Kedah – Putting Priorities Right

In 2008, Kedah was the first of the newly-installed Pakatan Rakyat-ruled states to have a smooth transition to hassle-free administration without adverse publicity. Yet since then, continuous mainstream drumming by the mainstream media of BN’s propaganda that Kedah has regressed economically and is slow in implementing policy changes under PR seems to have taken a toll on its image.

The Rocket spoke with senior Kedah state executive councillor (exco) Dato Phahrolrazi Mohd Zawawi to find out about some of the changes that Pakatan has brought for the state.

Full Name: Dato’ Haji Ir. Phahrolrazi Bin Haji Mohd Zawawi

State Pas Post: State Deputy Commissioner I

State Assembly Representative For: Pengkalan Kundor

Exco Portfolio Housing, Local Government, Works Water Supply, Water Source & Energy

Achievements understated

Kedah PR state government’s conscientious efforts in implementing clean and transparent governance have yielded much tangible results.

One of the major achievements that Kedah PR state government can boast of is in the area of increase in timber royalty revenue. According to the Auditor General report, Kedah through the open tender of awarding timber concessions, has managed to increase its timber royalty revenue by 205 percent in 2010 (from 2007).

“At the onset of Kedah PR’s administration, the state government declared a reduction of land premium rates between 25 to 75 percent that will benefit the people directly. Yet despite the move costing the state government around RM 50 million annually in revenue, Kedah has managed to overcome a RM 16 million budget deficit for 2010 courtesy of a 17 percent increase in revenue from 2009 figures,” Phahrolrazi said.

“Kedah PR government has also embarked on improving race relations by providing funding for non-Malay communities’ welfare in terms of cultural activities, which had never happened under BN’s rule. The state government has also consistently aided the Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools by providing funds and land sites for them.”

“Overall, Kedah PR has achieved more than 80 percent of the promises made in its 2008 manifesto. Aside from the achievements from the manifesto, the PR state government has launched a Kafalah scheme that aims to assist the poor regardless of ethnicity or religious background.”

With regards to the implementing of open tender for all major projects at the state and local councils, Kedah is still in the intermediate phase of doing so,” he continued.

Challenges Ahead

As with other PR-run states, one of the biggest challenges for Kedah is the state civil servants’ work attitude and culture. “After 50 years of BN’s inept governance, it was an adjustment phase for them and us as well in implementing the reforms. Initially we were not able to proceed at the desired pace due to the apprehension and resistance from the civil servants. Many doubted if we would last as we were facing defections in the state assembly. Now they have begun to adapt to the new working requirements,” Phahrolrazi said.

He also said that interference from the federal government has also caused some of the local projects such as road building and tarring to be delayed as they are using federal agencies to implement the projects. “Previously the federal government had entrusted the local district staffs to perform these tasks. However, the agencies are not equipped for these purposes. It is causing complications in terms of the smoothness of the projects’ delivery.”

When PR took over, Kedah was saddled with more than RM 2 billion debt owed to the federal government. In 2009 Kedah managed to pay off RM 10 million of the debt. “Around RM 1.7 billion of this is due to water supply infrastructure. The state government is now in the process of unloading this debt amount by selling the water supply company (JBAK) to the federal government,” he added.

Another challenge for Kedah is the lack of revenue sources. “Even though we have manufacturing industries and Langkawi as a tourist attraction, the state does not earn much from these sectors as most of its funding comes from land premium levied on the land owners and the federal government grant allocation.” As Kedah is basically an agricultural state, “the land premium is limited as land value is low. We have to diversify and increase our revenue base.”

Attracting investments

After three years in power, Kedah under PR has only achieved RM 6 billion in investments, ranked eight in the country. Phahrolrazi delved into the reasons for this low figure: “As for industrial and private investments, Kedah has received what it is able to provide for, infrastructure-wise. In fact, the state has had to open up more land for factories building in Kulim, the state’s industrial hub,” he added.

Kedah occupies a strategic position in the country for food security, as it is the main supplier of rice for the country. As Kedah has to cater for agricultural needs as well as its own and Penang’s water consumption needs, more than 36 percent of the state is gazetted as forest reserve and water catchment area. “There is not much land and water left for industrial usage. Therefore the current level of industrial development is optimal for the state,” he explains.

“Kedah may not seem to have developed economically as well compared with other states; however the people’s economic well being is stable as incomes from agricultural exploits is stable.”

The state has looked toward leveraging on its substantial agricultural land and labour force to develop Kedah to be an agro hub, with the stated aim of becoming the Netherlands of the East. The state government-linked companies (GLCs) are partnering with foreign companies to develop its agricultural industries. Incidentally under the PR stewardship, the state GLCs have contributed RM 30 million to the state coffers. “This has never happened under BN’s rule,” he beamed. -The Rocket