Penang govt’s rationalisation on South Islands project raises more questions than answers

The Penang state government reiterated last week that it will proceed with the Penang South Islands (PSI) project.

This comes despite a chorus of objections from various quarters, including MPs from both sides of the political divide, federal ministers, and social activists.

The state government tried to pacify the public through its rationalisation, but most environmentalists and marine biologists agree the state government’s explanation is anything but convincing.

It should be noted that in 2015, Universiti Sains Malaysia Centre for Policy Research and International Studies was commissioned 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.

As such, I believe the explanation by the state government is merely a rehash of old arguments that do not hold up to scrutiny.

Any thinking person would come to the full realisation that the offset programmes and other remedies to “repair” the environmental damage, as mentioned by the state government, are in itself, a testament that the project will bring about unspeakable destruction, not only to the environment, but to other spheres of life.

The irreversible damage and residual impact on the mudflat ecosystem, fishing grounds, turtle landing and parts of the coral reef at Pulau Rimau, which are important to the fisheries resource, is a certainty. However, this point was left out by the state government.

The state government also omitted the findings of independent and thorough academic studies which have demonstrated that the ecosystem of the coast to be reclaimed, and the fisheries resources, would be permanently destroyed.

The state government had also downplayed the importance of the state’s aquaculture industry.

In 2017, Penang’s aquaculture industry accounted for 55 per cent of Malaysia’s annual marine harvests, or US$700 million. The area under threat has an estimated wholesale value of fish worth US$10 million.

While the state has mentioned they are engaging with the “traditional fishermen” in the affected area, they failed to mention the fate that will befall some 4,500 fishermen in Perak, as well as those in Kedah, whose livelihood depends heavily on harvesting marine resources in the area.

The omission of certain facts, in my mind, masks the contradictions between what the project delivery partners want, and what the public relations exercise wants the public to believe – that the project will solve the traffic congestion and be the catalyst for industrial expansion.

It is clear to see that the pitfalls and weaknesses of the project are obscured behind the so-called expansionary needs of the electrical and electronics industries in line with the state’s desire to scale up in its industrial and technological dominance.

While this may sound persuasive to some, the reality points in a different direction.

In terms of logistical support, industrial expansionary efforts should be the focus on the mainland. This will create a synergy between Batu Kawan and the Kulim Industrial Park.

Relocating and diverting industrial expansion to the mainland makes a lot of sense because the proposed Kulim International Airport and North Butterworth Container Terminal will ensure the smooth movement of goods and ease traffic congestion on the island.

One wonders why this option is not being considered by the state.

Why is it that Seberang Prai is off the radar when it comes to expanding the manufacturing sector?

The PSI and the proposed Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) are island centric. Why not divert development to the mainland?

It appears the state is not serious in its efforts to ease traffic congestion and protect the environment. While the state made some referrals to the initiatives in turning PSI into a low carbon development, this is not demonstrated in their action. Both the PSI and the PTMP are not based on the principle of moving people. Fundamentally, these twin monsters are about moving cars. Can the logic be more twisted?

The state government had also claimed the total population of PSI will be around 500,000. This is easily challenged by looking at the Statistics Department’s forecasts of 1,983,200 Penang inhabitants by 2030.

However, Penang’s Structure Plan and PTMP are based on an over-inflated 2030 population projection of 2.45 million. And here’s something to ponder – Penang recently emerged as the state with the lowest fertility rate in the country, at 1.3 children per woman.

If anything, the state government’s recent explanation on the PSI raises more questions than answers.

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