Saturday, March 29, 2008

Moves to waive summonses, cut wastage seen as populist

The Straits Times, Singapore
by Chow Kum Hor

THE state governments led by the coalition of opposition parties have moved swiftly to address some of voters' top concerns, such as suspending building projects on hillsides.

The moves have largely gone down well, although some critics have charged that they are populist in nature.

Hours after being sworn in as Chief Minister of Penang, the Democratic Action Party's (DAP) Lim Guan Eng offered a one-time amnesty for all summonses related to parking and hawker licence offences.

In Perak, Menteri Besar Mohamad Nizar Jamaluddin, from Parti Islam SeMalaysia, waived summonses issued by local councils in the state.

On Tuesday, Mr Lim cancelled the bookings for five new Proton Perdana V6 cars, worth RM623,000 (S$270,000), ordered by the previous administration, saying it was part of his government's move to cut wastage.

The locally-made vehicles were meant for the state's executive council (Exco) members.

Mr Lim has also barred DAP leaders from applying for land in Penang to prevent any possible abuse.

In Selangor, Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim ordered a review of two hillside projects in a residential area near Kuala Lumpur, following concerns about possible landslides.

The projects in Bukit Antarabangsa involve the construction of 200 bungalows and 400 shops.

Households in Selangor will also enjoy up to 20 cu m of free water from June, which will save them about RM11 each.

Tan Sri Khalid, who is from Parti Keadilan Rakyat, has also decided to waive property taxes for registered places of worship.

Prior to this, mosques, temples and churches paid between RM100 and RM300 a year in such taxes.

In its place, a token annual fee of RM1 will be imposed.

Klang Valley Taoism Association chairman Yeoh Choo Beng has applauded the move.

'This is good as Chinese temples operate on contributions from devotees. We also hope the government will help the Chinese temples...with special allocations for our activities,' he was quoted as saying in The Star newspaper.

But not everyone is impressed. Mr Roger Tan, a lawyer, said these were merely populist moves.

'The Chief Ministers do not have the power to waive summonses. Only the local authorities can do so,' Mr Tan told The Straits Times.

Selangor Exco member Ean Yong Hian Wah has denied that the new government was out to score points with voters.

'After taking power, we can see clearly how we can cut wastage and improve the people's lives. We are just implementing what we feel is right, not because we want to be popular,' Mr Ean Yong told The Straits Times.

Another Exco member, Dr Xavier Jeyakumar, dismissed fears that the waivers would burden the state financially.

He said places of worship in the state collectively pay only a few hundred thousand ringgit per year.

'It doesn't cost much. We can more than make it up by cutting on wastage. One way is to have open tender and not ordering new official cars or renovating our offices,' he added.

On the free water for households, he said Selangor would negotiate for fairer deals with water supply companies. The savings will be passed on to consumers.

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