This morning, I visited No. 98 of McNair Street, Penang, which had been the family home of Choo Kok Liang and his three siblings for over seventy years together with their eight children.
What I saw was sheer destruction by hundreds of enforcement officers from Penang Municipal Council and North East District Office as well as workers from Tenaga Nasional, Penang Waterworks Authority, Telekoms, Fire Service and the Police four days ago who wrecked all their personal properties and belongings in the house, whether air-conditioners, electrical goods, paintings, altar, idols, furnishings or roofings to make the building uninhabitable in the process to evict them.
What is most shocking at the wrecking of Choo’s house is that he was never served with a formal notice of eviction. How could the Penang Municipal Council and North East District Office workers be party to an illegal action in carrying out the eviction and destruction of properties on Wednesday without giving proper notice to the tenants concerned?
This morning, hundreds of people expressed their outrage and solidarity with Choo when I visited, and tonight, we see thousands of people from Penang in a similar spontaneous expression of outrage at the wanton eviction and destruction of private properties and solidarity with the victims of such high-handed action.
I lost in the recent general election, but I am here tonight to be with the people, but the Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon won a landslide victory but he is not here although I publicly invited him this morning to come to meet the people here tonight. This is because Tsu Koon does not regard the people as the "boss" as he now thinks he is the "boss"!
It is regrettable that Tsu Koon had not personally visited McNair Street and Noordin Street to understand the situation although this was formerly his parliamentary constituency in 1982 and his office in KOMTAR is so near. But then, this is a case of a person who is "so near and yet so far"!
I find most shocking the arrogant statement by Tsu Koon that the eviction and destruction of properties by the Penang Municipal Council and the North East District Office workers on Wednesday were none of his business or that of the State Government.
As the Nanyang Siang Pao editorial on Friday rightly pointed out, Tsu Koon did not even bother to express regret at the wanton destruction of private properties in the unlawful eviction action - showing that all the talk about a "caring society" is just empty propaganda without understanding its real essence and meaning.
If the Penang Chief Minister can claim that he was not finally responsible for the actions of the Penang Municipal Council and North East District Office workers - then Penang is putting the clock backwards to even before the British colonial times, for the British colonial officials would never shirk responsibility and accountability for whatever happened under their jurisdiction in this fashion!
Tsu Koon should assume full responsibility for the wanton destruction of private property by Penang Municipal Council and North East District Office workers in their unlawful eviction of three pre-war premises without giving proper notice on Wednesday, and he should institute disciplinary action against officers in the Penang Municipal Council and the North East District Office responsible for such wanton destruction of private property as well as failure to demonstrate the spirit of government officers fully imbued by the concept of a "caring government".
If Tsu Koon is not prepared to do any of the above, then the voters of Penang had made a great mistake in giving the Barisan Nasional such a landslide victory in the tenth general election on Nov. 29, 1999.
Tsu Koon had committed a millennium betrayal of the people of Penang in failing to protect the interests of the over 60,000 tenants in the 12,600 prewar premises by ensuring that there would be minimum socio-economic hardships and dislocations in the repeal of the Rent Control Act at the end of last year.
Tsu Koon even bluffed the Penang voters during the recent general election campaign by pretending that he would ask the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to extend the Rent Control Act for another three to five years if the Barisan Nasional wins a landslide victory, but when the DAP suffered another massive defeat in Penang, Tsu Koon went back on his words and never met Mahathir to raise the issue of three or five-year extension of the Rent Control Act.
This is why in the Parliamentary meeting from Dec. 20 - 23, 1999, the Barisan Nasional government did not move an emergency bill to extend the Rent Control Act, and the Gerakan Secretary-General, MP for Bukit Bendera and Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Telekoms and Multi-Media, Chia Kwang Chye, did not bother to raise the issue in Parliament.
There is nothing that can be done now to extend the Rent Control Act 1966, as it has already been repealed for two days since 31st December 1999.
However, the Penang State Government can still cushion the 60,000 affected tenants from the worst effects of the ill-planned rent decontrol, as it is the State and Municipal government workers who would be responsible for carrying out the dirty work of evictions and destruction of private properties.
The Penang Chief Minister should take a policy decision that no State or municipal government department or worker would be involved in any eviction job until after the Chinese New Year to give meaning to the government’s commitment to a caring society.
In fact, Tsu Koon should announce that no state or municipal government department or worker would be involved in any eviction operations arising from the repeal of the Rent Control Act until the second quarter of the year, to make up for the lack of proper preparation by the State Government to ensure that the rent decontrol exercise is carried out with minimal socio-economic hardships and dislocation for the affected tenants.
DAP MP for Bukit Mertajam, Sdri Chong Eng, just now suggested that the people of Tanjong and Penang should gather here again tomorrow night to continue to show their outrage at the wanton destruction of private property and illegal eviction as well as to extend solidarity to Choo and other victims of such high-handed actions.
I would not be able to be here with you all tomorrow night as I am going to Kuala Terengganu tomorrow to discuss constitutional issues with the former Lord President, Tun Salleh Abas but it is good if the people can put up the pressure, in a peaceful and democratic manner, to let Tsu Koon now the outrage of the people over this incident.
Tsu Koon should give a categorical assurance that there would be no repetition of any wanton destruction of private property and illegal eviction of tenants of pre-war premises carried out by State and Municipal government workers although the Rent Control Act had been repealed.