CAN Penang Chief Minister (CM) 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 CM 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 CM for the second term. Nevertheless, Chow’s re-nomination did not prevent the purge of six state assemblymen 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 CM in functional terms remains to be established.
I subsequently resigned from 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 that the CEC’s decision went against the democratic decision making of the Penang DAP state committee.
Umech Land controversy
Anyway, Chow is hardly in office for few months in the second term that there are already rumours that he might be replaced.
In an event 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 Penang Development Corporation’s (PDC) 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 sales & purchase (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.
Land sale controversy won’t vanish overnight
There were allegations that Umech Land in selling the majority shares (70% to Sunway could have sold the land far above the buying or original price.
Chow as the PDC chairman 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 which have been the source of public concerns.
Chow could only give instructions to PDC to come out with a report on the conduct of land sales and the criteria used.
This is hardly a way to reform the PDC – a bloated and unresponsive state agency that is considered to industrial land development in Penang.
Meanwhile, with the support of members of the Penang executive council (EXCO), Chow has threatened to initiate legal suit against Tan Sri Tan Kok Peng who is the PCCC advisor 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.
But 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 CM 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, by not instituting mechanisms of checks and balances, Chow 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. Being a scare commodity in Penang, land requires 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? – Oct 22, 2023
Former deputy chief minister II of Penang and ex-Perai state assemblyman Prof Ramasamy Palanisamy was also a former Penang Development Corporation (PDC) board member.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.