September 2014

Address to the Full Council Meeting of MPPP

September 25, 2014

Selamat pagi dan selamat sejahtera. Dato’ YDP Patahiyah, Ir Ang Aing Thye, Ahli2 Majlis, Pengarah2 dan Ketua2 Jabatan, Para Wartawan, tuan2 dan puan2. Pagi ini saya ingin membincang mengenai isu2 kecemaran visual di Pulau Pinang. Saya minta izin membentang dalam Bahasa Inggeris

Last Thursday, a big billboard fell during a storm and crashed on a few cars in Sungei Nibong. Fortunately no one was hurt. This should serve as a wake-up call for Council to take stern action against those who are responsible for this incident and to start cleaning up the proliferation of both illegal and legal billboards, signboards, streamers and poster throughout our city. This is visual pollution; an eye sore to the public and is against efforts to create a cleaner and greener Penang.

Clear signage is important, but billboards are the height of bad taste. Many cities in the world do not allow for billboards particularly in a historic city. Even a modern city like Honolulu bans large billboards.

The main beneficiaries of billboards and signboards are the land and building owners who charge enormous fees and the advertisers. Council licensing fees collected are paltry; I am told less than RM100,000 per year. Council has removed recently 254 illegal billboards; but many more need to be removed. On top of this, Council is spending RM500,000 next year just to remove illegal posters and streamers.

Council should do the following:

  1. Clear all illegal billboards, signboards, posters and streamers and make the violators pay for the cost
  2. Start aggressively to prosecute violators to the full extent of the law to serve as examples of deterrence. Under the Local Government Act of 1976, violators can be fined not exceeding RM2000, or face a one-year jail term, or both
  3. Come out with new guidelines to control the number and the size of such boards and eventually to ban billboards
  4. Follow good practices in other cities, like Singapore and Hong Kong, that limit public advertising to street furniture such as bus shelters. This will limit visual pollution and increase the revenue of sponsors of bus shelters (show slide).
  5. Reduce and simplify our own signboards. Learn from other cities that have clear and small signboards. I show two examples – one in San Francisco and one in Melbourne. Compare these to the ones we have in Penang (show slide)

I end with showing a short presentation that was given in 2006. Unfortunately little has been done to clean up since. I hope last week’s accident Unfortunately little has been done to clean up the problem. I hope last week’s accident will serve as a call to Council to clean up the visual pollution in our city.

Thank you.


The slides from a presentation called ‘Toward Equitable Growth’ delivered at the

Asia-Pacific CSO Consultation on a Just & Transformative Development Agenda

in Bangkok, Thailand, August 23-24, 2013

Download entire presentation by clicking on link below:

Asia-Pacific CSO Consultation on a Just & Transformative Development Agenda Bangkok, Thailand August 23-24, 2013

Preservation and Destruction in Penang’s Development

At the Full Council Meeting of MPPP, 24th February 2012

In the past 12 months, we have painfully witnessed the demolition of several historic buildings, some illegally. The latest victim is a mansion at 177 Jalan Macalister, opposite Loh Guan Lye Specialist Centre.

First, I would like to request the Council to provide data on all the historically, architecturally and/or culturally significant buildings that have been demolished last year and this year, or for which demolition was approved since 2008.

Let me mention a few of these buildings that were torn down. The beautiful mansion of Khaw Bian Cheng (son of Khaw Sim Bee) at Pykett Avenue, two historic bungalows on Burma Lane, one of them once occupied by a former prime minister of Thailand, Phraya Manopakorn Nititada (1884-1948) and two bungalows along Brooks Road. Khaw Bian Cheng’s mansion was torn down without permit. In the case of the Burma Lane and Brooks Road residences, two of three buildings in each location were torn down and only one building in each location was left standing. This is not preservation. This is architectural and historical mutilation. It is like cutting off one limb and preserving the other limb.

