The George Town City Council was the predecessor of the current Penang Island City Council. It was founded in 1957 when George Town was accorded city status by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, making it the first city within the Federation of Malaya. As with the George Town Municipal Council that preceded it, the council was responsible for the administration of George Town.
However, following the Confrontation against Indonesia, local elections were suspended, while the council was embroiled in allegations of maladministration. In 1976, the city council was merged with the Penang Rural District Council to form the Penang Island Municipal Council. This led to a controversy over George Town's city status, which would last until the conferment of city status to Penang Island in 2015.
In 1957, a royal charter by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II decreed the granting of city status to George Town, thereby upgrading the George Town Municipal Council into the George Town City Council. According to the royal charter,
"... the said Municipality of George Town shall on the First Day of January in the year of Our Lord One thousand nine hundred and fifty seven and forever thereafter be a city and shall be called and styled the City of George Town instead of the Municipality of George Town and shall thenceforth have all such rank, liberties, privileges and immunities as are incident to a City."
With this royal assent, George Town became the first city in the Federation of Malaya, which later gained independence from the British Empire in August 1957. It was also the second city within the Malay Peninsula after Singapore, which was accorded city status in 1951.
After local elections in 1956 and 1957, D.S. Ramanathan was elected the first Mayor of George Town, while G.H. Goh became the first President of the new City Council.
From the onset, the council was split by political loyalties. While G.H. Goh was a member of the ruling Alliance coalition (now Barisan Nasional) which controlled the Penang state government at the time, D.S. Ramanathan was a prominent opposition politician from the Labour Party. In the turbulent decades that followed, political rivalries within the Labour-dominated City Council would shape its management of critical issues in George Town such as housing shortages, flooding and illegal hawkers.
By 1965, the George Town City Council was Malaysia's richest local council, with an annual revenue almost twice that of the Penang state government. However, as a result of the Confrontation against Indonesia, local elections were suspended by the Malaysian federal government.
In addition, there were allegations of maladministration within the City Council. A Royal Commission of Inquiry, led by Senator Athi Nahappan, was launched by the Malaysian federal government, while the functions of the City Council were taken over by the then Chief Minister of Penang, Wong Pow Nee of the ruling Alliance coalition. The Royal Commission recommended the restoration of local elections, which is still not carried out to this day in spite of the Confrontation having ended in 1966.
As a result of the passing of the Local Government Act 1976 by the Malaysian federal government, the George Town City Council was merged with the Penang Rural District Council to form the Penang Island Municipal Council. The act also provided for non-elected councillors, which ensured that the ruling party in Penang has the power to appoint the councillors.
This also led to a controversy over George Town's city status, which would not be resolved until the granting of city status to Penang Island in 2015 by the Malaysian federal government. While the Barisan Nasional-dominated Malaysian federal government regarded George Town's city status as null and void, most Penangites contend that George Town is still a city to this day.
Mayors of George Town
Three successive mayors were elected between 1957 and 1966. Notably, all three were from the opposition Labour Party.
|1||D. S. Ramanathan||1957 - 1961|
|2||Ooi Thiam Siew||1961 - 1964|
|3||Choy Chooi Yew||1964 - 1966|
In 1966, the then Chief Minister of Penang, Wong Pow Nee, took over the functions of the George Town City Council. Consequently, Penang would not have another mayor until 2015.
- Penang Island Municipal Council (1976 - 2015)
- Penang Island City Council (2015 - present)
- Penang, Past and Present, 1786-1963: A Historical Account of the City of George Town Since 1786. George Town City Council, Penang.