Friday, September 15, 2006

Light At End Of Tunnel For Penang's Marginalised Malays.

News Analysis By Azeman Ariffin.

The hullabaloo over the marginalised Penang Malays died down when Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon sidestepped the issue and refused to discuss it further in the media.

"I don't want to give my reaction on whatever allegations related to the issue in the media," he told reporters who asked for further reaction from him recently.

Koh made the remarks after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi asked him to solve issues pertaining to the alienation of Malays from the state's mainstream development.

Koh, who is also Gerakan deputy president, also took the cue from Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak's suggestion that the post of Deputy Chief Minister (allocated to Umno) be empowered to enable the office-bearer to assist the Malays more effectively.

In the run-up to the development, Penang was embroiled in a political fever with Gerakan which is holding the reins of the state leadership and Umno hurling accusations and criticising each other.

At one stage, Koh wanted Umno Youth to meet Gerakan Youth for he was slighted when a group of Umno Youth members put up a banner criticising him in front of Abdullah when the Prime Minister was opening the Tanjong Umno building here last week.

Umno Youth chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein reacted by asking Koh not to set a condition before meeting Umno Youth over the issue.

However, after the intervention of Abdullah and Najib, Koh and Hishammuddin decided to refrain from using the media and instead resolve the issue through the Barisan Nasional's framework.

The marginalised Malay issue was first raised by Penang Umno Youth when it pressed for the rotation of the Penang Chief Ministership among BN component parties to enable Umno to occupy the post.

The call was quashed by Abdullah who said it was not relevant and would not be implemented while Najib added that it would not be instituted to safeguard the harmony among the component parties and races.

With the issue dissipating, Penang Umno Youth raised the issue of the Malays who were alienated in the state's development.

Tanjong Umno Youth chief Datuk Ahmad Ibni Hajar alleged that the Penang Development Corporation headed by Koh neglected the Malays in its projects.

Bukit Mertajam Umno division head Datuk Musa Sheikh Fadzir also alleged that Malays were not given preference for key posts in the Penang Water Supply Corporation, also headed by Koh.

To appease the critics, Koh announced the setting up of the two committees to resolve the issue -- the Land Development Committee and Tanjong Development Committee.

The Land Development Committee headed by Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Abdul Rashid Abdullah will identify land which can be developed by Malays while the Tanjong Development Committee headed by a state Exco member Teng Chang Yeow will recommend fair distribution of development projects in Georgetown.

Penang Umno Youth chief Salim Bari, however, was unhappy with the measures taken and instead asked the state government to draw up a masterplan for the development of the Malays and to overcome the weaknesses in the various state committees related to Malay development.

Despite Penang registering the lowest percentage of absolute poverty in the country, the state Umno Youth voiced out the disparity in incomes between Malays and Chinese.

While the Malay population in Penang is 612,300, 23,200 less than Chinese (635,500), according to the latest census, they are left behind in almost every sector. The Indians and others accounted for 91,200 of the population.

Ahmad claimed that only 18.2 per cent of Malays in the state could afford to own terrace houses, 20.7 per cent semi-detached houses, four per cent condominium units and 16.6 per cent apartments.

On the other hand, 81.9 per cent of the Chinese could afford terrace houses, 79.3 per cent semi-detached houses and 96 per cent condominium units.

The Malays could ill-afford terrace houses in Penang costing between RM300,000 and RM1 million.

In the hotel and hospitality sector, Ahmad said, only 2.4 per cent of Malays held managerial posts compared to 6.3 per cent Chinese, while in the electronics sector, only 1.8 per cent Malays occupied managerial positions compared to 28.2 per cent Chinese.

"In the manufacturing sector, hardly any Malay is an accountant or sales manager. Non-Malays who hold the key positions lack the desire to apportion contracts to Malay suppliers for their factories," he claimed.

To alleviate the problems, Abdullah in his speech recently asked for a review of the functions and policies of the state and federal governments in assisting Penang Malays.

Penang Wanita Umno chief Datuk Jahara Abdul Hamid asked government agencies such as Mara and Perda to be proactive in assisting Penang Malays.

She said while focusing on eradicating poverty in the rural areas, the agencies should also devote their attention to help the poor urban Malays.



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