GEORGE TOWN, Feb 24 — The appeal process by a group of fishermen against the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) project will not affect work to be implemented under the project, said Deputy Chief Minister I Datuk Zakiyuddin Abdul Rahman.
He said, as of now, there was no injunction or stop-work order against the state to continue the process of procuring information on fishermen affected by the project.
“We will continue to gather data and information on the affected fishermen, and we want each fisherman to come forward and give his views or feedback with regards to the proposed ex-gratia package offered to them,” he said during a press conference today.
He said there are about 800 fishermen along the southern coast from Gertak Sanggul to Permatang Damar Laut.
The state launched a registration process for the affected fishermen on February 8 to gather information and feedback from them.
“So far, a total of 423 fishermen have registered at the Fishermen Registration Service Centre at Permatang Damar Laut and Gertak Sanggul,” he said.
He said fishermen will need to make an appointment to go to either of the centres to register and submit their feedback with regards to the ex-gratia package.
“Recently, there were messages on social media calling on fishermen not to register with the state, so I wish to explain that this registration is important for the state to finalise the Social Impact Management Plan (SIMP),” he said.
He stressed that the offers under the ex-gratia package are still in the proposal stage and the state welcomed all feedback directly from the affected fishermen when they register with any of the registration service centres.
“This offer is made directly to fishermen as Pen Mutiara, on December 28 last year, had stated they do not want to give any feedback on the SIMP package,” he said.
Zakiyuddin said he and Penang Infrastructure Corporation Chief Executive Officer Datuk Seri Farizan Darus personally met with the fishermen who had registered.
“We explained the SIMP package to the fishermen and took into consideration all of their views,” he said.
“Some fishermen said the offer package was beyond their expectations and the fishermen also presented other views such as to increase the ex-gratia sum offered, boat engines of 115 horsepower instead of 60 or 75 horsepower, winch, sonar, trawl and that the ex-gratia payment be made directly to them,” he said.
He stressed that if the affected fishermen do not register with the state, the state will not be able to obtain their feedback on the SIMP package.
An analysis of the data on the fishermen who had registered with the state, Zakiyuddin said 36 per cent were interested in going into other professions and in this group, 56 per cent were interested in tourism, 24 per cent in construction and 20 per cent in aquaculture.
He said another 42 per cent wanted an upgrade on their boats and engines.
“Based on these data, it proved that it is important for us to obtain as much information from the fishermen as possible along with their feedback,” he said.
He denied all allegations made on social media by certain groups that the ex-gratia payment by the state will only be paid out in stages between five to seven years or that the state is not committed in fulfilling the offers made.
“I wish to stress that the state is committed in paying out the ex-gratia as offered once it is finalised as it would be strange if the state does not fulfil its offer when PSR will continue as planned,” he said.
He claimed that false allegations against the state’s SIMP was meant to stop the fishermen from registering with the state and create a false impression that the fishermen are against the PSR.
He said information obtained from the registration process will be used to update the fishermen and their families’ information including their children’s educational information so that the state can plan educational programmes for their children.
He said the state will also have a record of their bank details for payment purposes in future and a record of their contact information so that the state could directly contact them for business and training programmes and to inform them on the latest information regarding the PSR project.
He called on the fishermen’s unit chief in the southern coast of the island to arrange a meeting with the state government and to present their views directly to the state.
“We are open to meet them directly and discuss with them any issues they have regarding the SIMP,” he said.
He hoped all fishermen from all nine units in the southern coast would register with the state soon.
Reclamation work on PSR is expected to start at the end of March or early April once the state obtains approval for its Environmental Management Plan (EMP).
It was reported that phase one of the reclamation for Island A will start first in which 10.1 ha per month will be reclaimed and the reclamation work is expected to complete by 2027.
The state submitted the EMP to the Department of Environment for approval in January and expects to get approval for the report soon.