The Penang Island City Council, which administers George Town and Penang Island, is Malaysia's oldest city council. It is the successor of the Municipal Council of George Town, which was established in 1857 under British rule.
The council is responsible for, among other things, urban planning, heritage preservation, public health, sanitation, waste management, traffic management, environmental protection, building control, social and economic development, and general maintenance of urban infrastructure throughout Penang Island. It is also responsible for the provision of Rapid Penang's free CAT bus service within the George Town city centre.
George Town had its first committee of assessors in 1800. It was the first local authority established in Malaya. In 1857, the Municipal Council of George Town was formed, consisting of five commissioners - three of whom were elected.
In 1951, British authorities reinstated municipal elections in George Town, which had been stopped in 1913. The Municipal Council of George Town was Malaya's first local authority to do so. Initially, nine of the fifteen commissioners were to be elected. By 1956, the Municipal Council of George Town was the first in Malaya to have a fully elected council.
On 1 January 1957, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II declared George Town a city through a royal charter. Thus, the Municipal Council was renamed the George Town City Council. The first Mayor of George Town was D.S. Ramanathan, while G.H. Goh was elected the first President of the new City Council. Festivities were held for nearly a week to celebrate George Town's city status.
With this royal assent from Queen Elizabeth II, George Town became the first city in the Federation of Malaya, as well as Malaysia's only city (other than Singapore between the 1963 merger and its separation in 1965) until 1972, when Kuala Lumpur also became a city.
Local elections were suspended in 1965 by the Malaysian federal government due to the Confrontation against Indonesia. By then, the opposition-controlled George Town City Council was Malaysia's richest local council, with annual revenue almost twice that of the Penang state government. There were claims of maladministration within the City Council, prompting the Malaysian federal government to set up a Royal Commission of Enquiry under Senator Athi Nahappan, while the then Chief Minister of Penang, Wong Pow Nee, took over the functions of the City Council. The Royal Commission recommended the restoration of local elections. Even though the Confrontation had ended by 1966, to this day, the Malaysian federal government still bars local council elections.
The George Town City Council was merged with the Penang Rural District Council to form the Penang Island Municipal Council after the passing of the Local Government Act 1976 by the Malaysian federal government, which provided for non-elected councillors. This ensured that the ruling party in Penang has the power to appoint councillors. Before the act was passed, the George Town City Council had been dominated by the opposition Labour Party, whereas the ruling Alliance coalition controlled the Penang state government.
For the next 39 years, a controversy would emerge over George Town's city status.
Controversy over City Status
According to Queen Elizabeth II's 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."Furthermore, certain federal ordinances and acts still refer to the City of George Town, such as the City of George Town Ordinance 1957. According to lawyer Datuk Anwar Fazal, George Town "legally has been and is still a city because the City of George Town Ordinance 1957 had not been repealed". He added that judicial expansion to a municipal council governing Penang Island had not in any way revoked George Town’s city status, and that through the formation of the Municipal Council of Penang Island, George Town had merely come under the management of a municipality.
On the other hand, the Malaysian federal government regarded George Town's city status as non-existent. Since 1976, George Town disappeared from the Malaysian federal list of cities, all official documents and postal addresses. Despite this, most local Penangites contend that George Town is still a city to this day and alleged that there may be a tacit agenda by the Malaysian federal government to erase George Town from the maps.
After taking over the Penang state government in 2008, the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the People's Justice Party (PKR) vowed to revive commemorations of George Town's city status on 1 January every year. Since then, 1 January has been celebrated as George Town's City Day, with a huge walkathon taking place within the UNESCO Heritage Site on the first morning of every year.
In 2015, the Malaysian federal government granted the entire Penang Island the long-awaited city status. In effect, this makes George Town the only city to be given city status twice, first by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and then by the Malaysian federal government.
List of Mayors
Mayors of George Town
Between 1 January 1957 and 1966, three successive mayors administered George Town.
|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. Penang would not have another mayor until 2015.
Mayors of Penang Island
|1||Patahiyah binti Ismail||2015 - present|
The Penang Island City Council consists of a mayor, a secretary and 24 councillors - all of whom are appointed by the Penang state government. The Mayor of Penang Island is appointed for two years, while each councillor is appointed for one year.
The city council is responsible, among others, for regulating traffic and parking, maintaining public parks, cleanliness and drainage, managing waste disposal, issuing business licenses, and overseeing public health. Rapid Penang's free CAT bus service within the George Town city centre also comes under the responsibility of the city council.
- Department of Management Services
- Department of Treasury
- Department of Public Health and Licensing
- Department of Building
- Department of Engineering
- Department of Urban Planning and Development
- Department of Valuation and Property Management
- Department of Community Services
- Department of Legal Affairs
- Department of Heritage Conservation
- Department of Building Commissioner
- Department of Law Enforcement
- Department of Landscape
- Department of Urban Services