GEORGE TOWN, April 4 — The Yang di-Pertuan Agong declared city status for Penang island on January 1, but many conveniently ignored the fact that the state capital, George Town, on the northeast tip of the island, has been a city since 1957.
A former official of George Town city council, Datuk Anwar Fazal, said Penang Island City now had a tale of two cities, a tale of a city within a city.
He said George Town never lost its city status and remained the oldest city in Malaysia, pointing out “the City of George Town Ordinance 1957 was never repealed.”
“The city status conferred on George Town remains secure. It is wrong to say it lost its city status and regained it this year,” said Anwar, who served as city council assistant secretary between 1965 and 1973 under the city’s third mayor CY Choy and his successor Ooi Thiam Siew.
He said the state government has to make public the historical value and contributions of George Town and recognise it as the capital of Penang.
George Town was named after Britain’s King George III. It was granted city status by a Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth II, the same way Penang was granted city rank by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
Prior to that, three Penang citizens, SM Mohamed Idris, Lim Huck Aik and Chan Siew Tong submitted a petition to the Queen in 1956 seeking city status.
On Jan 1, 1957, British High Commissioner to Malaya Sir Donald Charles MacGillivray handed over the Royal Charter to then George Town municipal council president Cunyngham-Brown.
Reports stated that some 5,000 people, including Sultans from Malay states, gathered at the Esplanade to witness the historic event.
George Town was since then governed by a city council until 1974 when it was merged with the Penang rural district council to form a local government management board.
Two years later, when the Local Government Act 1976 took effect, this board became the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP).
Anwar argued that judicial expansion to a municipal council governing the whole island had not in any way revoked George Town’s city status.
Through the merger of the councils and later the formation of MPPP, George Town City had merely come under the management of a municipality, he said.
Anwar said the MPPP presidents between 1976 until this year were actually the de facto mayors of George Town City.
Hence, the newly appointed Penang Island City Mayor Datuk Patahiyah Ismail is also the Mayor of George Town City.
She must be the only person in the world to be a mayor for two cities in the same geo-political domain, he said.
Anwar said many were dismayed that the name George Town had slowly been wiped out from people’s thoughts and in official documents, including in land titles issued by the Northeast District and Land Office, identity documents issued by
National Registration Department, council and state government official letterheads and addresses.
Even the chief minister’s office address makes no mention of George Town.
Now George Town, the capital city, is referred to as Penang, which is officially a state not a city.
George Town is almost non-existent in Penang.
Was it systematically wiped out from officialdom? Doubts linger.
Some locals think there was tacit agenda to airbrush George Town from the map of Penang.
They pointed to the new name of Penang Island City in Malay, “Bandaraya Pulau Pinang”, as an indicator.
A councillor in the newly-formed Penang Island City Council (MBPP) admitted the state government should have just re-established the George Town City Council and formed another council to administer other parts of the island.
“It’s a great injustice to the city of George Town,” said the councillor, who declined to be named.
MBPP secretary Ang Aing Thye denied the authorities had ignored the name George Town, saying the post office handbook still referred to it as capital city.
He said Unesco’s world heritage listing mentioned George Town Heritage Site.
On whether MBPP will use George Town in its address, he said: “We will use Penang Island City Council.”