MAY 20 — When I read the article ‘Penang NGOs — an opposition force without accountability? — 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 (PTPM). I would say the article summarily denied the positive contributions of Penang NGOs for example, when they successfully halted/revised the implementation of PORR 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 PTPM as a whole coupled with the SouthReclamation Scheme. By citing other ‘successful’ projects implemented over the years, readers are supposed to also accept that PIL1, PTPM and SRS 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 are busy living day to day, they have no time to bother about the future.This they leave it 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 proposed are for the good of the people and the State/Nation. If the projects uses 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 PTPM as a reason to reclaim new islands is just an excuse to camouflage a developer bias policy by the Penang State government. After all, the PTPM as it stands is a developer modified version of the original Halcrow’s study and recommendations which for all intents and purposes deviates entirely in form and functions. If the State wants to reclaim those islands nonetheless for future economics of Penang so be it but do not link them to PTPM 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 PTPM, 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 RM7.5Billion 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 5 to 6 years? RM7.5B translate to 15,000 buses at RM500k each. Would not it be more sensible to provide 15,000 new buses to encourage public transport use in Penang State? Besides, newer transport technologies are available quite recently. The ART (trackless train) which cost only a fifth of LRT systems is now an option. Congestion pricing as a means of controlling the number private vehicles in a city are being considered by many cities around the world.
Until and unless the Malaysian public in particular Penangites takes 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 ECRL projects — those 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
School of Housing, Building and Planning
Universiti Sains Malaysia
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.