NGOs play big role in raising issues

When I read the article “Penang NGOs: An opposition force without accountability?” by Timothy Tye and Joshua Woo, the first thing that came to mind was “Ouch!” because even though I have no affiliation to the NGOs Timothy and Joshua were referring to, I do follow the issues raised, in particular the proposed PIL1 highway and the so-called Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP).

I would say the article summarily denied the positive contributions of Penang NGOs, for example, when they successfully halted/revised the implementation of PORR (Penang Outer Ring Road) and Penang Global City Center (PGCC), among others.

The primary purpose of their article, I gather, is to discredit the NGOs, especially those who have raised questions on the viability and future prospects of PTMP as a whole, coupled with the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) project.

By citing other “successful” projects implemented over the years, readers are
supposed to also accept that PIL1, PTMP and PSR will be just as successful.

What the authors have conveniently failed to mention are the details of the grouses raised by NGOs and affected public. But, then again, why should they shoot their own foot? The onus of finding out the details of the issues raised lies with the readers themselves. that is if they care to find out.

Here is where the NGOs play a big role. The level of apathy among the Malaysian public, truth be told, is rather high. The ordinary man and woman on the street is busy living day to day, they have no time to bother about the future. This they leave to the government of the day. The people trust the government, hoping that their interest and their children’s interest will be taken care of.

But alas, Malaysian politicians, like most politicians anywhere in the world I suppose, like to claim that projects they propose are for the good of the people and the state/nation. If the projects use private funding or foreign investment, then perhaps the opportunity should be accorded to the proposers. But once public funding or liability is involved, should not a more prudent approach be adopted and applied?

Personally, I think the use of the PTMP as a reason to reclaim new islands is just an excuse to camouflage a developer bias policy by the Penang government. After all, the
PTMP, as it stands, is a developer modified version of the original Halcrow’s study and
recommendations which, for all intents and purposes, deviate entirely in form and function.

If the state wants to reclaim those islands nonetheless for future economics of Penang, so be it but do not link them to PTMP and please ensure all statutory requirements are complied with.

But do not let the public foot the bill – it should be a commercial venture by capable entities.

As for PTMP, a review is warranted because so many technical issues need to be addressed. The simple question of Return on Investment (ROI) of PIL1 has yet to be answered. Is it really worth spending RM7.5 billion on a new highway risking all sorts of environmental problems along the way just to reduce 15 minutes of travel time that will jam out again in five to six years?

RM7.5 billion translates to 15,000 buses at RM500,000 each. Would not it be more sensible to provide 15,000 new buses to encourage public transport use in Penang? Besides, newer transport technologies are available. The ART (trackless train), which costs only a fifth of LRT systems, is now an option.

Congestion pricing to control the number of private vehicles in a city is being considered by many cities around the world. Until and unless the Malaysian public, in particular Penangites, take more notice of the projects around them, NGOs have to take the brunt of the “attacks”, accusations and belittling by those having their own agenda.

Remember 1MDB and the original ECRL project? These too were meant to prosper our
nation. The announced intention might have been right but the unquestionable use of public funds and leaving the liability to future generations made it all wrong!

Assoc Prof Ahmad Hilmy Abdul Hamid is from the School of Housing, Building and Planning, Universiti Sains Malaysia.

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