Monday, 11 February 2008

Bye bye to Koh Tsu Koon

Three headlines from the three English language newspapers in Malaysia this morning, all reporting on the same news. Penang chief minister Dr Koh Tsu Koon has spoken to the Prime Minister on wanting to move out from his state constituency to the Federal level, confirming speculation that had been mounting in recent weeks.

He had been under a lot of pressure to make known his stand whether he would want to remain as the CM or go for a Federal position. We now know. He has even proposed three persons as possible replacements as the chief minister: Chia Kwang Chye, Dr Teng Hock Nan and Lee Kah Choon.

All I can say to Dr Koh is, thank you for your time and effort, but please go. You know your track record here in Penang. I know you have tried your best but the results were not anything to shout about. Foreign direct investments into the state have been dwindling since the days of Dr Lim Chong Eu and if a neighbour like Kedah can claim to have the biggest share of FDIs in this part of the country, it can only mean that your efforts to attract foreign investors into Penang have not been successful. Penangites don't want to know about the small fishes that make their way into the state; Penangites want to know about the BIG FISHES that set up manufacturing plants or call centres here.

Even in terms of infrastructure, we have fallen behind the other states. For example, when I go to Kulim, I see the Kedah government widening existing roads. They wouldn't be doing this if they do not see the Kulim hi-tech park as essential to the state's economy. But once you cross the state border into Penang, the six-lane highway immediately narrows into a two-lane road. The contrast is there. Development in Kulim, no development in Machang Bubuk/Bukit Mertajam.

Air connectivity. He was so amenable when Dr Mahathir wanted to build an international airport in Sungai Petani and remove all commercial flights from Penang. Lucky for the Asian financial crisis in 1997 or else Penang would have become a backwater as far as Mahathir was concerned. Not a pip-squeak from Dr Koh, only nodding his head in agreement. Then, when Malaysia Airlines stopped all international flights to and from Penang, he was again helplessly exposed. Can you imagine, with Penang as a manufacturing centre for multi-national companies, there are no direct international flights here? I couldn't believe it when it happened.

And of course, Dr Koh had been depending on Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to launch the North Corridor Economic Region and announce Penang as the communications hub. Why couldn't it be achieved earlier? All the wasted years. All the mess now in Penang, especially on the Penang Bridge. The only bright spark on the island is the completed Jelutong expressway which allows a smooth flow of traffic from Weld Quay to the Bayan Lepas Industrial Zone during off-peak hours. That's all the infrastructure development that Dr Koh has to show in his years as the Penang chief minister. Not good enough.

My verdict on his tenure as chief mnister: a generous 4/10

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