Crucial for opposition states to work with federal government

(The Malaysian Insider) – States governed by the opposition alliance, such as Penang, risk becoming economic laggards unless their new leaders are able to work with the federal government to secure revenue to build new infrastructure.

That was the assessment of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and two Singapore ministers after an eight-day visit to the country.

Apart from Kuala Lumpur, Pahang and Perak, the visit also took in two states currently in opposition hands: Penang and Kelantan.

Kelantan has been governed by the Islamic-based opposition PAS since 1990.

The Chinese-based DAP has led Penang since March last year. DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng is the Chief Minister.

Lee said he believed that the DAP had every intention to improve governance by being transparent and ensuring fair play all round. But he questioned if that would be enough to hold the ground at the next election, if there was little economic development.

Lee pointed out that Penang depended on federal funding to develop its infrastructure. Unlike Perak and Selangor, it did not have large tracts of land or other state sources of revenue.

On Lim's plans to reclaim land, Lee said such land would need a few years to settle before it could be built on, by which time the next election might be upon the DAP.

“I do not believe that he can get the basic infrastructure up to mark without the support of the federal government and the federal government will only support him if he cooperates, and even then I'm not so sure,” Lee said.

Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that even when Penang was governed by Barisan Nasional (BN) component party Gerakan, it fared less well than other states controlled by Umno.

Now that the state was under the DAP, which is not part of the ruling BN front, it would face an even bigger challenge.

Tharman said that the infrastructure which Penang needed to get to the next phase of economic development would require not just clean and incorrupt government, but significant new investments.

“It'll be a big challenge achieving that, if they do not get federal support. So they have to make calculations, politically, economically, as to what relationship they want with KL, in order to achieve the objective they want, which is to raise the standard of living in Penang,” he said.

Earlier, Lee had also observed that in the last 20 years, Penang had developed far less quickly than Perak state capital Ipoh and Negri Sembilan state capital Seremban, both of which he visited.

As for Kelantan, Education Minister Ng Eng Hen described its capital Kota Baru as a “flat city”.

From the 20-storey hotel where the Singapore delegation stayed, he could “see far without obstruction”, he added. — The Straits Times