Reclaimed islands will be owned by Penang govt

The South China Morning Post today published an article “Penang wants to be like Hong Kong and Singapore. Problem is its fishermen don’t” that contains misleading statements that may confuse readers.

I would like to provide facts about the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) that may be of interest to FMT readers following this issue.

Penang South reclamation is not a land swap:

The article states that the reclamation is part of a proposed land swap deal with the project delivery partner of the PTMP, SRS Consortium.

The Penang state government has clarified many times that the reclamation is not a land swap deal.

The reclaimed islands will be owned by the state government and the plan is to develop the land for various purposes such as providing public spaces, affordable housing, commercial and industrial opportunities. The location is ideal due to its proximity to the airport and the Free Industrial Zone.

Multidimensional transport plan

The article states that PTMP proponents defend the state’s decision to spend nearly 40 times its annual budget to build more highways in a state where people face long commutes due to traffic congestion.

This is a misleading statement for two reasons. First, the PTMP is not a highway project but consists of various public transport infrastructure, such as the Light Rail Transit, Bus Rapid Transit, monorail, and tram, along with several road construction plans.

Second, the estimated cost of RM46 billion is for a “holistic and integrated transport plan”, as stated by Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, “that outlines Penang’s public transport and road networks to cater for travel demands over the next 50 years”.

Assuming Penang’s annual budget is consistently RM1 billion, that means the estimated cost of PTMP, when spread out for 50 years, would be less than the five decades’ collective figure.

One wonders why the article compares the estimated cost of a project with 50-year relevance to just one year’s budget to exaggerate the cost?

Engagement with fisherman:

The article reports that a spokeperson for the fishermen claims that the state government has not engaged the fishermen community for the PTMP. This is wrong.

The project has built not one but two engagement centres at the southern coast, known as Pusat Perkhidmatan Setempat Nelayan. The centre at Permatang Damar Laut began its service in May 2016 while the one at Gertak Sanggul started a year later.

The centres have full-time staff who are stationed there during working days to provide information and to engage all the stakeholders along the southern coast, including the fishermen communities.

The article also reports that “the reclamation project would decimate fish breeding grounds and hurt the livelihood of the state’s 6,000 fishermen”.

The total registered fishermen in Penang is less than 3,000, according to data from the Department of Fisheries. The fishermen living in the Barat Daya district, in the reclamation site, number 912.

Regarding the impact on fish breeding grounds, the PTMP requires a Fishery Impact Assessment that studies and provides mitigation measures.

Some fishermen are known to make astounding allegations. Just recently, some fishermen claimed that their fishing ground in the northern part of the Penang island is filled with mud which had drifted from the reclamation work at Gurney coast.

This is despite the strict compliance followed in the project and the coastal current that actually drifts in the opposite direction from the fishing site.

Actually, the fishermen had the same muddy situation three years ago before the reclamation started. Yet this time around, they are blaming the reclamation.

Penang’s economy

The article states that Penang’s economy has slowed in recent years and the state is now largely a tourist attraction, best known for its street food and Unesco World Heritage Site (George Town).

This is contrary to the economic achievement and performance of Penang in recent years. Penang is the state with the second highest investment and the highest foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2017.

The gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Penang was RM47,322 in 2016, the second highest in the country after Kuala Lumpur (RM101,420). From 2014 to 2016, Penang and Selangor are the only two states to achieve real GDP growth among the top five states.

Overall, the article has not only given a wrong impression of the PTMP but also of Penang and online readers must take note.

Joshua Woo Sze Zeng is a former municipal councillor with Seberang Perai Municipal Council.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.