Monday, 21 June 2010

George Town's city status: The Queen responds

A bit of history. Would you know that on 21 Dec 1956, the Federation Government announced that Queen Elizabeth II had ordered that George Town be raised to the "status and dignity of a city" from 1 Jan 1957?

The Queen's decision, recorded in the London Gazette, followed a petition sent to her on 31 Aug 1956 by the George Town Municipality which on 1 Jan 1957 would celebrate the centenary of the Straits Settlements Municipal Act enacted in 1857.

The motion to submit the petition was introduced in the Municipal Council by the then Alliance Whip, Mr A.M. Abu Bakar.

Leaders of the new city's quarter-million people - George Town claimed 230,000 of the Settlement's total population of nearly 550,000 - hailed the Queen's decision as "a truly royal gesture."

With George Town's elevation, the election of Penang's first Mayor on 2 Jan 1957 would assume greater significance. The two leading candidates for this office - the Alliance's Mr G.H.Goh and Labour's Mr D.S. Ramanthan - both welcomed the Queen's gesture.

The Municipal Secretary and Treasurer, Mr S.V. Adams, said: "I am very pleased. There will now undoubtedly be greater rejoicing during our centenary festival, especially as the granting of this status comes so soon after the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh to Penang."

"But," Mr Ramanathan warned, "a mere change of status without any improvement in the city's conditions of living will, in the final analysis, bring no great joy to the common man in George Town."

Mr Goh said he shared fully in the feeling of pride of every man and woman in Penang.

"George Town may not be a very big city of the future but it has rich traditions," he said. "We are certainly proud we shall be the first city of the Federation."

The retiring Municipal President, Mr J.S.H. Cunyngham-Brown, said that the elevation of George Town to city status was "a royal gift to Malaya on its first great birthday as an independent nation."

He added: "As in the past, so in the future this city will stand or fall by the continuing wisdom and integrity of its Councillors. The tasks that will face the new City Council are many and vital."

The only discordant note came from Penang UMNO which sent a memorandum to the Malayan Chief Minister, Tengku Abdul Rahman, protesting against the Municipal Council's petition to the Queen.

It objected on the grounds that the petition was submitted without prior consultation with UMNO and that the granting of city status was unnecessary with merdeka less than a year away.

Che Aisha binte Sheikh Ahmad, Secretary of Penang UMNO's Kaum Ibu (women's section), reiterated: "We still stand firm by our protest."

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