Graceful decline, that was how Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew had described Penang during his visit here last weekend. He was talking about Penang's infrastructure. Though he had been in the state for only a day, it had not escaped him that the condition of the roads on the island were nothing to be proud of and in fact, it was even lagging behind Ipoh and Seremban.
We all know who is to blame for this "graceful decline". It couldn't have happened at a moment's notice; it couldn't have happened from a year's notice too. No, the decline started many, many years ago. There's no doubt about it. The decline started with Mahathir Mohamad assuming the prime ministership of the country. He wanted to promote his Kedah and Pulau Langkawi and it came at the expense of Penang. He couldn't influence Lim Chong Eu but he could get want he wanted from Koh Tsu Koon.
So if Lim Guan Eng wants to point his finger, he must point his finger a little further afield and look Mahathir straight in the eye. Mahathir got what he wanted: a Langkawi which got a duty-free status and all sorts of developments and incentives. Penang was to be cast into the nation's backwaters. Somehow, I am very thankful for the financial crisis of 1997 which prevented, possibly by the skin of the teeth, Mahathir from carrying out his grand plan to undermine Penang totally by building an international airport near Sungai Petani. And of course, Koh Tsu Koon must have been fully aware that if the Bayan Lepas international airport was reduced to the status of a cargo airport, Penang's tourism industry would be lost. Perhaps it would be the end of the state as a manufacturing hub as well.
Supporting facts for the graceful decline? Earlier this week, Lim Guan Eng was in Singapore to give some facts and figures to a group of people there: “The Ninth Malaysia Plan reveals that Penang family incomes increased the least among all the states, including Sabah and Sarawak, over the last 10 years. Between 1999 and 2004, Penang family incomes grew 2.5% annually while the average for the country was 6.6%. In 1999, our income was 85% of what Selangor residents were making but five years after that, in 2004, we are only 68% as rich as those in the Klang Valley.” What more can I say?