Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Eli Wong: From Activism to Politics

(Pimpinan PR, PAStikan Rakyat DAPat KeAdilan!)
(Rakyat, Teruskan Lonjakkan Minda!)


Din Merican

Eli Wong: From Activism to Politics

Congratulations, Ms. Eli Wong. You have made a good start and a lot is now expected of you. Remember, you will be alone. Your PKR and PR colleagues and Anwar Ibrahim�s Office are with you. �Din Merican
Azreen Madzlan
April 8, 2008
Elizabeth �Don�t-call-me- YB� Wong Keat Ping�s new office at Level 1 of the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah building in Shah Alam is bare. There are no files or papers, just a desk, a few chairs, a phone and a sofa set.

elizabeth wong ellie selangor interview 080408�I don�t see that walking into an empty office without any papers or background information is a real problem,� grinned the Bukit Lanjan state assemblyperson.

The human rights and social activist has been involved with various environmental campaigns since her student days in Australia, including the SOS (Save our Sungai) Selangor lobby against the construction of the Sungai Selangor dam in the late 1990s.

Since she was sworn in on March 24 as state executive council member for tourism, consumer affairs and environment, she has been drawn into long meetings daily.

According to her two assistants, Wong, 38, has been running from one appointment to another, juggling responsibilities to the exco and her constituency.

In an interview in between, she spoke about plans for her portfolios.

Malaysiakini: What are your short- and long-term plans for the environment portfolio?
Wong: There have been complaints about how some sensitive areas have been slated for development, so we are looking into those. The exco made a decision that for hill-slope development - i.e Category 3 and 4, with (a gradient of) 25 degrees and above - no development will be allowed. This would allay a lot of fears among residents and environmentalists.

In the medium term, I hope to be able to go through some of the federal environment laws and see what is applicable and what can be done at state-level. For example, there are many guidelines that we should adopt when it comes to development relating to sensitive areas.

Bukit Gasing 180108 bannerConservation is another big part of my focus. I would like to conserve whatever is left. We are looking at 30 percent of forest reserves in Selangor, and hopefully there will be more stringent protection. Sometimes gazetting may not necessarily (provide) enough protection. It�s just a signature away from being de-gazetted, as we have seen in the Sungai Buloh Forest Reserve as well as the Kota Damansara Forest Reserve.

I would like also to invite environmental groups because they have been in this work longer than you can remember. They have the expertise, the experience and the local knowledge as well, on how to conserve our rivers, our forests, hill slopes, etc. A lot of them are very reasonable people. We are not against development as such, we are just looking for balanced and sustainable development.

Any new plans for Selangor�s tourism sector?
This is quite an important portfolio because it generates revenue for the state. I�ve spoken to some members of the staff here and we are looking at redesigning some of the packages to promote Selangor as a tourist destination.

Again, because I hold the environment portfolio, I�m very keen to link tourism with environment. We do have some form of eco-tourism but we can do better. Also heritage. A lot of people would just go to Kuala Lumpur for example, hang around in Central Market, go to Masjid Jamek and hang around those areas which is well and fine.

But in Selangor we have pretty good heritage sites as well. Beautiful mosques, buildings..I give you the example of Klang; not many people would want to go to Klang, or imagine that there would be some places that they can visit but Klang is quite an amazing place with a lot of potential. So I�m working with the staff to identify some of these areas and see how we can improve in terms of infrastructure and start getting tourists there.

ecotourism  211205 houses hotel chaletsSo in a long run, tourism has to be sustainable and provide income to people living around (the attractions) . The long-term plan is that they will be able to manage some of the sites. I give you the example of home-stay (programmes) , which are very popular. A lot of Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese like that sort of so-called authentic feeling of lifestyles. We hope to develop more of those and at the same time it means that people get to preserve their surroundings, their environments and culture.

We can expand this to include Orang Asli (settlements) , even Chinese new villages which have a very interesting history - we have not really looked into this, but tourists actually go there. A lot of people still live in the original surroundings.

What kind of challenges do you face right now?
Budgetary challenges. We don�t have the working budget, for example for the environment. I don�t have staff specialising in the environment. So I have to get people from outside to come to assist me. I think that�s about it.

I�m looking forward to the challenges. I don�t see that walking to an empty office without any papers, any background information is a real problem. We are slowly layering it and starting from scratch.

Do you think your background in human rights will help you perform better as an exco member?
When I was in (human rights group) Suaram, we did a lot of environmental campaigns as well. So human rights is not removed from social rights or development rights. I think people assume that just because you are in human rights you only care about civil or political rights. It�s not that. I mean I think I do have the experience to see through many of these programmes and projects and plans.

But at the same time, human rights is about dealing with people. Environment and tourism have a lot to do with the people (too). I guess, in the past, people have not had the opportunity to participate in sustainable development. You need people�s participation - residents, locals whom I would consider (to be) experts and who have more knowledge than a scientist based in UKM (for example). So I want to get these people involved.

Same with tourism. We get industry people, we get specialists, consultants but I�m more interested to know people who travel a lot. I want to get their input (because) they are out there travelling all the time. They know what they like, they know what can be done. In fact, I would like to include them in my meetings, for consultation.

What do you think of the fact that more women have been included in the Pakatan Rakyat state excos?
It�s a great start and I hope this trend will continue. There are a lot of extremely capable women among all the Pakatan Rakyat state assembly representatives. It�s just that (places are) limited and we only have 10 posts, but I think that it shows that women in Selangor at least are geared up and ready to take up a leadership role. You never know, you may even get a woman chief minister in the near future.

Comments on the Pakatan Rakyat?
I think it�s a great start. It�s about time. It gives more confidence to voters and Malaysians as a whole. There�s a greater sense of coordination with this in place.



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