Set up appeals board to hear out fishermen on reclamation, says NGO

Fishermen holding a protest at the Esplanade in George Town, Penang, last November.

GEORGE TOWN: Sahabat Alam Malaysia wants the inaugural Environmental Quality Appeals Board to be set up quickly to hear the objections from 185 fishermen who are against the RM46 billion South Reclamation (PSR) project in Penang.

SAM president Meenakshi Raman said the board, when it is set up, will be the first of its kind since the Environmental Quality Act was passed in 1974.

Speaking to FMT, she said while SAM welcomed the federal government’s stand that Penang cannot start its PSR project without relevant approvals, priority must be given to setting-up this board.

“It is important that the appeal by the Sungai Batu fishermen against the approval of PSR’s environment impact assessment by the Department of Environment be heard.

“The outcome of the board on the appeal ought to be heard and respected by the Penang government.

“The environment ministry must ensure the concerns expressed by civil societies and fisherfolk are properly heard without any pressure from any lobbies,“ she said, adding that they welcomed the minister’s assurance that all processes would be addressed with transparency.

Environment and Water Minister Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man told Parliament today that the six members of the Appeals Board had been identified and it was waiting to be gazetted by the Attorney-General’s Chambers.

He also said the PSR project cannot begin without an environmental management plan (EMP).

The EMP is part of 72 conditions given for approval by the Department of Environment when it green-lit the PSR last year.

In an immediate response to Tuan Ibrahim’s statement, Penang Fishermen’s Association chief Mahadi Md Rodzi said the group is happy to hear that their appeal will be heard.

He said the PSR project should not have been approved in the first place as it would affect the state’s food security seriously.

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow meanwhile said the state government will not start the PSR project without the necessary approvals from Putrajaya.

The Tanjong MP said he was confident that the approvals would be secured before the EIA approval expires in June next year.

“I’ve said this before. We will follow the law. I have confidence in the process and also the DoE to obtain the approval for the EMP,” he said.

Previously, Penang had announced that the first package of works would be awarded in February 2021, followed by other packages involving two highways and a light rail transit (LRT) project in March, August and October in 2021 respectively.

On July 1, the Penang government signed a master agreement with SRS Consortium, a project delivery partner, to officially go ahead with the RM46 billion project.

The PSR, or three-islands project, will reclaim 1,821ha of land. The land will later be sold to the highest bidder to finance the infrastructure projects, such as the highways and a 30-station LRT line.

Penang is considering issuing state-backed bonds to kickstart the reclamation project.