The Penang Forum Steering Committee and the Consumers Association of Penang have both released statements opposing the road-based tunnel project.

Read the CAP statement in The Malaysian Insider.

And the Penang Forum statement is below:

Penang Forum opposes road-based tunnel, serious reservations about highway-building spree

The Penang Forum Steering Committee opposes the proposed road-based undersea tunnel and the state government’s emphasis on highway construction over improvements in public transport.

(The tunnel would be the fourth cross-channel link, after the ferries and the first and second Penang bridges.)

There are just too many unanswered questions (see the list below) that throw the viability of this mega project into doubt.

While it is true that public transport comes under the jurisdiction of the federal government, we feel that ‘do-the-wrong-thing’ approach (promoting dependency on private motor vehicles over the long term) is worse than the ‘do-nothing’ approach.

A more sensible and visionary approach would be to come up with a comprehensive plan for sustainable transport while educating the public and pressuring the federal government to realise that change.

It is true that the federal government now has overbearing jurisdiction over public transport but that may not be the case if there is a change of government in the coming general election or the one after that. Jurisdiction over public transport would then be decentralised.

In the meantime, the state government should lay the ground work for integrated, sustainable public transport in the state. The state government can do the following now:

  • Kick off a campaign to promote the widespread use of public transport among ordinary commuters. State government leaders could show leadership by example by taking the bus or cycling to work wherever possible.
  • Prevent illegal parking (by clamping) to decongest key routes so that bus lanes can be created along certain stretches. A trial run could be carried out at Burma Road, for instance. These bus lanes may also be used by taxis, emergency vehicles and multi-occupancy vehicles.
  • Buy RapidPenang season tickets in bulk and distribute them to target groups such as school children, working adults and senior citizens. Alternatively, the state government could provide full or partial reimbursements to those who show proof of purchase of these season tickets.

The public can be enlisted to do the following:

  • Pressure the federal government through petitions and letter-writing campaigns to increase the number of buses in the state and decentralise public transport decision-making.
  • Turn the quest for improved public transport in the state into a major general election campaign issue.
  • Take public transport to work at least once a week for a start.
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We enclose our reasons for opposing the tunnel project and our reservations about the highway building spree.

Penang Forum Steering Committee

19 March 2013


About the vision:

  • Shouldn’t important public policies be based on evidence and analysis?
  • Will building more roads solve traffic problems?
  • Is the public being given an alternative based on sustainable transport?
  • Are we moving to the 21st century or moving back to 20th century with the state government’s emphasis on building infrastructure for private motor vehicles?
  • Does creating dependency on private transport help the poor?

About the process of making public policy

  • The formal agreement for the (Transport Masterplan) TMP was signed in mid 2011. In the same week, the CM announced the signing of MOU for four major road projects with Chinese companies. Does it make sense to have the solution before the study has started? Does this not ignore evidenced based analysis and policies?
  • Concurrent negotiations for the tunnel and highway projects started in 2011 held while the TMP study was underway. Why were awards for the projects given out even before the TMP is finalized and made public?Doesn’t this pre-empt the significance of the report’s recommendations?
  • TMP calls for a balanced approach to solving transport problems. It suggested short and medium term measures and recommended major road construction as longer term solutions commencing after the short/medium-term measures. Are we putting the cart before the horse by reversing the priorities suggested in the TMP?
  • Have there been independent feasibility studies, cost benefit analysis, traffic demand simulation etc done for ALL the four projects before they were tendered? Isn’t it standard best practice to conduct such studies BEFORE tender and award, rather than after?
  • The TMP is based on the assumption that the population will be 2.5m by 2030 and that by this time a sea tunnel may be justified. The Department of Statistics released a population projection last year which projects a population of 1.8m by 2030. It appears that Halcrow has not done any modelling of the population; they have just assumed historical growth rates will continue, which would suggest that the tunnel will not be required even by 2030.
  • How is the public expected to provide meaningful feedback when they are hazy about the precise alignment of the routes? All the precise proposed alignments should be displayed to the public for their comments. State gov should practice transparency especially now that the Freedom of Info Act has been passed?
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About the tender