Prime Minister Phraya Mano sought refuge in Penang island when the military launched a coup in Thailand in 1932. He lived in Penang for several years and passed away here 1948. Mano Road in Pulau Tikus is named after him. In many ways, his history is similar to that of Dr. Sun Yet Sun, who also took refuge in Penang during his struggle for Chinese independence. We are fortunate to maintain the heritage and history of Dr Sun in terms of a museum and the house where he spoke and launched his fund raising campaign. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for celebrating the history of Prime Minister Phraya Mano in Penang. The houses in which he once stayed have been demolished and an important part of the history of the Thai Malaysians in Penang has been destroyed in the pursuit of profit but under the rationale of “development”.

The present attitude is that only houses in the heritage zone, or those that are designated heritage, are protected. We need to take a more holistic view of heritage. One reason Penang was awarded the world heritage status is because of the large stock of pre-war houses in the island. It is myopic to only preserve the buildings in the core heritage zone and wantonly destroy important buildings in the buffer zones and other parts of the city. Tourists come to Penang to experience the whole city, not just the heritage zone.

Many Japanese and European visitors have commented to me their disappointment at the demolition of beautiful buildings. The building of 30 stories apartments surrounding a heritage building is not preservation; it is suffocation of heritage sites.

Show Slides of these houses.

It is convenient to justify what is happening in the name of development. As I said last year, we must be more thoughtful. We must ask the following questions:

  • What kind of development do we want?
  • Is it development that destroys our heritage and culture?
  • Is it sustainable development?
  • Is it green development or development that aggravates climate change?
  • Who benefits most from this development?
  • Who loses out in this process?
  • Is it development for the top 1% or development for the 99%?

Development must be located within a vision. What is the vision for Penang’s development? Perhaps the best way to concretize this vision is to ask ourselves what is the “model” city that best approximates our vision? I am not suggesting we copy blindly another city. But what I am suggesting is we learn from and choose what are the best characteristics to suit our own situation.

I have heard from some people and policy makers they would like Penang to model itself after Singapore and Hong Kong, both are densely populated international financial centers in the world. Are they appropriate for Penang? Might it not be more appropriate to look at a combination of Kyoto, a heritage city, and Xiamen, a city with similar characteristics in size, geography (hills and sea), and services (education, high tech and former trading ports) as models.

Let me say something about Singapore. There is much that can be said for Singapore – it is a clean, safe and a well-planned city with good public transportation system. These are some of the positive lessons we can draw from it. But we can also learn some negative lessons from it, of which I mention two. First, is Singapore in the early days of development, demolished many of its traditional houses and buildings (not necessarily heritage). They have since learned it was a mistake and are now taking pains to preserve them. We should not repeat the same mistake. Second, in their quest to make Singapore an international city, the government has swung to the extreme so that many of its local citizens are left behind in this “development” process. Despite Singapore having the best public housing schemes in the world, many of its young population feel they cannot afford housing or find good jobs. The dissatisfaction is so great that it cost the PAP government many seats in the Parliament. This could also happen to Penang if more and more middle and lower class citizens feel they are left behind in this frenzy of property development.

Finally, allow me to suggest that for the moment, we should impose a moratorium on granting approval for demolition of all buildings in the island that were built before 1962 (more than 50 years old) and have architectural value. The present list of protected buildings should be immediately made available, and a technical committee made up of qualified professionals, civil society and input from other relevant bodies be established to study this matter immediately.

Thank you for your attention.

Recycling in Penang

Waste generated in Penang statewide is estimated to be about 1,800 tons/day. From this, about 600-800 tons/day are generated from Penang Island and about 400-600 tons/day from Sbg Perai. Others are from private contractor directly disposing their waste at the landfill. All wastes are transported to Pulau Burong Landfill. The landfill is about 33 hectares in total area and it will last for the next 3 years. The landfill management is now on the process of expanding for another 28 hectares, and it is estimated to last for another 10 years. With this rate of waste generation, landfill will be filled up within 13 years and after that another landfill has to be identified.

From data available for Penang, organic waste constitutes about 40-60% of total waste and a large proportion of this is from kitchen waste, discarded food and garden waste. In order to expand the life of landfill, it is only prudent to reduce the amount of such waste going to the landfill thereby saving costs in terms of collection, transportation and treatment in the later stage. In order to achieve this, a number of measures must be considered such as diverting food waste at source and turning it into a high value resource or product. This also avoids methane emission which is a result of burying organic waste in the landfill.

