The Penang Island City agenda

19 May 2014 / 19:09 H.

    IN some countries, such as the United States, every town, whether big or small, is a city. In Malaysia, a town can only be called a city if it has been granted city status by the king.
    Today, there are only 12 cities in the country. They are Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, Petaling Jaya, Shah Alam, Alor Star, Johor Baru, Malacca City, Kuala Terengganu, Kota Kinabalu, Miri, Kuching North and Kuching South.
    There is no city in the state of Penang.
    It is, therefore, only fair that the Penang State Government is fighting for a city status for Penang Island.
    George Town, the capital of Penang, was declared a city on Jan 1, 1957 by Queen Elizabeth II of England even before Malaya achieved independence on Aug 31, in the same year. It was the first town in Malaya to be bestowed this honour. George Town Town Council was renamed George Town City Council.
    The population of Penang Island is about 708,000 according to the 2010 population census. In terms of population size, it is the sixth biggest municipality in the country. It has several universities and colleges, many banks and hospitals.
    Kuala Terengganu, with a population of about 337,600 people is already a city. Indeed, Kuching North with a population of about 165,600 and Kuching South with a population of about 159,500 are also cities.
    The present state government, therefore, is not asking too much to push for a city status for Penang Island.
    When George Town was amalgamated with the rest of Penang Island into one entity in 1974, the two local authorities in Penang Island, namely the George Town City Council and the Penang Island Rural District Council were replaced by the Penang Island Municipal Council. The name George Town has been largely forgotten.
    However, despite the city status from 1957 to 1974, the name George Town was hardly used by Penangites. Even before the demise of the city council, the term George Town was seldom used by the locals. To the Malays and Indians, George Town was largely referred to as Tanjung. To the Chinese, it was referred to as "Pho", meaning town.
    The negligence to use the official name was not only limited to the name of the city. The local inhabitants, especially the Chinese, did not use the street names given by the municipal council. For instance, Pitt Street was referred to as Kuan Im Teng Cheng, meaning in front of the Kuan Im temple. Burma Road was referred to as Gu Chia Chooi Lo, meaning bullock cart water road. It was the place to go to collect drinking water brought by bullock carts from the reservoir.
    Indeed, almost all the official road names were not used by the local people.
    The name Chowrasta Market along Penang Road was also not used by the locals. To the Chinese, it was and still is referred to as Kelinga Ban Sun, meaning Indian people's market because many of the traders or their descendants were from India.
    If and when there is a major change of name and status of the councils in Penang, the state government should take the opportunity to have two local councils for Penang Island. For the whole of Penang Island to be declared a city under one local authority is not ideal. The needs of the people living in Balik Pulau, Gertak Sanggul or even Bayan Lepas, where the Penang Airport is located, are different from those staying in the heart of George Town such as in Kimberley Street, Jelutong or Tanjung Tokong.
    George Town and the surrounding areas such as Ayer Itam, Tanjung Bungah and Gelugor should be declared a city. The rest of Penang Island should be a municipality.
    Similarly, it is also inappropriate to have only one council for the whole of Seberang Perai, which has a population of about 818,200 people. The mainland part of Penang used to have three local authorities. In fact, in the 1950s, Seberang Perai, then known as Province Wellesley, had five local authorities. Apart from the three district councils, there was the Butterworth Town Council and the Bukit Mertajam Town Council.
    Seberang Perai should have three municipalities, one for Seberang Perai North, one for Seberang Perai Central and one for Seberang Perai South.
    Local councils play a very important role in the daily life of the residents. The councillors and officers of the local authorities should be familiar with every nook and corner of their areas of jurisdictions.
    Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee is interested in urban governance, housing and urban planning. Comments:

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