The Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon recently lambasted irresponsible elements who spread rumours that he was being investigated by the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) and was on his way out, when he was in mourning over the death of his father.
Such rumour-mongers are indeed irresponsible. I only hope however that during his leave from his duties as Penang Chief Minister in his mourning, he would have had the time to ponder on the grave socio-economic hardships which an ill-planned repeal of the Rent Control Act had brought to tens of thousands of innocent people in Penang and had thought of measures to relieve the peopleís sufferings.
The Housing Minister Datuk Ong Ka Ting and Tsu Koon will both be too busy to be able to accept the invitation to attend a mass meeting on Sunday organised by the tenants of former rent-controlled pre-war premises to highlight their desperate plight.
This is not surprising. After the landslide victory of the Barisan Nasional in the recent general election, there is even less need for Ka Ting and Tsu Koon to find time to attend to the tenants affected by the Repeal of Control Act.
It would have been very different of course if this mass meeting of tenants of former rent-controlled pre-war premises had been held before the general election, for then, both the Penang Chief Minister and the Housing Minister would have cancelled whatever prior appointments they had to attend - as the affected tenants had votes which were important. Now that the general election is over, with the Barisan scoring another unprecedented electoral victory, these problems of the people are not important anymore!
What I had warned inside and outside Parliament when I was Member of Parliament for Tanjong about the socio-economic hardships which would be created by an ill-planned repeal of the Rent Control Act have now come true, but I can find no pleasure or satisfaction at all. I would have preferred to be proved wrong than to see such widespread socio-economic hardships in Georgetown, with rentals skyrocketting, in one case even going up by 2,000 per cent from RM500 a month to RM10,000 a month.
When the rent control repeal legislation was introduced, the Penang State Government had promised affordable alternative accommodation, whether by the public or private sector, but this has proved to be an empty promise - with so many abandoned, stalled or failed projects, such as the housing projects of Majestic Height Sdn Bhd, Fettes Villa project, Green Garden, Taman Cemerlang and even Kampung Teluk.
When the general election approached and it was clear that no alternative affordable accommodation could be ready for the affected tenants, the Penang State Government announced that it had succeeded in securing a RM100 million loan fund (with RM80 million from Federal Government) which would be used to resolve the problems faced by the affected tenants.
But this has proved to be another pre-election gimmick.
The RM100 million loan scheme was not meant to help the affected tenants but the landlords,who do not really need or want it, as illustrated by the fact that five months have elapsed since the announcement of the scheme and not a single loan or sen had been disbursed!
The RM100 million loan scheme was not meant to help the affected tenants, but its announcement was meant to help the Barisan Nasional candidates, and it served its purpose very well.
Now that the general election is over, neither the Federal nor the Penang State Government will shed a tear if the RM100 million loan scheme is quickly buried and forgotten, without a single sen being used!
The irresponsibility and ill-planned manner in which the Barisan Nasional government, both at the national and state level, in forcing through the repeal of the rent-controlled premises without ensuring that there are adequate alternative affordable housing and that there would be a minimum of socio-economic hardships and dislocations of the affected tenants is one of the greatest tragedies in Malaysia.
In May 1997, during the debate on the Rent Control (Repeal) Bill, I had moved an amendment during the Committee Stage seeking to extend the 28-month transition period for the repeal of the Rent Control Act 1966 to five years.
This amendment was opposed by the Barisan Nasional MPs, including those from MCA and Gerakan in Penang.
In October last year, I gave notice to present a private memberís bill
to extend the Rent Control (Repeal) Act by five years and I called on the
Penang State Government and Gerakan and MCA MPs to support such a private
However, it not only fell on deaf ears, the Penang MCA and Gerakan MPs sabotaged my effort to bring my private memberís bill to a debate in Parliament!
These Barisan Nasional MPs and Assemblymen who had by acts of commission or omission, whether in Parliament or the Penang State Assembly, allowed the Repeal of the Rent Control Act to be fully implemented by December 31 last year when there was inadequate preparation to minimise socio-economic hardships and dislocations to the affected tenants must bear full responsibility for the plight faced by the tenants.
In slightly over a month, there would be another flashpoint in the tragedy of the repeal of the rent control legislation, when the three-month notice given by owners to vacate the pre-war premises would come into effect and the affected tenants would be faced with the dire consequences of dispossession.
Immediate action is urgently needed to help the affected tenants and I call for immediate legislative action by both Penang State Assembly and Parliament to provide interim re-protection to tenants of former rent-controlled pre-war premises to prevent exorbitant rental increases or provide monetary compensation with the aid of the RM100 million fund.
The Penang State Assembly must convene in an emergency meeting this month itself to adopt an unanimous vote to ask Parliament to enact in its current meeting a law to provide interim re-protection to tenants of former rent-controlled pre-war premises to prevent exorbitant rental increases or provide monetary compensation to the affected tenants with the aid of the RM100 million fund.
This should be followed up by appropriate legislative action in the current meeting of Parliament which is to meet until mid-April for the Dewan Rakyat and mid-May for the Dewan Negara.