In Kuala Lumpur for a meeting, KeADILan leader Sim Tze Tsin was far away from his constituency in Pantai Jerejak, but still holding away in his mind was an issue that has been dominating national attention and is of particular concern to lower-income Penangites.
The 32-year old first-time state assemblyman is passionate about the Pakatan Rakyat plan to issue or convert leasehold property into freehold titles as a way to help lower income groups climb out from poverty.
This is where we differ from the Barisan Nasional. Our goal is to create as big a middle class as possible. We believe in empowering the people so that they can in turn empower the economy.
This is completely the opposite from the Barisan, in particular Umno, which wants to create an elite class of rich and then hope for the wealth to trickle down to the masses. But their way always ends up with the rich getting richer, while the poor gets poorer, said Sim.
Pakatan states Perak, Penang and Kedah are leading the thrust to push for the issuance or conversion of freehold land to low-income groups, but their plan has hit a snag. Deputy Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak has put a freeze order on their proposal, saying the green-light must first be obtained from the National Land Council.
With all due respect, I think the DPM is the one who has got it all wrong. Najib is Barisan and the Barisan way is to favour the rich. By insisting it is the prerogative of the NLC is also to protect the turf of the rich developers, said Sim, a trained civil engineer who worked in the US for five years before returning home. .
Our way gives freehold titles to the eligible poor with only nominal fees. They will directly benefit from any premium or appreciation in value, not the fat rich developers. Whats the point of owning a RM25,000 low-cost flat for 20 or 30 years and the price goes up just RM5,000? How can they keep abreast with society? Our way is faster to inject and spread wealth into the economy. The sooner it is done, the better.
Do you want to be forever poor?
Already Perak Menteri Besar Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin has announced his state will go ahead with its plan to issue freehold titles to the 149,000 house owners in 349 planned and 134 new villages.
In overriding the federal governments objections, Nizar says Perak does not need to wait for the National Land Councils approval, but would submit a report to it. The state government has instructed land offices to begin processing the applications from house owners in planned and new villages.
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng is also in the final stages of deciding whether or not to proceed with a plan to allow owners of low and medium-cost flats to convert their leasehold titles to freehold without paying a land premium.
Whilst in Kedah, Mentri Besar Azizan Abdul Razak says the state will take a different tack by extending the leases for land in new and planned villages by between 60 and 99 years.
According to Sim, despite the slightly different approaches, the motivation behind the move by the three Pakatan states to liberalise land ownership was the same.
These are the poor folk, who missed out on the earlier wealth cycles. If you dont own property, you tend to be trapped in a vicious cycle. Do you want them and their children to be forever poor? Help them, so they can help themselves and the rest of the society. This is one of the best ways to fast-track them, so they wont keep getting left behind and left out, Sim said.