to the civil service. The financial situation is a bit better than before. I think we will be able to reduce the RM35 million budget deficit.

Q: How much do you depend on federal funds?

A: We hope they will continue to commit funds to us. We can manage on our own, but without federal funding, it will make life tougher. We have to find a way... life always finds a way and Penangites, too, will find a way.

Q: There is the perception that the Pakatan Rakyat state government is still operating with an opposition mentality and critics say you are looking for cheap publicity. What do you have to say about this?

A: How can anyone say publicity about the state government is cheap publicity? The yardstick to measure cheap publicity is whether the announcements we make are for the benefit of the people. If you say I seek cheap publicity, then I would be holding press conferences non-stop.

Whenever I issue statements, it is always because you reporters ask me to respond to certain things. After you write it, you come here and tell me I am seeking cheap publicity... this is not right. Please lah... I help you (journalists) to carry out your duties and now you accuse me. You cannot expect me to keep quiet when it concerns issues that matter to the people.

Q: There have been a lot of accusations about land irregularities. What is happening?

A: There was an investigation by my deputy (deputy chief minister I Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin). He will be submitting a report on July 1. The Anti-Corruption Agency has also conducted an investigation and they found no evidence.

We are not happy with the ACA findings. It (land irregularities) has caused heavy losses to this administration. We are wondering why all these excesses happened. Some cases are already in court... it will take time, but ultimately everyone will know.

Q: You have been talking about the C.A.T. (competency, accountability and transparency) governance system. How has it been translated into action?

A: We are the first government to implement principles of C.A.T. - which are actually international norms. We have chosen the best to ensure we can be on top of the rest, regardless of race, religion, gender or political affiliation. That is why we are willing to chose people from across the political divide. We are not asking you to abandon your political party or leave it. We are just asking you to serve the people.

It is being done in the West, for example in the United States. Whether you are a Republican or Democrat, if you are selected to serve, you just do it. I don't know if we will succeed, but I would rather fail trying than fail to try.

Q: Some big development projects were approved by the previous state government despite objections and claims of irregularities by some non-governmental organisations. You have said that you sympathise with the NGOs, but your hands are tied. How do you reconcile these concerns with your apparent helplessness about these projects?

A: The NGOs had sent their objections to the Appeals Board, but later withdrew their complaint. So no irregularities were proven. They also did not lodge a police report. When I asked to look into the files to check if there were irregularities... nothing.

I can only review the project if there is evidence of mala fide. On the rezoning of the Penang Global City Centre project, if you cannot prove mala fide, it is also going to cost us a lot. As much as we would like to do some things, we are also bound by the legal questions. We have to work within the legal framework. It is going to cost the people of Penang.

Q: What is the status of projects like the Penang Outer Ring Road (PORR) and other infrastructure projects like the monorail?

A: The Federal Government has promised many projects for Penang and we are still waiting. However, PORR is not on the table right now due to unresolved issues between the Federal Government and a company that was involved in the project. As for the monorail, it is also a federal project and we have to wait for them to deliver it to us.

Q: How are you addressing the public transport issues?

A: Public transport takes time as we need to have the necessary permits which come under the Federal Government, but we are trying to work out ways to reduce congestion.

No comments: