Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir recently spoke to The Star on his work and achievements for the year and on his plans for 2012. These are the points he shared.
Q: What are your reflections for year 2011, and your high points?
A: There are so many. I can list down many things but what I would like to say is that we have continued to manage the state peacefully and progressively, which I feel are the most important.
Despite all the problems that we faced in 2011, we continue to sustain the economy and prosperity of the state.
Our economic achievements are reflected in the performance of our agencies and state government-linked companies as can be seen in the Perak Water Board, Perak Agriculture Development Corporation and also the State Development Corporation, which to a certain extent is beginning to show some improvement in terms of revenue.
Overall, I am happy to see the state moving; and to see the economic and construction sectors booming in Perak.
If one goes around Ipoh or even Taiping, Tanjung Malim and Seri Iskandar, Manjung and Parit Buntar, the development taking place there is very obvious. This is in spite of the criticism that we hear or receive from certain quarters.
With the people’s support, including from the business community whom have shown its confidence in the state by bringing in huge investments, and the business-friendly environment we have created, we are starting to move in terms of economic progress.
Q: You mentioned about investments in the state, what is the proportion between private and government initiatives?
A: I would say that more than 80% are private driven projects and only 20% are government projects, of which the allocations come from the Federal Government.
Q: Can you give us a few examples of what had been achieved in the year?
A: In the area of administration, we have been trying all this while to solve the number of backlog of cases within the Land and Mines Department and at the state executive council level.
I am happy to note that we have settled more that 6,900 files since we took over the state and that is a sign of major improvement in the public service sector.
There is also improvement in the rapport between departments, which I feel is encouraging. In the past, it was difficult for one department to get the support of another. As a result, it had taken years to look into a simple application with the file being passed around from department to department.
What we have done is to set up a One-Stop-Centre, not only at the state level, but also at the district level to speed up the processing of applications.
In terms of policies, the state has initiated several new initiatives, including Perak Aman Jaya, a long-term development plan to move Perak towards becoming a developed state. It is beginning to show results.
As for political stability, I can safely say that the less hostile environment has given us more opportunity to serve the people and to manage the state.
We have also been doing things differently. An example is the state Budget 2012.
We engaged the people and listened to them. Going to the ground had really helped us feel what they are going through and gain a lot of information as well.
We even conducted pre-Budget discussions, which were not done before this.
Q: Land problems like farmers toiling on land without a title for decades are a major problem in the state. What are the steps taken to resolve such problems?
A: Land issues are rather complicated and need to be resolved on a case-by-case basis. It requires time, some taking longer than others.
But that does not mean we are not working on these issues involving prawn breeders, ornamental fish breeders, pomelo growers and vegetable farmers.
We have a broad spectrum of problems of people cultivating on government land illegally.
And so, how do we solve this problem when it involves not just 40ha or 80ha but hundreds of hectares?
What more with the tedious task of land plotting and surveying, which is not an easy task, and everyone claiming that a plot of land belonged to them.
The state has to plan carefully. Some claim that the state does not want to help farmers. This is not true at all. We have to do it sector by sector, one by one, in order to solve the problem.
We have settled the issue of prawn breeders, which involved hundreds of people, and already, we are half way through solving the problem faced by ornamental fish breeders.
Elsewhere, we have started issuing titles to pomelo farmers in Tambun.
The state is of the opinion that there is no one set formula to go about this. We will not do justice to these farmers if we apply a standard formula on all applications.
Q: There is this fear of a slowdown in the economy next year due to the recession in Europe. How will Perak be affected?
A: We have to carefully trust the economic vision of the state because whatever happens to the economy outside, especially in Europe and the United States, it will somehow affect our country’s economy and also of the state.
In order to sustain our economic growth, we have to really look into certain areas, for example, giving more emphasis to domestic products, creating more economic activities locally and also increasing our exports at the interstate level.
Agriculture is also one area where demands are increasing over time.
We need to look at different sectors and markets. We have to look towards emerging markets such as China, India and also Indonesia. That said, I believe the recent signing of the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle will be helpful to the state.
In other words, we have to make sure our economy is not vulnerable to global uncertainties.
Q: Perak has many tourist attractions, which can be highlighted but it has been said that efforts to promote these attractions are lacking. Do you feel that the local councils are doing enough to promote tourist attractions in their respective areas?
A: We are fully aware of this and are addressing the issue. We know these are God’s treasures to Perak and if we plan well, we can benefit from them.
We have everything, from the sea to the mountains, lots of delicacies and food products. If we can combine them to make Perak a saleable product, tourists will come here.
Q: There have been complaints that facilities and basic amenities, including public toilets, are lacking despite 2012 being Visit Perak Year. How do you view this?
A: We have also raised this issue with the Federal Government and hope it will come forward with the financial assistance that we need to execute our plans. We understand facilities in certain areas are not up to mark but we are planning.
We are also aware of the complaints that certain basic amenities are not in place. There are cases where toilets built today are vandalised the next day. Even the bidet goes missing. It is a shame that some citizens are not civic-minded.
Q: The state has set 2012 to achieve squatter-free status. Do you think it is achievable as the issue has been dragging on for decades while the previous target set had been 2005? What is the state doing to avoid the emergence of new squatter settlements?
A: We had initially set 2012 or 2013 to be squatter-free but due to political uncertainties and political problems in the state, we had to review our target.
But this is not to show that the state has failed to meet its target. In fact, it is not a fixed target but one that is constantly changing.
I think we have so far, managed to solve 74% of the cases based on those who are registered with us but then again, we may find some more people claiming to be squatters tomorrow. And so, we have to keep readjusting our target.
Q: Local councils are considered the third tier of government as they are in direct contact with the people who have high expectations. What is your assessment of their performance? What steps will be taken by the state government to strengthen its local councils?
A: Local councils play very important roles as they are the implementers. They ensure the smooth running of the government’s policies in providing service to the people.
And so, I expect them to perform more efficiently. Councils cannot be sleeping, they have to be proactive and continue to serve and deal with local issues.
In the past, we did not have a proper line of communication between council presidents and the state government.
It used to be very official where meetings were held only once in three to four months. And then, they will be called to meet the mentri besar to discuss issues from time to time or meet the mentri besar during official visits to their areas.
That has all changed. During my time, we have initiated a monthly meeting between district officers, council presidents and the MB.
It is an avenue for them to freely communicate with the MB. In some ways, it is like another form of a state executive meeting where we discuss policies and problems openly. This is one of the things we have done to change or to transform our local councils and also district offices.
Q: Next year is considered an extremely challenging year. What is your outlook, especially with the looming general election?
A: The year 2012 will present a new set of challenges but how you look at it is no different.
As far as Barisan Nasional and the state are concerned, we will continue with our policies to help the people. We will stick to existing policies that benefit the people at large.
Regardless of what year we are in, we cannot take things for granted anymore because the political landscape is different and the political reality is also different.
We must be prepared mentally, physically as well as spiritually to face the challenges ahead.