Government, Civil Society and The Commons

Penang land model government SRS

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Democracy in the 21st century.

To what extent can a “temporarily elected government” dispose at their will of large swaths of the natural, historical, environmental, cultural, social, economic, etc. , patrimony — “The Commons”,as it is well known —  in order to put some pennies (or billions) into the government coffers, or those of their contractual partners, to do with what they want during their short time in office.

This is a vexing question of democracy in the 21st century and it needs to be asked, not in terms of today’s political differences, but in the deeper terms of how we chose to govern ourselves.

Unlike government or the private sector, Civil Society is characterized by a commitment to the long term health and wellbeing of their particular swath of this earth, and is the guarantor of the long term. Which is precisely what we are trying so hard to achieve here.

PS. The various land deals and proposals underlying the SRS project are not part of some “free lunch” which the private sector PDP consultant and the present (temporary, let us not forget) administration are claiming is possible. It gives away important elements of the future of Penang, tempers with and diminishes the value and the integrity of the Commons and thus needs to be understood and protected from short term interests. This is the role of Civil Society as a whole.


Picture source: From a press conference organized  by the PDP team lead by the state government and their PDP consultant SRS on 26 July 2016, announcing a major increase the financing requirements for the most recent version of their transport infrastructure program.

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About the editor:

Eric Britton
9, rue Gabillot, 69003 Lyon France

Bio: Educated as an international development economist, Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher and sustainability activist who has worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. Professor of Sustainable Development, Economy and Democracy at the Institut Supérieur de Gestion (Paris), he is also MD of EcoPlan Association, an independent advisory network providing strategic counsel for government and business on policy and decision issues involving complex systems, social-technical change, civil society and sustainable development. Founding editor of World Streets: The Politics of Transport in Cities | See Britton online at and @ericbritton

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