The State’s Organic Waste Policy seeks to further reduce and divert solid waste from the Pulau Burung Sanitary Landfill by processing the organic waste fraction into useful by-products such as compost, bio-liquid fertilisers, refuse derived fuel (RDF). This will save the State Government cost of transfer and transportation in the long term. The long-term aim is to eventually, divert all organic waste from the landfill. The European Landfill Directive places targets on Member States to reduce the quantities of biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) going to landfill. By 2016 BMW going to landfill must be reduced to 35% of the total amount of weight of BMW produced in 1995.

In Penang, we have taken baby steps for diversion of organic waste from the landfill but it is going in the right direction. For example, in August 2011, I have used my allocation as a municipal councilor to purchase a Bio-regen machine for the Bayan Baru Hawker Complex. It has successfully been operated by the Municipal staff up till now and has processed ……………… tons of food waste material from 31 out of 141 hawker stalls (22%). This means a reduction of (0.9 x ……. = ….   ) CO2 equivalent into the atmosphere. We process about 100- 150 kg of food waste daily and this has yet to expand to all the hawker stalls and market waste.

The presence of organics in landfills has been a major source of methane generation from landfills. Methane is a major greenhouse gas. The leachate from food waste is also a bio-hazard and attracts vermin and pest such as flies and rats which spread leptospirosis.

Ideally, all organic waste especially food waste should not be transferred from place to place to curb the spread of diseases. It should be treated and processed at source. For this year, I will be using part of my allocation to purchase another machine to be installed at the Taman Sri Nibong recycling centre currently operated by Tzu Chi Buddhist Merit Society. They have successfully implemented a very comprehensive recycling programme. With the installation of the Bio-regen machine, they will have completed the organic and inorganic waste loop in the 3Rs. They are now on the way to become a Zero Waste Community.

I urge the MPPP to start Zero Waste projects throughout the island which also deals with the food waste issue. I understand that that are Bio-regen machines successfully installed in 4 schools and various other places. These have been successfully operated because they are low maintenance and easy to operate. For example, SM Heng Ee has been processing about 100 kg of canteen food waste. They have a population of about 3000 including students and teachers. The students and even the teachers are encouraged to bring food waste from home. This means that if everyone brings in food waste, 3000 households are involved.

I urge MPPP to allocate an annual budget to tackle this problem. I urge all councilors to start having food waste processing projects in food courts, hawker centres, wet markets and other places such as high density residential areas. The more places that have facilities to treat food waste will make Penang cleaner and more hygienic. If this happens there will be little need for us to close down eateries and restaurants for not meeting the Council’s standards of hygiene.

Another matter, related to food waste FOG (Fats, Oil and Grease) which are constantly emptied into the drains by food outlets and eateries throughout Penang polluting the drains which eventually run into the river, sea and other waterways.

Enforcement has been slack and many food businesses do not install grease traps or have non-functional grease traps. These can easily be tackled at source especially during inspection before license renewal. There are already technologies such as the Bio-regen machine that is able to tackle FOG or even functional grease traps available in the market that meets the SIRIM standards. I also understand that the Engineering Dept as well as JPS have some kind of standards that defines a functional grease traps. The Licensing Dept must work together with these departments to ensure that the problem of FOG is solved.

There are also currently available in the market; organic cleaners available for the kitchen and even car wash; that would benefit the environment as these comprise beneficial microbes that when used will not only pollute our waterways but in fact become more environment friendly as opposed to chemical ones. Car washing detergents should be treated before being discharged into drains as they also used for FOG.

I urge MPPP to look into these environment friendly alternatives which may be just as efficient and cost effective as chemical ones but are non-polluting!

All our efforts to curb the indiscriminate dumping of food/ kitchen waste, treating it at source and diverting it from the landfill will ensure that Penang will be cleaner, greener, healthier and safer not only for its residents but also visitors.