  • If there was an MOU with the China government, how can there be an open tender? Is that why only two bids were received for the tunnel – both involving firms from China? Why were there no other bids from other countries? Because of the earlier MOU? If so, is this really an open tender?
  • Who are the parties behind the three small local companies that were in the winning tender bid? Has there been an evaluation to look into their track record and expertise? Do these companies have any political connections?
  • What kind of performance bonds will the local companies give?
  • Can state govt under the CAT policy make publicly available all the tender documents and acceptances and the decisions of the tender award.

About the reclaimed land

  • What are the plans for the 110 acres of land: how is the use of this land going to contribute to or solve some of our existing problems. Is it going to add to traffic congestion? Is it going to address shortages in public space and how is it going to influence the property market and the price of housing. How much affordable housing will be built on this land?
  • Who is going to develop the land – the local companies within the consortium, the China companies or an external developer? If so, who is the developer and the contractors and do they have any political connections?
  • Can the state government guarantee that there will be a really independent detailed environmental impact assessment for this land? Can it also guarantee that there will be a reliable independentt hydrological study for the entire island and mainland?
  • What is the market value and gross development value of the reclaimed land? Where exactly is this located?

The financial considerations

  • Who will pay for the cost of acquisition of private land that is in the way of the proposed highways?
  • How was it decided to award 110 acres of reclaimed land to the project proponents along with a 30-year concession for tolls? Was there a financial projection of future revenue for both the reclaimed land and the tunnel toll collection? If so, how many billions in profit is the consortium estimated to make? If there is no financial projection, why not and how was it decided to award them reclaimed land in addition to a 30-year tunnel toll concession?
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Misguided priorities

  • The TMP puts public transport at a much higher priority than the tunnel. In fact, the TMP consultants diplomatically (given that the tunnel was probably the state government’s idea) suggested that the tunnel would only be something to consider for 2030 and beyond. Why is this being brought forward to “2025-2030” and even earlier now?
  • If a tunnel or other cross-channel link is necessary, shouldn’t it be a rail link? A cross-channel rail link is more important given the completion of the dual tracking to Butterworth and the future high-speed rail linking Singapore to KL and Penang.
  • Why is the north coast pair road from Teluk Bahang to Tanjung Bunga a priority now? Is it being driven by property development considerations? According to the TMP (and it’s clear to everybody), the Outer Bypass between Farlim and Tun Lim Expressway should be built first instead of the north coast pair road. Why is the state government putting it the other way round?
  • Focusing on building roads without addressing the demand for road use will NOT solve the problem. In fact, it might worsen the problem. Have all the highways, tunnels and flyovers in KL and Bangkok solved traffic congestion? If not, why are we going down that path?
  • There are two sides to the equation of traffic problem: the Supply Side (building more roads) and the Demand Side (the demand for those roads caused by more vehicles). What is being done to tackle the rising demand for motor vehicles and road space?
  • Do we realise that greenhouse gas emissions from road transport is one of the biggest contributors to global warming? How are more highways and a road-based tunnel compatible with the state government’s slogan of ‘Cleaner, greener Penang’? Shouldn’t we be laying the ground work for sustainable public transport now?
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  1. Thank you Gerakan K for raising your point, which I find very pertinent.

    It is our democratic right to send a strong message to our leader, be he the Chief Minister or the Prime Minister, should we strongly disagree with his position of certain issues of public interest. But before we do that, we should gauge whether the public on the whole is for, against or divided on the issue. If the public is divided, we should find out why and is there a possibility to reconcile both sides. In that way, when we make our stand, our voice is not compromised by a strong counterreaction.

    Once we have elected a leader – whether a Chief Minister or a Prime Minister – we should close ranks and follow his leadership. If we’ve hired a pilot, why are we trying to fly the plane ourselves? But in the case of the present Prime Minister of Malaysia, I do not recall him being elected by the people of Malaysia.

