On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

All that fuss over an overseas trip

It is obvious that those left out were not prepared to
fork out their own money for the trip because if they were ready to do so, they
could have attended the conference.

State Executive Councillor Dr Teng Hock Nan, in an attempt to rationalise the
situation, advised the others to wait their turn.

Dr Teng, who heads the Local Government, Environment and Traffic Management
Committee, said that only councillors who had served more than three years were
allowed to go on overseas study trips.

These councillors were also unhappy that only four island councillors went for
the conference, compared with 12 of their counterparts from Seberang Prai who
went on another junket trip in Fremantle 
the twin city of Seberang Prai.

Dr Teng revealed that both councils requested for all 24 councillors to be
allowed to visit the cities.

Some common sense prevailed when the state government reduced the number of

Taxpayers in Penang have a right to know whether the trips were at the expense
of the two Australian cities.

If it wasn't, then how much will the two trips cost Penangites, who are already
grumbling about council taxes.

No one can deny that overseas trips will expose our councillors to the ways of
administering a modern city.

We do not want our councillors to have a katak di bawah tempurung (country
bumpkin) outlook, with over-confident Malaysia Boleh (can-do) attitude, when
they could learn from others in more advanced cities.

Such exchange of views encourages networking among councillors and is vital for
cooperation between the cities.

By attending conferences, the councillors will appreciate better the importance
of modern city planning.

But there has to be accountability and a social sense of responsibility. The
country's economic crisis may be over but it does not mean that local
authorities can freely send their councillors on junket trips.

According to Dr Teng, the ministry circular states that study trips are only
allowed for the councils' twin cities.

Circulars may not be very popular in this age of information technology, but
there is at least something on record to remind councillors of existing

Relations between Penang and Adelaide have always been unique. Captain Francis
Light founded Penang in 1786 while his son, William, discovered Adelaide 50
years later.

Some of the younger councillors may not be aware that in 1975, a delegation
which included hawkers visited the city on a promotion tour. The Penang
hawkers  with their char koay teow and
satay  were a hit Down Under, not the

An Adelaide Week was in turn organised by the state government in Penang where
the same controversy arose: how much did the affair cost Penangites?

The Australians, according to reports, met most of the expenditure of RM750,000
of their goodwill visit including hotel accommodation.

Ties between the two cities were at a all-time high during that period.

The premier then, the late Don Dunstan, was married to a Penangite. He often
began his speech in Bahasa Malaysia and ended with kam siah (thank you) in

Over the past three decades, much has been achieved between the two cities,
particularly in terms of people-to-people relations and tourism arrivals.

But councillors must know that city folk do become more demanding, not only for
efficient services from their local authorities but also greater

As our councillors are political appointees, the public will judge them for
their commitment in handling constituency services.

It is a training and testing ground for those with political ambitions.
Penangites should remember them for their services and not the scrambling for a
place in an overseas trip.

If there is going to be any similar tale from the two cities, this is likely to
be the one.