Thursday March 15, 2012
An old man and street fighter lock horns
By JOCELINE TAN
Penang NGOs helped propel DAP and its partners to victory in 2008 but a leading NGO is now at loggerheads with Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.
PENANG Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng apparently does not fancy being referred to as a street fighter.
He told a Chinese newspaper that he does not like the term which has often been used to describe his political style. Who can blame him? It does not look good for the leader of a state government to have a reputation as a street fighter.
Despite this, Lim’s latest fight, for want of a better word, is with one of Penang’s most famous “fighters”, namely, S.M. Mohamed Idris, the iconic president of the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP).
Lim has fought many battles and people but his altercation with Idris, known among friends as “Uncle Idris”, saw jaws drop among many in the Penang NGO circle. The Chief Minister and the CAP president have been at odds with each other and it all began over the issue of mega projects in the state.
Lim is a man in a hurry to make his mark before he seeks a fresh mandate in Penang. He has been making one big development announcement after another, the bigger the more it is bound to impress.
Idris obviously thinks that Lim is playing God. He is aghast that projects of such huge social and environmental impact are being announced just like that, without any sort of consultation with stakeholders. He has naturally lashed out at the state government.
Lim has not taken well to the criticism. He claimed to respect Idris but, at the same time, he had called Idris an “old man” who was forgetful of details and said this was not the first time that Idris had made a mistake about the state’s development proposals.
Idris, on the other hand, suggested the politician seemed blinded by power, that he did not understand the meaning of public consultation and warned that “it is dangerous when autocracy dictates a governing style”.
Penang NGOs had helped propel DAP and its partners to power in 2008 and the fallout between the two men, according to some, marks some sort of turning point in Penang politics.
CAP is not the force that it was in the 1980s and 1990s but its stand on the way development projects are being drawn up has the support of many other NGOs in the state.
Some of Lim’s proposals make sense, like building a new township in Batu Kawan where the second link is located. But some are pure fiction, for example, his story that RIM, the manufacturer of Blackberry phones, would be investing in Penang.
Lim has become the darling of Penang developers but most of his development proposals have stirred controversy, be it the plan to build a subterranean convention centre on the island or selling prime state land to a private developer.
But the one that made everyone, particularly Idris, sit up and take notice was Lim’s plan for some RM8bil worth of infrastructure projects comprising an undersea tunnel linking the island and the mainland, plus three highways on the island.
The projects were to resolve the traffic congestion on the island but for many people, it sounded like a scheme that would bring more traffic onto the island, making it even more unliveable. To rub salt to Idris’ hurt, Lim described these projects as a “bonus” for the Penang people.
Idris’ contention is that projects of such mega scale have to be carefully thought out and from his NGO perspective, there should be consultation with groups and the people who are affected.
In Lim’s view, a discussion about these issues amounts to a consultation but to Idris, a discussion is but a discussion. Moreover, the NGOs think that Lim should not pre-empt a transportation masterplan that will be ready next year.
“Guan Eng would have been at the forefront of protests against development plans like this a few years ago. Now he is criticising people for objecting,” said former Gerakan assemblyman Teng Chang Yeow.
But a Penang DAP official said Idris likes to make statements without doing his homework.
“We know who CAP is. They do not have many members, they make a lot of noise. We know where their funds come from and where it is parked but we don’t want to bring them down. But for them to lock horns with the government of the day, they have everything to lose and nothing to gain. They should just do their work and we run the Government,” said the official.
Idris is also just finding out what objecting to the DAP entails. He was visibly shocked by the racist remarks and ugly comments by DAP cybertroopers on the Internet. Reporters at his press conference said he was almost overcome by emotion.
Welcome to the world of DAP politics, Uncle Idris! DAP supporters and cybertroopers accuse Umno of being racist and arrogant but their own brand of racism and attacks against any form of criticism often put the Umno side to shame.
For someone who has spent much of his political career objecting and opposing, Lim does not take well to being contradicted or criticised and people in his own party have been sidelined for questioning his tunnel-and-highways mega scheme and replaced by more compliant officials.
But he is the king of the hill. He is convinced Penang people will go along with his big ideas. In an interview with a Chinese newspaper, he said that 90% of Chinese and Indians in Penang would vote for his party.
As one Penang lawyer noted, Penangites, especially the Chinese, still have an axe to grind with Umno and in their eyes, Lim can do no wrong. This and the overwhelming power that his party secured in Penang is what is making him so confident, perhaps too confident for the comfort of the NGOs who want a say in Penang’s future.
Idris, with his trademark beard and white cotton jippa, has fried bigger fish than the likes of Lim. But he is learning that Lim is a different kettle of fish altogether.
‘Lim rude and arrogant’