Blog

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Our guest contributor is Eric Britton, a sustainable transport expert who visited Penang a couple of years ago. He says, “The priority is not to further expand supply of inefficiently used infrastructure, but rather to manage and use it better.”

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Photograph: The Malaysian Insider

Under normal circumstances, I would be the first to support any plan to promote sustainable transport in Penang and Malaysia. Unfortunately, I cannot support the Penang transport masterplan as it stands for the following reasons:

1. Ballooning costs: The cost keeps ballooning even before it starts. RM27bn was already an astronomical figure. Now we are told it will be RM35-40bn (The Edge interview with the Penang chief minister). And that is excluding the tunnel, mind you. (A figure of RM6.3bn has been mentioned for that. These are mega projects by any definition – and we used to criticise Mahathir for those, with justification. Whose idea was it to have a road tunnel, anyway?

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CAP has just come out with a statement below:

What is Penang without her green? What is Green Lane without the Green? Penang is slowly losing its green as more concrete jungles are taking over for development and paving the way for more vehicles.

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Construction of three highways in Penang Island is expected to begin in June 2016, but the consortium will only need a preliminary EIA before starting work. This is such a major project – highways near hills and densely populated areas – and yet, they don’t need a detailed EIA?

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In this era of climate change, I was alarmed to hear that up to three dozen big trees could be removed along Jalan Masjid Negeri (“Green” Lane) to make way for another car lane. (Update: Apparently, 18 trees could be involved, not 33 as reported or recommended – and MBPP has not yet made a decision … though the project is expected to be completed by May 2017.) This is the stretch across the road from the MacDonald’s outlet.

This road-widening project is expected to cost some RM15m. (Update: Now they say it will cost RM7.8m – plus acquisition costs?) Is this the best use of our limited funds? Would it really solve our traffic problems? For how long?

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That was a reader’s comment left on the website of the Wall Street Journal. The Swiss were renown for their banking secrecy, but even they couldn’t keep mum over this.

The sum suspected to have been misappropriated amounts to around US$4bn; its intended purpose is the subject of further investigations. So far it has been ascertained that a small portion of the money was transferred to accounts held in Switzerland by various former Malaysian public officials and both former and current public officials from the United Arabic Emirates.

So thanks to the Switzerland attorney general’s office, we now know there is a ‘black hole’ out there amounting to US$4bn (RM17bn), involving several firms that have links to 1MDB.

In my piece, The black hole of 1MDB, I noted that 1MDB stood to make at least RM12bn in property revaluation gains. This would come in handy for 1MDB to fill up its own black hole by paying off its debts, (incurred on what?) and papering over its losses.

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A bombshell, if ever there was one.

Read the full statement from the Swiss attorney general’s office here. The actual headline of the Swiss statement starts with “1MDB case”.

The criminal investigation conducted by the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) has revealed serious indications that funds have been misappropriated from Malaysian state companies. The monies believed to have been misappropriated would have been earmarked for investment in economic and social development projects in Malaysia. So far four cases involving allegations of criminal conduct and covering the period from 2009 to 2013 have come to light in this connection (relating to Petrosaudi, SRC, Genting/Tanjong and ADMIC), each involving a systematic course of action carried out by means of complex financial structures.

The sum suspected to have been misappropriated amounts to around US$4bn; its intended purpose is the subject of further investigations. So far it has been ascertained that a small portion of the money was transferred to accounts held in Switzerland by various former Malaysian public officials and both former and current public officials from the United Arabic Emirates. To date, however, the Malaysian companies concerned have made no comment on the losses they are believed to have incurred.

The Wall Street Journal quotes the Swiss attorney general:

“We are very concerned,” Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber told The Wall Street Journal on Friday. “We have found evidence of suspicious money transfers linked to 1MDB going through Swiss financial institutions, and we believe that it is very important that it is shared with the Malaysian authorities.”

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Bukit Relau summit now. Notice the cleared flat land.

The above satellite image is of the 1.5km-long flattened summit of Botak Hill, which Penang Forum activists were not taken to see. Instead the four-wheel drives stopped at the boundary of the plot of land, well below the top (see the yellow pin in the photo below). Why were they not taken to the top?

That cleared strip at the summit is over 1,500 feet in length
That cleared strip at the summit, the yellow line, is over 1,500 feet in length

The photo below is a 360-degree shot of the summit in early 2014 taken by an avid hiker.

Botak Hill summit in early 2014 - Photograph: rexymizrah.wordpress.com
A 360-degree photograph of the Botak Hill summit in early 2014 – Photograph: rexymizrah.wordpress.com

The hiker has published more photographs on his blog of the devastation on Botak Hill along trails leading to the summit. Vigilant hikers like him are the guardians of our hills.