JUNE 24, 2008: By Humayun Kabir
PERAK DAP chairman and senior exco member Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham, who is also Perak Finance, Public Utilities, Energy, Water and non-Islamic Affairs Committee chairman, speaks to Humayun Kabir. Ngeh is also Bruas MP and Sitiawan assemblyman.
Q: You’re the first DAP member in the country to be made a Datuk by the Perak Sultan. Your reactions and implications on your party, whether positive or negative?
A: I believe that the Datukship was given to me for my contributions to the state. I had always addressed the grievances of the public and looked into their needs when I was in the opposition and I am continuing this social work till today.
Basically, people tend to think that when an award is given, the person's position is elevated from the public. But our DAP socialist philosophy is such that all people are equal irrespective of their status in society. So the award has not changed me personally and I am still the same socialist person that the public know me to be. The public is free to approach me for help and advice.
Q: Being the state DAP chairman, how do you envision the role of the party which holds a commanding 18 seats in the PR government? It is alleged that DAP yields the real power behind the scene in the state government. Can you clarify?
A: We always work on a consensus and consultation basis.The DAP must ensure that this state government is stable and continues to function robustly during its term of office. The three parties of DAP, PKR and PAS are united in administrating the state efficiently through collective decisions and mutual understanding. DAP is not controlling the government as projected by Barisan Nasional (BN). Never, at any point of time, has the DAP forced the Mentri Besar (MB) to make decisions against his will. BN is trying to portray the MB (Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin) as a DAP puppet. But the MB is never a puppet of the DAP. He is well educated and has his own ideas. He is an active person who interacts with all based on his universal values. It’s Umno's political ploy to tarnish his image. Now, I challenge the BN in the assembly to name one single incident whereby the MB's decision was deemed to be a puppet of the DAP.
Q: What is the racial ratio of DAP's membership? Will this racial composition change into a multi-racial one by recruiting more non-Chinese into the party?
A: Sometimes, people tend to think that DAP is a Chinese-based party as the majority of members are Chinese. We have a few thousand Indian and Malay members. With the change in the political scenario in Malaysia after the March 8 general election, we are going on a recruitment drive to enlist more non-Chinese professionals as members who can contribute ideas and give constructive suggestions to improve the party’s image.
Q: With all the restrictions imposed by the federal government on the flow of federal funds into the state and duplication of the state’s functions in the various departments, how are you handling the financial situation and implementation of projects for the people?
A: Perak has financial reserves of RM700 million in administration funds and the state is rich in natural resources like timber, minerals like tin, iron ore, magnesium and calcium with a rich land-bank and an abundance of water resources. We are thinking of supplying some water to Penang and Selangor where there is demand. The federal government is supposed to channel RM12 million in federal funds for development projects in Perak and we hope BN will keep to their promises and deliver the funds to us soon.
Q: Isn't the BN government infringing into the state’s power and rights of Pakatan Rakyat (PR) to govern the state?
A: Duplicating our state’s functions is another classic example of wastage of public funds by the federal government. And such creations of federal departments will create an atmosphere of corruption whereby there will be abuse of such funds as there is no check and balance for such departments’ expenditures. BN is not respecting the democratic process and rights of the people. They continue to insult the intelligence of the people by ignoring the fact that the rakyat has elected a PR government in Perak. We hope the rakyat will now see the true colours of the BN government when they are not in power in the five PR states.
Q: What joint-action can be taken by the five PR governments to counter these pressure tactics adopted by BN to immobilise the five PR state governments?
A: First, we will inform the public of the underhand tactics used by BN in trying to topple the PR government in Perak by not releasing the development funds due to the state. If they continue to strangle us financially by withholding the allocated funds, then one fine day, we will have no choice but to tell Perakians not to pay any form of federal taxes to the federal coffers. I hope the situation need not come to such a stage! The federal government must realise that the development funds due to Perak is all Perakians’ money collected from the various federal taxes. The funds are not the property of the federal government to monopolise and politicise for their own agendas. It must realise that the rakyat is the boss and the money belongs to the public. The BN government fails to understand that the PR in Perak is here to service the needs of the public who have elected us, believing that we will meet the rakyat’s aspirations of a better quality of life for all Malaysians irrespective of race and religion.
The BN government must also realise that it can no longer hoodwink the public with such political stunts, as the public is very alert after the 12th general election on March 8.They should not underestimate the power of the people who can change the political scenario with will. Any political party that ignores the wishes of the rakyat is doomed to failure in the political arena! The fact is that the federal government has more powers in financial matters, while the state governments has a limited role!