  2. Timothy Tye: “Let me make this clear: when I defend the Chief Minister’s position (with regards the undersea tunnel and expressways), I am not defending any particular political party: I am defending democracy. When we, the people, have elected our Chief Minister, we close ranks and follow his leadership, regardless which political party he belongs to. The people cannot allow an entity, whom we do not elect, interfere with the decision of the Chief Minister, whom we did elect. We cannot say, “But I did not personally vote for the Chief Minister.” Once a Chief Minister is elected, the people have spoken, and in a democracy, it’s the voice of the people that matters. Anybody aspiring to do the Chief Minister’s job should seek election.”

    Using the same logic, we should allow PM to do anything he likes. But why opposition still opposing Lynas ??? Even the opposition also against BR1M, why huh Timothy Tye ???

  3. Let me make this clear: when I defend the Chief Minister’s position (with regards the undersea tunnel and expressways), I am not defending any particular political party: I am defending democracy. When we, the people, have elected our Chief Minister, we close ranks and follow his leadership, regardless which political party he belongs to. The people cannot allow an entity, whom we do not elect, interfere with the decision of the Chief Minister, whom we did elect. We cannot say, “But I did not personally vote for the Chief Minister.” Once a Chief Minister is elected, the people have spoken, and in a democracy, it’s the voice of the people that matters. Anybody aspiring to do the Chief Minister’s job should seek election.

    Right now I am still have difficulty addressing the Penang Forum as a “forum” when it doesn’t behave as one. I am astonished that it can carry on for so long without anybody pointing it out. And the fact that it is an umbrella body sheltering so many NGOs is too embarrassing.

    The Penang Forum cannot continue to exist in its present incarnation. It has to decide whether it wants to be a forum or it wants to be a public watchdog. Don’t you realize what an odd creature we have in our midst? The Penang Forum, in its present state, is a chicken that quacks.

    If the Penang Forum wants to be a forum, it has to take on forum characteristics. First of all, it has to be completely impartial to issues of public interest. Secondly it has to provide the public venues to air public opinion over issues of public interest. This can be done by organizing public gatherings where such issues are discussed, the points collected, and both the pros and cons published. Penang Forum has to stay neutral at all times. This can only be achieved where the public can speak freely, not through “surveys” and “questionnaires” where the public are forced to provide a fashioned response. On the Internet, the Penang Forum can transform from a blog to an online forum, using forum software such as vBulletin. To exist as a forum, it can be the instrument of public opinion, but it cannot take a stand on any issue of public interest (in other words: stop quacking).

    If the Penang Forum desires the role of a public watchdog, it has to drop the word “forum” from its name. An entity cannot choose any name just because it sounds grand or stately. When dealing with serious issues of public interest, it is necessary to be precise. Misleading the public with your name is not acceptable. The public – those who understand English – will not take you seriously. Moreover it is a gross betrayal of public trust when an entity whose name conjures an expectation of impartiality turns out not to be. When CAP takes a stand, when PHT takes a stand, the public sees a normal picture. But when Penang Forum takes a stand, the public sees a chicken quacking. The effect will bring the house down for all the wrong reasons.

    • Commonsense should rule in the minds of the people, not blindness & dogged-tail wagging at every decision made by the executive of a state ie the ruler or leader elected by the people to run the state. In all fairness, the people can question him if there’s a grain of doubt for a better check & balance in the manner of state administration. People first, not leaders.
      If anyone of us dare to vote for a better Penang, let him also be courageous & forthright to speak out what’s wrong when there is any.
      Ego is the first word to swallow if one is sincere to lead, to make a change, to sacrifice for the common good.
      This afternoon, it rained erratically but short but the rush home traffic jam stretched till 9pm along GreenLane & Lorong Batu Lancang. Blame it on the god of rain?
      Cheers Kopi-O kau kau.

