Nurul Izzah’s objection of Penang South Reclamation Project a breath of fresh air

Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar deserves commendation for coming out strongly against the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) Project.

Her stance on this issue has validated the years of struggle by Penang Forum and other civil society organisations against the Penang government’s decision to embark on a massive reclamation project to finance the Penang Transport Masterplan (PTMP).

It is worth mentioning here that before this controversial project had become public knowledge, Universiti Sains Malaysia Centre for Policy Research and International Studies was commissioned in 2015 by former Balik Pulau MP and Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahya, to undertake a comprehensive social impact assessment on the repercussions of this project on those who live nearby, and the wider population of Penang, northern Perak and southern Kedah.

Our findings were presented to the then Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar. He agreed with our findings and decided not to approve the environmental impact assessment submitted by the state.

The reclamation project that started as a plan to solve the increasing traffic woes in the state, has taken on a life of its own, morphing into a creature that is hell-bent on destroying not only the environment, but also the very social fabric that had coloured the south of Penang for generations.

Penang has been a manufacturing and tourism hub in Malaysia since the 1970s when the then state government, led by Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu ,charted the industrialisation of the state.

The industrialisation plan led to Penang receiving a lot of foreign direct investments and being dubbed the ‘Silicon Valley of the East’. Once a thriving free port, the state was transformed into an industrial hub producing semiconductors and electrical and electronic products.

While most parties would agree that industrialisation had some negative externalities in the guise of environmental damage and traffic congestion, the proposed PTMP remedy to this problem will not only destroy the biodiversity in the state, but put more cars on the streets as well.

This is the primary reason why the PTMP drew huge opposition from civil society organisations. And to fund this mammoth project requires the reclamation of an area measuring 1,821ha off the coast of Permatang Damar Laut.

This massive reclamation will not only lead to a shrinking fishing zone and destruction of fishing grounds but also sea pollution and sedimentation.

Besides the declining fish and prawn population, which make up the bulk of the fishermen’s catch, the breeding areas of cockles and mussels will also be badly affected, leading to their extinction.

It is refreshing to note that there is still a progressive and young politician like Nurul Izzah coming out strongly against such a project.

Her observation that the state does not need the project augurs well with the sentiment among environmentalists and the fishermen.

The state government’s claim that the reclamation would, in itself, bring about a huge multiplier effect is anything but realistic. With the current health crisis and the concomitant economic meltdown, a financial plan to sell land to fund the PTMP will surely hit a snag.

Even if the state argues that PSR will provide an engine for the state to leapfrog into Industry 4.0 (IR 4.0), the reclamation itself will not propel the state into the new industrial revolution.

Leapfrogging into IR 4.0 is beyond land matters. It requires a paradigm shift and a steady supply of human capital that is ready to embrace it.

PSR has been taken over by the developers when the Penang state government entered into an agreement in 2015 with SRS Consortium Sdn Bhd as the project delivery partner (PDP) for the entire PTMP, except for the three highways and tunnel project – undertaken by Consortium Zenith Construction.

SRS Consortium comprises Gamuda Bhd (60 per cent stake), Loh Phoy Yen Holdings Sdn Bhd (20 per cent) and Ideal Property Development Sdn Bhd (20 per cent).

To part finance the PTMP, the PDP will be awarded the reclamation rights of 607ha of land. Initially, the land to be reclaimed would be on the middle bank — a grassy, muddy sandbank in the middle of the Penang channel.

However, after a public outcry against the reclamation of an ecologically sensitive area that is home to a variety of marine life, the state backtracked on its plan.

Reclamation works and building more highways will not propel Penang into the next stage of growth.

If at all, this project will benefit the developers, destroy the environment, and kill the fishing industry.

This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Twentytwo13.