Q: Do you think that this victimisation of the five states will backfire on BN?
A: Definitely. People now have woken up from their political slumber and have taken control of the political arena in the country and the BN's "bullying" tactics will eventually backfire on them.
Q: As you’re in charge of finance, how are you going to present the state budget that is people friendly?
A:The previous Perak BN government lost substantially in investments, development and in generating income compared with Selangor and Johor. Perak has also lost human capital to other states. Now, the PR state government is going all out to woo foreign investments into the state, capitalise on its natural resources and create a conducive business environment for Perakians who left the state to return to work for the silver state. The budget to be presented end of this year will be people-friendly, nothing taxing as the rakyat is already feeling the effects of inflation driven by the snowballing effect of price increases in the various sectors of the country.
Q: The coalition for Good Governance compromising of 55 civil society groups says it is possible to by-pass the Local Government Act 1976 that abolished local government elections.The state has the authority to exclude areas within their jurisdiction from application of the Local Government Act 1976 by passing a state enactment to that effect and gazette the same. Will Perak take up this advice?
A: We have to first, carefully study the legal implications of this suggestion before we can proceed any further. The federal government has to first amend the federal law before the state can act on it.
Q: The state government is offering the conversion of leasehold land to freehold to new villages and Kampung Tersusun. Your comments.
A: The offer is only for 10,000 people living in new villages and Kampung Tersusun and the state will gain a very substantial form of revenue by higher premiums on the conversion.
Q: Any plans to reduce domestic water tariff by 10%!
A: No, not for the moment as the rates for our water tariff is still low and affordable. Our main source of income from water is from the commercial sector. However, there are plans to give some form of free water to the hardcore poor in the state.
Q: Selangor wants to implement a seven-day working week for all state government agencies to facilitate people's dealings. Selangor wants to maintain the five-day working week for all state government staff by offering staggered off-days during the week. Will Perak follow suit?
A: There is no plan for Perak at the moment for such a move and we will only consider the move if there is a necessity.
Q: There is a plan for the five PR states to take a common standard policy on minimum wages. Selangor has opted for RM1,500 monthly salary compared with MTUC's proposal of RM900. Your views!
A: The move is good but state governments cannot enforce the law on minimum wages as this comes under the federal government which has to amend the labour laws to include such a clause.
Q: Also in the pipeline for the five states is to increase the maternity leave from the current 60 days. Selangor and Kedah are looking at another 30 days, while Penang is opting for 15 days. What is Perak’s stand?
A: The 60 days maternity leave is sufficient for Perak and if the workers want to take extra leave, they can make use of their annual leave.
Q: Will Perak follow suit Kedah which has opened logging tender to increase state revenue?
A: In principle, we are for opening logging tenders but for Perak we have to impose certain restrictions as the livelihood of about 10,000 sawmill owners and such down- stream industries in Perak will be greatly affected. When outright open tenders are practised, only rich people will get the concessions and our logs will find their way into Selangor and our saw millers in Perak who have complained that there is insufficient supply of logs in the state, will have no produce for their business activities.
Q: Kedah is also offering between 25% and 75% cut in quit rent depending on the land usage. Perak’s view.
A: The quit rent can only be increased after every 10 years and the last revision was in 2006.
Q: Penang wants a new land policy to convert its leasehold land into freehold on a case by case basis, what is Perak’s stand?
A: We have to follow the law according to the National Land Code. Our priority now is for New Villages and Kampung Tersusun. Later we may follow up on other sectors when the need arise.
Q: According to retired Court of Appeal judge Datuk N.H. Chan, the issuance of parking summons by the Ipoh City Council is illegal. Such summons for parking come under the jurisdiction of federal law and was not the ambit of local government. Instead of following the Road transport Act 1987 when issuing summons, the council used the Road Transport (Provision of Parking Places (Ipoh City Council) order 2005 providing for its own punishment in contravention of provisions under order 54 (1) that any offence may be compounded by any officer of the council authorised on behalf of the Housing and Local Government Minister. I then approached the state legal Adviser (enforcement) for clarification but he refused to see me. If what Chan says is true, then the Ipoh City Council has been issuing parking summons illegally since 2005! Your comments!
A: I'll have to check on the laws regarding parking summons with the state legal adviser.