By Dr Mahathir Mohamad
1. I was in Penang recently, having been invited to give a talk by the Penang Mubarak (Council of Former Elected Representatives). On the way to Tanjung Bungah I was surprised to see the same wooden zinc-roofed shacks, which were there 60 years ago. The difference is that they are stuck between the slender beautiful high-rise flats favoured by Penang. Their ramshackle appearance seems out of place amidst the modern dwellings of the Penangites.
2. Why are the Penang Malays still living in these hovels? Yes, Kuala Lumpur has Malay slumps. But these are mostly built by new urban migrants. The Government has succeeded to rehouse most of the squatters in modern high-rise buildings so that, passing along the main roads, one does not see the slums anymore.
3. But the Penang Malays live in the same old shacks that housed them long ago. And they are an eyesore.
4. New modern flats are being built everywhere in Penang, including on reclaimed land. I would have thought that a resettlement of the Malay squatters would have been one of the objectives of the Governments of Penang. Even the old water-villages along Weld Quay have been tidied up, though they still throw their rubbish in the sea.
5. I was told that the Malay squatters are living on land belonging to rich landlords. They face the threat of expulsion any time. Indeed some of them have already been thrown out to make way for the high-rise flats. I wonder where they are housed now.
6. Someone should make a study of these Penang Malays. What is their source of income? Could it be that the occupants of these shacks are the children of the original occupants? It cannot be. Education and better employment opportunities should have increased their incomes and enable them to afford better accommodation. We see this all over Malaysia. It cannot be that Penang Malays are an exception.
7. Tanjung Bungah, the Cape of Flowers is now highly developed. But the ramshackle sheds which serve as shops still line the road. Apparently some Malays sell food there. But the smelly vegetable “garden” where human excrements were used as fertilizers have disappeared.
8. Penang still promotes itself as the Pearl of the Orient. But the Malay shacks, the water village and the rubbish in the sea belie the claim.