Wednesday, 24 April 2013 00:00 Published in Commentary
GEORGETOWN, Malaysia — Malaysia’s opposition, with hopes for an historic victory in May 5 polls, is promising to replicate nationwide its achievements in the showcase state of Penang, where it has curbed corruption and balanced the books.
The opposition won the state in 2008 elections for the first time in a generation, launching open tenders to improve efficiency and requiring senior officials to declare their assets.
The moves have earned praise from graft watchdogs and corresponded with a doubling of investment in Penang from 2008-12 compared to the previous four years under the administration of Malaysia’s decades-old regime.
With the vote shaping up as the closest ever, the opposition says its record in Penang — a picturesque mix of British colonial architecture and Malaysia’s polyglot cultures — answers critics who say it has no experience of government.
The Barisan Nasional (National Front), which has ruled since independence in 1957, derides the three-party opposition as amateurs incapable of governing.
“What we are proud of is that we have managed to run a clean government,” said Lim Guan Eng, the northern state’s pugnacious ethnic Chinese chief minister.
“I would not say that Penang is corruption-free but I think we are the cleanest state in terms of administration in the country,” Lim, 52, told AFP.
Surveys rank corruption as a top public concern, making Penang’s example a potent weapon as many voters are abandoning Barisan over graft, authoritarianism and divisive racial politics.
“It is a good showcase as a place where reacting against bad governance actually gave results,” said Ooi Kee Beng, who studies Malaysian politics for Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
But replicating that success nationally is a far greater challenge for the Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact) opposition alliance led by Anwar Ibrahim, a former top Barisan leader until his ouster and jailing in a 1998 power struggle.
The line between government and business has long been blurred under Barisan. Huge government contracts are still often awarded behind closed doors, factors that economists say weaken economic competitiveness.
Prime Minister Najib Razak has targeted corruption as a major threat, though observers say his anti-graft record is modest at best.
“Quite simply, a failure to eradicate corruption will harm our democratic and economic progress,” Najib told AFP in emailed comments.
A Pakatan federal government would inherit institutions such as an anti-graft commission weakened by Barisan, said Josie Fernandez, secretary general with Transparency International’s Malaysia chapter.
“It will be very challenging. I think the political will is there (within Pakatan) but there should be no compromises. If you are going to really fight corruption, it should be done without fear or favor. It can be done,” she said.
The opposition comprises Anwar’s multi-racial party, a secular party dominated by ethnic Chinese — which Lim heads — and a conservative Islamic party of Muslim ethnic Malays, who make up more than half of Malaysia’s people.
They squabble occasionally over religious and social policy, raising questions over whether differences would paralyze them nationally. Pakatan parties individually control four states but have little experience at co-governing.
Pakatan leaders dismiss the worries, saying its members agree on the big picture of eliminating graft and abuse of power, and investing heavily in education and social welfare.
“We have a shot at it, which we never had in the past. We offer a real choice for the first time in Malaysian history,” said Lim, whose boyish face is topped by a crown of slicked-back hair.
Lim’s political enemies say he has benefited from the state’s declaration as a Unesco World Heritage site in 2008.
That helped draw investment and tourists to Penang, a cosmopolitan trade hub in its 19th-century heyday, whose capital Georgetown is still marked by narrow lanes winding through historic rows of Chinese-style shophouses.
Analysts say Penang’s success is a major concern for Barisan as polls near.
“Prior to 2008, no one really talked about good governance, transparency. To me this is a new vocabulary that has become commonplace,” said Francis Loh, president of independent Penang-based democratic rights group Aliran. AFP
I would like to make the strongest objection to the very unfair article the Daily Tribune put out on April 12. I went into the La Mesa project because my staff had shown me pictures of the deforestation. When I found out that the watershed was the last remaining watershed in Metro Manila and that it affected the water supply of 12 million people, I decided to go into without reservation. I felt that letting the last remaining watershed go at the turn of the century did not bode well for our future and that if together we brought it back to life the impulse of hope would be huge. Armed with this conviction, we have raised from the common tao, the business sector, government a total of P101 million for the watershed and P247 million for the Eco Park. This doesn’t include the millions of pesos of air time ABS-CBN has donated toward this cause. The Lopez family has funded a picnic area in the Ecopark — so the heading Lopez Foundation rips off the government is so below the belt.
I have had an excellent relationship with MWSS and the Quezon City government. They know how much of ourselves and AFI have put into this venture. We did it without asking anything back in return. The only thing we get is a 15 percent management fee (which is approved) and that is to cover costs. The rest of the money goes to running the park and to maintain the La Mesa Watershed. In fact the very reason we went into the La Mesa Eco Park — was that I realized I could not ask for donations forever so the idea of developing the park into a revenue generating mechanism to support the La Mesa Watershed was conceived of.
To date the La Mesa Eco Park continues to win awards. It is a haven for residents of Quezon City — getting visitors from as far as Baguio to Mindanao. It attracts hundreds of schools. We continue to supervise and maintain the park. My vision being is to set up a model of an environmental haven. On the onset I wanted an agreement that the money will go to the Watershed. Accordingly all the proceeds go to running the park and the profit goes to the La Mesa Watershed. We get nothing except a management fee.
MWSS is left with an empty bag? We put in millions of pesos worth of investment to develop and maintain MWSS property — and asked nothing back in return. Now the La Mesa watershed is completely reforested, and a once decrepit place filled with squatters is now lush. The bag looks pretty full and overflowing to me.
ABS-CBN Foundation Inc.
We stand by Tribune’s report as it was based on an official public document coming from the Commission on Audit — Editor
Universal Robina Corp. (URC) recently broke ground for its $35- million ethanol distillery plant.
The facility will produce ethanol fuel in support of the government’s efforts to reduce the country’s dependence on imported ethanol.
Located in the company’s sugar central facility in Manjuyod town in Negros Oriental, the plant will start operations in March 2014.
It will produce some 100,000 liters per day or 30 million liters of ethanol fuel each year, according to Renato Cabati, general manager of Universal Robina Sugar Milling Corp. (URSUMCO).
The distillery plant will run mostly on blackstrap molasses, a by-product of sugar.
Bioethanol is used to fuel cars in 12 countries, Cabati said, including Brazil where one third of their cars use pure bioethanol as fuel while the remaining two-thirds use a mixture of gasoline and ethanol.
In the Philippines, the Department of Energy (DoE) embarked on a bioethanol program under House Bill 4629 since 2007, which mandates blending gasoline with ethanol.
Based on their own studies, Cabati said the mandatory use of fuel ethanol blend will reduce the Philippines’ consumption of imported petroleum by up to 536 million liters a year, roughly valued at $404 million.
Sen.Franklin Drilon, who was at the ground-breaking ceremony, said the ethanol venture will support the domestic sugar industry as he hailed tycoon John Gokongwei for his dynamic leadership and pioneering spirit.
“We should have more Gokongweis in the country today!” Drilon said.
Gokongwei, the chairman emeritus of JG Summit Holdings Inc, in a statement said he was proud of what the company’s businesses in Negros have achieved.
“This (ceremony) is a truly promising start to this venture,” he said.
JG Summit is the mother company of URC, which owns three sugar mills in Negros Island.
Its two other sugar mills are the Passi Sugar Central in Iloilo and Cagayan Robina Sugar Milling Co. in Cagayan Valley.
The ethanol plant in Manjuyod is its first.
Cabati assured the public that the plant is adopting the latest technology in distillery operations and is installing the first ever Spent Wash incineration boiler in Southeast Asia which assures of an effective wastewater treatment facility.
This, he explained, is a technology developed and used in India, one of the world’s leaders in distillery operations.
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