I am recording this post from an internet cafe in Pulau Tikus, Penang. I drove to Penang on Wednesday to attend to some personal matters.
It is sad to note that the state authorities, be it the Penang State Government or the Penang Island Municipal Council or Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang in Malay, did not find it important and just to celebrate the proclamation of Georgetown as a city by H.E. The Queen of England, Elizabeth II. Georgetown was upgraded as a city on Jan 1, 1957, that is 50 years ago. It is the only state capital east of Suez to be bestowed the royal status of a city by the Head of the Commonwealth.
Malaysia, or rightly Malaya, will be celebrating her 50th anniversary on Aug 31 this year and the government, both at federal and state levels, have lined up various activities and fiestas to celebrate the occasion.
The peculiar situation of Georgetown today is due to the state government's (Gerakan-led) decision to merge the City Council with the Rural District Council to form the Penang Island Municipal Council.
For the record Georgetown's city status was not revoked although the City Council ceased to exist. Legally the city status remains till today.
As a boy, I used to travel by the City Council's electric-powered trolley bus, the only one in the then Malaya. The trolley bus was efficient, silent and pollution free. Unfortunately, the City Councillors decommissioned the trolley bus service and replaced it with diesel-powered buses which are noisy and not pollutant-free.
According to records, in 1800 the then colonial administration formed a Committee of Assessors and from this evolved the fully elected Municipal Council. The committee was set up to fix a valuation on every particular house and that so much per cent on that valuation be levied.
Later the Chief Civil Officer (the then Civil Administrative head) was appointed and all the business of collection was placed unde his superintendence.
The Georgetown Municipal Council was set up after the Draft Municipal Act of 1846 under Section XII which empowered the City Authority of the Settlements to appoint a Municipal Committee to consist of five resident rate payers, two of them to be government officers, and charged this committee with responsibility for enforcing the Act.
Municipal Commissioners were later appointed under Act No XXVII of 1856 with the British Resident being one of them, the Governor was given the power to appoint one commissioner while three others be elected by the rate payers. The Resident also acted as President of the Commissioners.
My late grand-uncle who was also a kadhi (Muslim family court judge and registrar of marriage), Capt. (V.F.) Syed Salleh bin Hashim Alsagoff, had also served as a Municipal Commissioner.
In December 1956, the first ever fully elected City Council was held and at its first meeting on Jan 2, 1957, lawyer G.H. Goh of the Alliance Party was elected President defeating D.S. Ramanathan of the Labour Party. However, Ramanathan was elected as Georgetown's first Mayor, a post created by an amendment to the Constitution on Dec 23, by the State Legislature.
The City Council of Georgetown never failed to hold elections to elect a mayor and its councillors. The city's taxpayers continued to vote in the Labour Party and later the Socialist Front to head the City Council until it was replaced by the Penang Island Municipal Council (no more elections but political appointments).
The City Council of Georgetown must be restored and its area of jurisdiction be extended to cover Bayan Baru and Tanjong Bunga while the former areas under the Rural District Council be upgraded to a Municipality covering most of the South-West District and be known as Balik Pulau Municipal Council.