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Monday, May 31, 2021

Cancel the Penang South Reclamation project

 


MP SPEAKS | The Penang South Reclamation (PSR) project should be cancelled by both the federal and state governments in view of immediate pressing needs of the pandemic, and in the effort to preserve Penang’s valuable fishing ground, the livelihood of fishermen and overall food security

First announced in 2015, the PSR was originally meant to finance the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP). While my fellow party members and I initially supported the push for better public transport, we began to develop doubts when the PTMP evolved to include mega-highways across the hills and rivers, LRT, monorails, skycab and land reclamation.

Therefore, we have to weigh this matter against the priorities of environmental protection and the wellbeing and livelihoods of our constituents. The losses and risks of this project far outweigh any possible gains to the state and its people.

PSR (now also referred to as Penang South Islands, PSI), has consistently drawn my opposition through internal channels, public statements, as well as questions raised in Parliament. My objections are for the following reasons:

  1. The need and necessity to reconsider mega infrastructure projects, particularly as we navigate yet another unforgiving wave of this pandemic with an expected K-shaped recovery.

The state and the people of Penang should not be burdened with a project fraught with risks, debt, uncertainties, and U-turns. As it stands, the entire PSR project will be funded and managed by a 70-30 joint-venture between SRS Consortium Sdn Bhd and the Penang state government – it is now a privately-led megaproject, lacking clarity on the various aspects of the mammoth project.

In a recent statement, SRS Consortium Sdn Bhd (the project delivery partner for the PSR project) stated that the 70-30 joint venture agreement will ensure that Penang benefits from the ensuing foreign direct investment, GDP contribution and creation of high-skilled jobs over a 30-year development time-frame for the three PSI islands.

While we do not deny the need for constant evaluation and improvement of physical and economic infrastructures, this must not result in permanent and irreparable environmental destruction as admitted by SRS’ own environmental impact assessment (EIA) consultants. The state’s ambition to leave a legacy must not be at the expense of rakyat; not only fishermen whose livelihood are directly threatened, but also all Penangites who will bear the costs of diminishing supply of fresh seafood and resultant higher prices.

The pandemic has exposed the deep levels of systemic inequity – further reminding us of the need to adopt development models that protect citizens rather than profiteering entities.

It is also important to ask if these infrastructure projects create meaningful value for the state and its people. We need to strengthen our re-skilling efforts, to enable local communities to compete effectively for incoming high-skilled roles; bearing in mind the years of educational opportunities lost by children in low-income households due to the pandemic.

Given the above considerations, can we afford to wait without adequate socio-economic safeguards and certainty for another 30 years before reaping the intended benefits of this project, while we navigate an unprecedented public health and economic crisis?

  1. Unanswered questions yet to be addressed – why has the state decided to enable this project despite the EIA confirming that this will result in permanent environmental loss?

In the EIA report for the PSR project, it is clearly stated that: “Permanent destruction and residual impacts will be suffered by the mudflat ecosystem, fishing grounds, turtle landings, and some of the coral reefs on Pulau Rimau. This permanent destruction will have a significant negative impact on fisheries resources, fishermen and the security of the country’s food supply.”

Phase 1 of Island A alone requires an estimated 11 million cubic meters of sand: comparable to 4,400 Olympic-sized swimming pools. This large-scale sand mining for land reclamation purposes will adversely affect fisheries resources and will impact inshore fishermen and aquaculture farmers’ sources of income in both Penang and Perak.

While we fully agree with the stated aims of the state government, such as to build a smart city, provide employment, develop human capital, expand the Bayan Lepas Free Trade Zone (BLFTZ), relieve development pressure on George Town, and provide new beginnings for fishermen, we must remember that reclamation is a highly costly exercise – both financially and socioeconomically.

Instead of reclaiming 4,500 acres of land from the sea, there is plenty of land on the Penang mainland. More efforts should be focused on small-scale pro-community development on the Penang mainland (as advocated by Think City) to address unbalanced growth; this should be the main trajectory of Penang’s development.

  1. The irreversible and irrecoverable damage to the livelihoods of fisherfolk

In terms of social and environmental impact, it is difficult for us to quantify and assess the impacts that are likely to be irreversible.

This development project will not only affect the livelihood of fishing communities and increase poverty, but also threaten the safety of fisherfolk. Coastal reclamation will result in fishermen and women having to travel further to obtain their catch. The cost of diesel incurred is also higher, as well as the time required to catch fish and other marine catch. In addition, fishermen face higher risks of physical danger, as well as damage to their boats and nets.

Although Penang is offering ex-gratia packages and programmes that are intended to provide long-term benefits to the 1,615 affected fishermen, the project will result in damage to the ocean and coastal ecosystems that threaten the livelihoods of almost 5,000 fishermen, as the impact of the reclamation will extend beyond Teluk Kumbar and even beyond Penang waters. Both the quantum as well as the mitigation measures are inadequate and do not address the costs incurred by fisherfolk or the safety considerations.

The above is in line with a memorandum received by PKP MPs in Penang, which stated that positive response on the project was only obtained from part-time fishermen and retired fishermen. The decision taken should be centered on sustainable development without ignoring or denying the voice of full-time fishermen and women – who remain steadfast in their stand to oppose the project.

As such I have no choice but to voice this objection publicly in the hopes that the reclamation project is terminated and is replaced with a truly sustainable economic rejuvenation plan – more in line with the need to build back better and greener in a globally recovering post-pandemic world.

As a result of voicing these objections, there may be those who say I am anti-development/growth/employment. Please let me assure you that I stand for development, growth, and employment that truly results in greater equity of socio-economic impact with minimum destruction to the environment and livelihoods.

The Environment and Water Ministry must revoke the earlier approval provided by the Department of Environment; and energise all possible efforts to collaborate with the Penang government in managing the people’s socio-economic recovery as we chart the uncertain post-pandemic recovery terrain. - Mkini


NURUL IZZAH ANWAR is PKR’s Permatang Pauh MP.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.

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