Penang losing its competitive edge under DAP-led state government? Lim Guan Eng, what's happening to Penang under your watch?
NEWS of yet another foreign investor calling it quits in Penang after six years should not be dismissed so lightly. United States-based Rubicon Technology Inc, an investment presence in Malaysia since 2010, announced last week it was winding up operations in the state on Nov 30. Just two months back, two American investors — Seagate Technology Plc and Western Digital Corp (WD) — announced that they, too, were pulling out a major portion of their operations here. More than 3,000 jobs are likely to be affected as both companies leave Penang. And, earlier this year, Intel Technology announced it would lay off up to 12,000 workers globally, an exercise affecting 1,000 employees in Penang and Kulim, Kedah. With the latest announcement, more heads will be on the chopping board, especially in the current economic scenario.
Penangites are asking the DAP-led state government, particularly Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, what is really happening to the state’s thriving industrial sector, seeing that foreign investors are uprooting from the Pearl of the Orient one by one.
Netizens have taken to social media to voice their worries and concerns, with Penang Gerakan Bayan Baru division chairman Teh Leong Meng saying, “Another factory closing down in Penang. Penang is going down hill...” while Shalhuddin Shah asked “What happened... Penang government?”. Indeed, there is no room for any blame game here.
However, that does not mean that the state government should just keep mum and let speculation fly. More importantly, it should not come out with excuses to cover the truth and deceive the people.
Have the state authorities conducted a post mortem as to why these established companies are leaving the state? Could it be that Penang has lost its competitive edge? Is something wrong with our industrial sector? Or could it be due to poor leadership?
All these deserve detailed explanations. What about those who have been laid off? Have the state authorities assisted them in looking for alternative employment? What will happen to them before they are able to secure another job?
What about the many mouths at home dependent on them? Does the state even keep track of the number of those retrenched this or last year, when foreign investors were carrying out massive restructuring exercises, either through mergers or acquisitions? Also, what is Penang doing to retain the existing pool of investors, both domestic and foreign, and lure new ones, which it does on and off?
Is there a specific blueprint for this? As of now, there remains more questions than answers. The state should provide us with satisfactory answers if it is genuinely concerned about what is going on.
Although the state authorities may argue that this is a global phenomenon, Penang’s reputation as the “Silicon Valley of the East” is being put under the spotlight with the latest developments. Penang’s dip in investment figures is not helping to soothe the situation either.
According to official figures released by the Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA), Penang came in fifth in terms of investment figures between January and September last year, with RM5.4 billion. Johor registered the highest investment with RM30 billion, followed by Sarawak (RM11.8 billion), Malacca (RM6.8 billion) and Selangor (RM5.9 billion). Penang topped MIDA’s investment list by getting RM12 billion, or a quarter of the total RM47 billion of approved projects, in 2010.
All said, the DAP-led administration cannot just absolve itself for the declining economy. For the past eight years, since it came into power, almost everything in Penang centred on “playing politics”. The people are already fed up. The time is more than ripe for the state government to stop playing politics for the sake of Penang and her people. It has to bear in mind that not everything that happens in Penang is about playing politics.
Also, Lim’s administration must realise that it cannot work alone and must work hand in hand with the federal authorities to take Penang to greater heights in the future. It may take some time before Penang can bounce back but with cooperation from every level, the time frame may be reduced.
Audrey Dermawan is NST Penang bureau chief.