The then Prime Minister cited as examples, the Botanical
Garden and Gurney Drive that had not been well maintained.
He said Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya, in comparison, had become much
Dr Mahathir made the statement after Local Government director-general Lim
Cheng Tatt said that cleanliness and maintenance in the island had deteriorated
in the past few years, so much that it had become the dirtiest place in the
Penang's problems, Dr Mahathir, said, were caused by politicking.
In his usual cynical self, he quipped: "In Kuala Lumpur, we do not have to
worry about winning elections and so we place our emphasis on cleanliness and
Chief Minister Dr Koh Tsu Koon (now Tan Sri) responded immediately, warning
that heavy penalties would be introduced if the people continued to be indifferent
and that the authorities would be very stringent against litterbugs.
Tough words but after more than a decade, nothing has changed. The same
unhappiness is being heard, the same rhetoric made to the media and almost the
same statements are being reported in the press.
The same state politicians, who had responded then, have remained oblivious to
the promises they made.
There are now younger state leaders and reporters, some of whom were still in
school and too young to remember Dr Mahathir's grouse.
And now fast forward to 2005 – on Sunday, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah
Ahmad Badawi advised Penangites to keep the state clean.
Unlike Dr Mahathir, who had a sterner tone, the more diplomatic Abdullah asked
the people not to blame the state government for its sad state of
The truth of the matter is that there has not been any significant improvement
after a decade, which is certainly long enough for any work and enforcement to
be carried out.
Penangites have either gotten used to the flash in the pan follow-up campaign
after each public outcry or become indifferent to the usual denial by
politicians and their private accusations of conspiracy by the media.
These state leaders, however, appear to only nod in agreement, when the Prime Minister
or his deputy say that the state is dirty.
Then, there would be the predictable gotong royong projects with these
politicians posing for the press to record their work.
A month or two later, it is forgotten and it is back to status quo. That is how
things have worked so far and let's not expect any radical changes now.
Just a few months ago, The Star and the New Straits Times highlighted the
problems in Penang. Then, came the tsunami tragedy, which also hit Penang, and
for a while, the subject seemed to have been washed away.
But Abdullah has brought up the matter again. He is right in saying that the
people must work with the state government but with due respect, sir, I find it
difficult to agree that the state government should not be blamed.
The state leadership, comprising of representatives from the major Barisan
Nasional component parties, must take the rap as well. That is what leadership
is all about – to lead, plan, and enforce. It must also take responsibility for
the laurels and the brickbats.
Ad hoc action against errant hawkers and litterbugs would have no effect if
there were no comprehensive system of cleaning up the state. Likewise,
enforcement is necessary if Penang is determined to make the state clean
It is good to hear Penang Municipal Council president Datuk Ahmad Phesal Taib
saying the council would soon introduce a rating system for cleanliness in
residential and commercial areas.
He also said the council would work with the Drainage and Irrigation Department
to keep the rivers and beaches clean, step up enforcement against errant
hawkers and those who obstruct five-foot ways and who double park.
A fresh input and renewed commitment is necessary to make Penang shine
Penangites must work with the state leadership even if they have plenty of
In short, we should not be negative but to stand up for Penang. Let's be
different this time.