      • Yes, water overflowed from the drains along Green Lane and Scotland Road, and the roads were beginning to flood. Massive crawl as motorists avoided the flooded portions of the road near the outer edges of the road.

  4. Yang,
    You don’t need to wait for 20 years for Gurney to have traffic jam. It already jam! Once the tunnel job started it will be worst. After the tunnel job completed it will still jam as most of the visitors will end up at Gurney Plaza and jam up the whole Gurney Drive. This is Guan Eng’s solution for traffic congestion. After spending billion still jam!

  5. Some of CAP ideas is good but sometimes they oppose with understanding the situation. Like the chopping down of trees to widen the road to relieve traffic congestion. Just like Anil opposing the tunnel and road project. Look at Hong Kong tunnel built more than 20 years ago and now congested. LGE foresight 20 years ahead.

    • Giving us even more congestion in 20 years time… Foresight?

      What about more greenhouse gas emissions and global warming? Think about what kind of world your children and their children will inherit because of policies and choices we make today.

      • Greenhouse emissions are from vehicles, not tunnel.
        Root problem is high number of cars on the road.
        Provide cheap and reliable publuc transportation is the key.
        However Malaysians like cars and many depend on car trade (including repair workshops, accessories shops, petrol stations) for living.
        So nobody dare to challenge increasing number of cars on the road.
        They choose to focus on tunnel issues because of tunnel vision?

  6. Thank you Anil for informing me. I support the right of everybody to express his opinion, including opinion that I don’t agree. Once an opinion is suppressed, we stop being a democracy.

    I have not noticed the Penang Forum before, but now that I have, the fact that they misuse the term “forum” is driving me to distraction. I have no problem that a group of concerned citizens take stands on issues of public interest, but not when they call themselves “forum”. It’s either they start acting like a forum (even an online forum) or they rename themselves to something that doesn’t mislead the public.

    Let me explain.

    A FORUM is a gathering of people to discuss an issue of public interest. A group of concerned citizens may organize a forum in which the moderator introduces the ISSUE, for example, “The state government is planning to build an undersea tunnel and a few expressways. What is your opinion?”

    Members of the public may then rise up and give their opinion, whether or not they support or oppose the issue. The MODERATOR, as its name clearly suggests, ensures the discussion remains completely impartial. At the end of the discussion, the points raised are collected and published for the benefit of those who did not attend.

    If a group of concerned citizens invites a guest, such as the Chief Minister of Penang, to meet members of the public, and they pose questions related to an issue of public interest, that is not a forum, that’s a DIALOGUE.

    A forum requires concerned citizens who are the organizer to exercise complete impartiality over the issue of public interest. The invited public can be partial, the organizer cannot. If the media asks the organizer, the appropriate response would be: “I have a CONCERN, but I can’t tell you whether I am for or against the issue.” In short, no comment. Citizens and groups with concerns over issues of public interest can organize a forum to canvass public OPINION.

    As can be observed, this is not happening. In the local context, concerned groups usually have an opinion already bottled up and is simply looking for a venue to uncork it (“What, cannot take sides ah? Then where got fun neh?!”). They are not keen on accepting public opinion, they’re keen on the public accepting their opinion. If they organize a gathering of the public where they state their opinion, it’s not a forum, it’s a STAND.

    A group of concerned citizens who have opinions over issues of public interest should not call itself a forum, by right it should call itself a WATCHDOG.

    When a watchdog organises a stand, and the only acceptable course of action for the invited public is to support the stand (and those who oppose it is belittled and ridiculed), that is not a forum, that’s a RUBBER STAMPING.

    What is unpalatable is that a rubber stamping is masqueraded as a forum. And it’s against true democracy when a watchdog self-appoints itself the Big Brother of the general public and elbows its opinion as public opinion.

  7. CAP made lots of unfounded claim in Utusan Konsumer. If you trust CAP, then you will have to grow your own food as practically everything sold in supermarket are deemed unhealthy by CAP.

    CAP is nothing but a noise maker seeking attention.


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