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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Neo-Colonisation Or Neo-Liberation?

by Zairil Khir Johari

Did you just say what I thought you did?

It is back to the grind as the Penang State Assembly gets underway, as does the UMNO-BN’s theatrical onslaught on the State Government.

Last week, they managed to round up a motley group of protesters ostensibly comprising angry Malay residents from Balik Pulau and a member or three from the BN-friendly Parti Cinta Malaysia, a party made up of disgruntled former members of the DAP and the once-relevant ‘political NGO’ called Gerakan (I posit that a political party with unelected nominees in government more closely resembles an NGO than a political party proper).

Their grouse this time? Over an area of land in Balik Pulau that has been allocated for the development of an educational hub. Of course, it was invariably portrayed as yet another case of the sacrilegious ‘Chinese government’ cruelly robbing the ‘poor Malay peasant’ of his land and rights.

As always, facts play no part in their campaign of blind vilification. It makes no matter that only 21% of the land acquired was Malay land (corresponding to a whopping 2 Malay families), the rest belonging to non-Malays. In any case, as the Chief Minister explained, the racial aspect of land ownership was never even a consideration! But there you go, just another round of racialised rhetoric from an opposition bankrupt of ideas.

During yesterday’s State Assembly session however, UMNO had the temerity to deny involvement in last week’s protest, conveniently ignoring the fact that Penang UMNO Youth Leader Norman Dahlan had been fussing about at the scene, proudly proclaiming that he was there to return ‘a portion’ of the money that they had recently stolen from the poor in their constituencies.

True heroes and nationalists, this lot. They are indeed the saviours of their race, as evident by a recent statement by the Minister Zahid Hamidi, Chief Hero of UMNO Penang:

“I am confident that together we can free the people of Penang from the clutches of the neo-colonisation spearheaded by the DAP under (chief minister) Lim Guan Eng,” he said.

Neo-colonisation? Really? That’s a very bold statement by the Hon. Minister. Surely he wouldn’t have made such an accusation unless it was factually based. Let us assume it is, and let us examine these facts for ourselves to see how the unfortunate people of Penang have been oppressed by their ‘colonial master’ over the last two years:

*The Penang state Budgets for 2008 and 2009 were turned from deficits to surplus budgets.

*Not good enough? Even the local council, Majlis Perbandaran Seberang Perai, was able to achieve an average surplus of RM23 million a year since 2008. Compare this to an average deficit of RM28 million a year over the last 8 years prior to 2008.

*What about rising state coffers? For two years running, Penang has declared record collections of RM1 billion in 2008 and RM1.1 billion in 2009. Penang had never crossed the RM1 billion mark prior to 2008.

*Senior Penangites above the age of 60 now receive RM100 a year, while families of senior Penangites who pass away receive RM1,000 in compassionate bequest. All this made possible from administrative savings (gasp, did I mention the S word?).

*Let’s not forget the Malays, who have now been ‘colonised’. They have been further oppressed by a monumental increase in the budget allocated to Islamic welfare, from RM12.5 million in 2008 to RM20.5 million in 2009 and RM24.3 million in 2010.

*And then, there’s also the obscure fact that Penang has managed to eradicate hardcore poverty.

*Last but not least, the neo-colonial government of Penang has also punished its people (or maybe just a few previously well-connected cronies?) by being the first state in Malaysia to implement a public open tender system.

So, all in all, the Pakatan Rakyat Government of Penang has indeed been disastrous! Open tenders, greater transparency, less wastage of public funds, administrative savings (surely it can’t be true), money actually being returned to the rakyat (shameful) and the end of hardcore poor families. Achieved, I must add, in spite of an uncooperative Federal Government and a pack of opposition troublemakers hell-bent on besmirching the State Government with no fidelity whatsoever to the truth.

A tyrannical regime indeed. I ask the Minister: is this what you mean by neo-colonialism? It appears to me that the people of Penang have in fact been liberated by the change in government.

Neo-colonisation? More like Neo-liberation. Our country has had enough of the former. Let’s liberate the rest of Malaysia.

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