Appeals pending, don’t sign ‘3 islands’ deal yet, Penang govt told

Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow (seated, third from left) with representatives from the five international teams shortlisted to design the Penang South Islands project, at Komtar, in George Town, recently.

GEORGE TOWN: Two groups today told the Penang government not to be too eager to sign agreements related to the three islands project as there were pending legal challenges from NGOs and fishermen.

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) said the reclamation work, despite obtaining approval, was under appeal and hence there should be no signing of agreements to formally kickstart the project.

This was after Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow had reportedly said the government would be signing an agreement to begin reclaiming the 1,821ha Penang South Islands (PSI) project this month.

In a statement, CAP and SAM said the fishermen’s unit of Sungai Batu – which is directly affected by the PSI – had filed an appeal against the approval given by the Department of Environment (DoE) to carry out reclamation work in July last year and that the suit had yet to be heard.

The fishermen have challenged the environmental impact assessment for the PSI, calling it “premature” as it was not compatible with conditions set by the agriculture ministry and that it undermined Malaysia’s obligations on the Convention on Biological Diversity, the statement said.

“These are substantial grounds and the matter could be litigated right up to the Federal Court and could take many months,” CAP’s Mohideen Abdul Kader and SAM’s Meenakshi Raman said.

Under the environmental quality (appeal board) 2003 regulations, a person directly affected by a project can apply to the DoE to reconsider its approval.

“The state government is proceeding as if all approvals will be given and any legal challenge to its project will be decided in its favour regardless of objections by interested parties like the Sungai Batu Fishermen Unit and civil society organisations.

“This makes a mockery of civil society participation in decision making on public matters and the legal process to ensure environmental protection and social justice,” they said.

CAP and SAM also urged the transport ministry not to give final approval to the RM8 billion Bayan Lepas Light Rail Transit (LRT) project in view of its exorbitant cost compared with other cheaper alternative modes of transport, and the financial burden the present and future generations would have to bear.

The PSI involves the creation of three islands to finance the RM46 billion Penang Transport Master Plan, which includes an LRT line, highways and other modes of public transport.