March 2016




Penang Forum is extremely disappointed by the recent personal attacks against civil society Councillor Dr Lim Mah Hui with the highly disparaging press statement from Chief Minister of Penang YAB Lim Guan Eng on 12 March 2016.

On 29 February,  the Chief Minister had invited Penang Forum representatives for a dialogue which was fruitful and ended amicably.  There was a discussion on the illegal parking and towing of cars. The difference with regards to the number of cars towed by the MBPP arose because the MBPP and the press did not take into account his full explanation; instead they focused on only one part of his explanation as clarified by Dr Lim in his press statement of 21 March 2016. Unfortunately it has been brought to the level of press conferences, public vilification, and the usage of terms on Dr Lim like “hero with lies”.

Penang Forum holds the highest regards for Dr Lim’s professionalism. He is a professor who has taught in universities in Malaysia and the U.S. As an international banker, he worked, among others, in Chemical Bank (now JP Morgan Chase) in New York, Credit Suisse First Boston in Singapore and Asian Development Bank in Manila. He is also an international speaker and his works have been published internationally. He has also authored a book on the present global financial crisis and its impact on Asia.

Dr Lim, a Penangite, has decided to share his vast knowledge and experience with corporations, governments, universities, think-tanks, and civil society groups. He is currently focussed on serving the community and civil society groups in Penang and has contributed greatly to the work of Penang Forum.

Dr Lim has chosen to return to Penang and sacrificed his time to serve the State as a Councillor for the last five years.  Known for his unswerving integrity and straight talking, Dr Lim has little patience for intrigues and scheming. He speaks his mind, rights the things that he sees that are wrong and laments the wrongs that he cannot change. This is a man unlikely to misinterpret figures and reports and, with too much integrity to ‘lie’.  He has nothing to gain and nothing to prove.

Penang Forum was truly shocked by this frenzy and uproar over a complaint of ‘lack of enforcement’, a constant daily problem in our urban lives. Is a Councillor not supposed to highlight these issues? Should he be belittled and abused for doing so based on figures presented to him? Isn’t transparency what is advocated by the State Government?

Dr Lim is the epitome of the kind of Penangite that the Government wishes to encourage to return and to serve the State. The belittling of Dr Lim in public is unbecoming of a government that advocates competency, accountability and transparency. Penang Forum hopes that this will be the last episode of this sort.

Moving forward, Penang Forum hopes that honest and open engagement with the State Government and Council will continue in the spirit of working for the betterment of Penang.

22 March 2016


21 March 2016

On March 12 2016, the Chief Minister of Penang, YAB Lim Guan Eng issued a highly defamatory public statement accusing me of being a “hero with lies”. In that statement, I was accused of “lying” no fewer than seven times.
Prior to this unfortunate episode, I have enjoyed an amicable and respectful working relationship with the Chief Minister despite being his severe public critic. And I thank him for that. All my criticisms were focused on his policies and based on factual analysis. I have never made any personal attack or rude remarks against him. Trained as a social scientist rather than a diplomat, my criticisms may have been too direct and blunt and may have hurt his feelings. For this I offer my apologies.
Cars towed per month
The controversy arose because I said the Penang’s City Council enforcement staff towed only one or two cars a month, whereas the Mayor said 500-600 cars were towed a month. How to reconcile these different sets of numbers?
If the Chief Minister, the Mayor and the councillors would only care to study the video clip (available on of my exchange with the Chief Minister on February 29 2016 during an amicable dialogue of Penang Forum with the Chief Minister and in the presence of the press, they will realize that I stated the following:
(1) when the Council enforcement units initially started towing (ie over 4 years ago), they were towing only one or two cars a month with one tow truck. This is verified by the data provided by the Council and reported in Kwong Wah press (see attached Table 1);
(2) I then continued to say that over the years there was some improvement and currently with five tow trucks, each team tows on an average of 2.5 cars per day. (If you multiply this number by 5 trucks by 2 shifts per day, for an average of 25 days per month, you get 625 cars towed per month.) This corroborates with the Mayor’s statement that the Council is towing about 500 to 600 cars per month.
Hence, if only the Mayor and the Chief Minister, with access to such data, had performed this elementary calculation, or asked me to clarify, they would have understood I was not lying. Instead the Mayor publicly “rapped” me, and the Chief Minister resorted to maligning and defaming me.
The Chief Minister occupies the highest position in the state, and the Mayor the highest post in the city. Both are highly respected public figures who should have done a proper investigation before jumping to wrong conclusions as their public statements carry much weight. Invariably, their public statements have caused many negative public comments against me.
Taking charge of towing function
Around 2012/2013, the Chief Minister asked me to take charge of the towing function. I had given the same answer to the Chief Minister then as I did on February 29, 2016. I cannot assume full charge of the job, as the role of a councillor is to give counsel and to make decisions to be implemented by council staff. A councillor’s role is legislative while that of council staff is executive and administrative. This basic and fundamental distinction seems to escape the Chief Minister and the councillors who continue to demand that I take on an executive and administrative function.
Efficiency of tow trucks
Despite the fact that I am not a civil servant, I agreed to help the council staff improve the traffic enforcement performance and, in fact, created the management information reporting system for them. For over 3 years, I worked with and regularly met with the Council Secretary, Ir Ang Aing Thye, the director of the Enforcement Department and his staff to review and monitor the performance of the towing and clamping unit. The records of this unit bring into question the efficiency of the tow truck teams. Each team tows an average of between 1.5 and 3.1 cars per day in 2015. (See Table 2 which is a detailed explanation of the figures of 500-600 cars per month provided by the Mayor to the press.) A tow truck team working a 7-hour shift should really be able to tow at least 4-6 cars, unless we believe there are not enough illegally parked cars in Penang blocking traffic. The objective of towing is not to collect revenue but to instill respect for and obedience to laws so that roads can be cleared for smoother traffic. Poor enforcement is the top complaint of the public. Let the public judge whether this is an acceptable level of efficiency. The public should write in to demand for more transparency and accountability with key performance indicators in place to enable public evaluation of both the state and council’s performance.
Errant Officers
The issue of errant officers going AWOL (absent without official leave), was discussed on more than one occasion in the regular meetings that I attended chaired by the Council Secretary based on the reports submitted by the Enforcement Unit. These records are official and can be verified. To quell the public’s inquiry on whether I lied, I ask the Council to make these records transparent and public in accordance with the CAT (competency, accountability and transparency) principles.
The Chief Minister also accused me of “stooping so low as to justify his (i.e., Mah Hui’s) motive to sack MBPP enforcement staff”. At no point in the video clip did I mention the word “sack”. All I said was that no disciplinary action was taken. It was the Chief Minister who said he would sack any errant staff, which was echoed by the Mayor in her press conference on March 12.

