Lawmakers puzzled over need for new infrastructure law

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KUALA LUMPUR: Many lawmakers were today puzzled over an infrastructure law passed today at the Dewan Rakyat that compels all state governments to seek advice from a council at the federal level.

This is because the state governments are not legally required to follow the advice of this National Physical Planning Council.

G Manivannan (PKR- Kapar) questioned the reason for the Town and Country Planning Act 2016 to be tabled and approved.

“What is the rationale for tabling it if it is not legally binding?” he asked while Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister Noh Omar was rounding up the bill.

Noh did not respond to a question from Tian Chua (PKR-Batu) on whether the Physical Planning Council, to look at the infrastructure projects, could be held responsible for any advice it gives.

Ngeh Khoo Ham (DAP-Beruas) had asked if the new red tape of requiring all state governments to submit Social Impact Assessment on infrastructure projects would delay the development projects.

Ngeh did not get a response.

Earlier, Ramkarpal Singh (DAP-Bukit Gelugor) questioned if a state government was legally bound to follow the advice of the council.

He also queried the reason for the bill and why the state governments needed to submit a social impact assessment as there were adequate laws to look at the consequences of a project.

Ramkarpal furthermore raised concerns as the council would be headed by the prime minister as this will bestow more powers to the PM.

The bill was passed by a narrow count.

The Dewan Rakyat was thrown into chaos when the initial voice vote favoured the Opposition, which meant the bill could not be approved.

However, Deputy Speaker Ismail Mohamed Syed then asked for a second vote under a bloc vote.

While the bloc vote was in process, several lawmakers were seen running into the Dewan to vote.

After 10 minutes of the voting process, 63 supported the bill and 51 votes objected.

The bill was then approved for a third reading and passed.

The bill seeks two amendments which will compel all state governments and agencies, except in Sabah and Sarawak, to seek advice from the National Physical Planning Council on any development that takes place in the state.

It will require all states to submit a social impact assessment on the project before starting the projects.

This includes the construction of airports, sea ports, inland ports, railway transportation networks, highways, power stations, dams and toxic waste disposal sites, and any other infrastructure of national interest, as determined by the council.

Under the explanatory statement of the proposed amendments, it is stated that the duty to seek advice from the council is imposed because of the potential impact of the development, particularly on the environment and social development of the state.