Response of Councillors
The public criticism of me by the 12 councillors, mainly from the DAP, is unwarranted. Despite my open letter to the Chief Minister stating that I will provide my side of the story when I return from overseas, and my advice to them to study the video clip before jumping to conclusions, it appears they did not do their homework. The same accusations that my remarks were inaccurate and untrue were echoed.
Comparison to Barisan Nasional
It would seem that whoever criticizes the current state government is somehow tarred with the BN brush. I have been likened to BN politicians “whose specialty is lying” (quoting the Chief Minister). In an earlier press conference on December 13, 2015, the Chief Minister accused the Penang Forum of falling into the Barisan Nasional “misinformation trap” over the state government’s approval of special projects on sensitive hill land. The Penang Forum subsequently showed that the information came from YB Chow Kon Yeow’s answer to an ADUN’s query in the November 2015 sitting of the State Assembly. Clearly a more mature and even-handed approach to critique is needed.
For reasons one can only guess, the Chief Minister chose a particular line of action that has damaged my reputation, as evidenced in the many negative remarks on social media as well as from my fellow councillors. These accusations went against the very principles of CAT that the state government claims to espouse. Instead we see incompetence in accountability and a flagrant injustice to me personally and as a MBPP councillor.

I ask the parties, including councilors, who have maligned me with their accusations, to offer their public apologies without any prejudice to my rights to legal recourse.

Dr Lim Mah Hui, MBPP Councillor
Date: 21 March 2016.

Press Statement By Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng
In Komtar, George Town On 12.3.2016.

NGO Councillor Dr Lim Mah Hui Should Apologise To Both Majlis Bandaraya Pulau Pinang(MBPP) Datuk Bandar Dato Patahiyah binti Ismail And MBPP Secretary Ang Aing Thye For His Lies That MBPP Staff”s Lackadaisical Work Attitude Has Resulted In Only Towing One Car Per Month!

NGO Councillor Dr Lim Mah Hui should apologise to both Majlis Bandaraya Pulau Pinang(MBPP) Datuk Bandar Dato Patahiyah binti Ismail and MBPP Secretary Ang Aing Thye for his lies that MBPP staff”s lackadaisical work attitude has resulted in only towing one or two cars per month for blocking traffic. I am shocked at the exposure by both Dato Patahiyah and Ang of Dr Lim’s outrageous lies with the statistics and facts that MBPP had been towing an average of 500 cars a month, and not one or two cars as claimed by Dr Lim.

In a public dialogue with me on 29.2.2016, Dr Lim had lambasted the MBPP Enforcement team for not doing their work and that they should be sacked. I had instructed the MBPP staff to be sacked if Dr Lim’s allegations are true. Clearly Dr Lim had lied. Dr Lim even claimed that Ang had to practically beg the MBPP staff to work, which Ang had vehemently denied as a lie.

Lying is the special preserve of BN politicians and no self-respecting NGO activist, especially one as highly-regarded as Dr Lim, should stoop so low so as to justify his motive to sack MBPP enforcement staff. Whilst Dr Lim wants more cars to be towed, he should also have some consideration for special religious festive occasions such as Thaipusam, Chinese New Year or Hari Raya or Christmas celebrations.

However to make the outrageous claim that MBPP staff just towed one or two cars a month when the actual number is 500 monthly is grossly irresponsible and unfair to both Dato Patahiyah and Ang. Dr Lim should stop his lies and argue with facts. He should also stop confronting and running down MBPP with his lies. I have instructed Dato Bandar and MBPP officers not to accept Dr Lim’s bullying but to confront him courteously and firmly, whether in internal meetings or in the media with facts and the truth.

I wish to urge Dr Lim to work together with MBPP as an appointed councillor. He has every right to criticise but he should do so without trying to project himself as a hero with lies but yet refuse to take up the challenge to resolve the problem. My offer to him to reform the MBPP enforcement division on towing cars still stands, where he will have every power to sack errant staff and full resources to improve MBPP’s efficiency and effectiveness to his satisfaction.


Cheong Yin Fan 
Press Secretary to Penang Chief Minister