Some hoo-ha in the press about whether the state government really consulted NGOs regarding the highway and tunnel projects in Penang.

For me the real issue is, in view of increasing congestion, rising oil prices, depletion of oil and other natural resources and climate change, should we be spending billions on highways and a tunnel or investing all that money in more sustainable transport alternatives?

Anyway, there were two meetings between NGOs and the CM last year. (I was present at both these meetings.)

The first one with Penang Forum on 16 October 2011 touched on a broad range of issues, the ‘mega projects’ being one of the items raised. Extract from the Penang Forum notes of the meeting:

9. Tunnel/road mega projects

PF questioned whether these mega projects would fit in with the Transport Masterplan that is currently undergoing preparation? PF urged the holding back of the announcements of any new major projects until the Masterplan is completed. These projects do not seem to take into account the extra traffic created or the cumulative effect of several projects together in the same area. PF members are included in the State Traffic Committee. CM requested PF members to recommend suitable engineers. The CM raised the possibility of reintroducing trams.

The second meeting between the CM and NGOs (Penang Forum plus a few other NGOs) on 19 November 2011 focused more about the tunnel and highway projects, with other development and planning issues brought up. Yesterday, Penang Forum released a brief statement on the tunnel and highway aspect of that meeting:

The highway and tunnel projects ‘consultation’ on 19 November 2011 was called by Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.

The CM invited NGOs, and it was a closed-door meeting. The press were not invited and it was not open to the public.

During the session, the CM gave a briefing and the NGOs expressed reservations.

The activists present generally felt Penang should be focusing more on sustainable transport. Moreover, the tunnel would require substantial land reclamation.

They also felt the state government should not pre-empt the Penang Transport Masterplan, which is still being finalised.

Penang Forum Steering Committee
8 March 2012

The activists were not convinced with the rationale behind these projects, especially the tunnel. At no point did they endorse these projects.

Both these meetings were closed-door meetings to which the public or press were not invited.

CAP issued a statement on 5 March calling for proper public consultation.

Public consultation lacking for Penang infrastructure projects

CAP and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) are concerned that mega infrastructure projects in Penang are being pushed forward without adequate dissemination of information to the public or consulting the public.

Recent press reports state that the Penang government will call for a request of proposals for the construction of the 6.5 km Gurney Drive-Bagan Ajam undersea tunnel, 12 km road connecting Tanjung Bungah-Teluk Bahang, 4.2km Gurney Drive-Lebuhraya Tun Dr. Lim Chong Eu bypass and 4.6km Lebuhraya Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu-Bandar Baru Air Itam bypass. These projects are expected to be funded by land swap deals with prospective companies.

These mega projects costing billions of dollars which ultimately have to come from public resources, are meant to speed up motor traffic but not to provide affordable and efficient transport for the public.

The undersea tunnel in addition to the new bridge which is scheduled to be operational shortly, will serve only to bring more motor vehicles into the island contributing to the worsening of traffic congestion. As it is, there are more cars than people on the island. So any addition will have serious traffic impacts.

The issue of transparency and openness regarding the proposed projects is of prime importance in the early stages of planning and decision-making. The public should be provided detailed information from the beginning on the potential benefits and impacts of the project and details of the land swap deals so that they can make an informed decision on the need for such mega projects.

We do not want a repeat of the Penang Outer Ring Road (PORR) saga. The PORR project proposed by the previous State government was shrouded with secrecy, leading to protest by Penangites, who were concerned of the potential impacts of the project and land swap deals.

Denying public’s right in this regard is a breach of international criterions such as the Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development that advocates access to environmental information, public participation and access to justice in environmental matters.

The State government’s bulldozing of the mega infrastructure projects undercuts the opportunity for Penangites to participate in the decision-making process around issues which would affect their life and the environment. In addition, we have yet to see and comment on the Penang Transportation Master Plan which was commissioned by the State government.

Taking into consideration the State Government’s much publicized CAT (Competency, Accountability, Transparency) policy, we urge the Penang State government to defer the four mega infrastructure projects until proper public consultation and impact studies are tabled.

Press Statement – 5 March 2012

And the state government responded a few days later:

Kenyataan Akhbar Pegawai Khas kepada Ketua Menteri P.Pinang Zairil Khir Johari di Komtar, George Town pada 8 Mac 2012.

Kerajaan Negeri Pulau Pinang Yang Berdasarkan Prinsip CAT Bukan Sahaja Telah Memberi Pemakluman Umum Mengenai Projek-Projek Infrastruktur Tetapi Ketua Menteri Sendiri Telah Menghadiri Dua Sesi Perbincangan Dengan Wakil-Wakil NGO Dan Pihak Umum.

Saya bagi pihak Kerajaan Negeri Pulau Pinang ingin merakamkan perasaan kesal atas laporan akhbar Utusan Malaysia pada 6 Mac 2012 yang bertajuk “Kesal DAP tidak salur maklumat kepada rakyat”.

Dalam artikel tersebut, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) dan Persatuan Pengguna Pulau Pinang (CAP) yang kedua-duanya diterajui oleh SM Mohamed Idris telah dilaporkan berasa kecewa dengan Kerajaan Negeri Pulau Pinang kerana tidak menyediakan maklumat lengkap kepada orang ramai berhubung projek infrastruktur yang dilaksanakan di negeri ini.

SM Mohamed Idris dipetik berkata, “Baru-baru ini laporan akhbar menyatakan kerajaan negeri akan membuka permohonan cadangan membina terowong dasar laut sepanjang 6.5 kilometer dari Persiaran Gurney ke Bagan Ajam serta jalan sepanjang 12 kilometer yang menghubungkan Tanjung Bungah dengan Teluk Bahang serta beberapa projek lagi.”

SM Mohamed menambah isu ketelusan dan keterbukaan berhubung cadangan projek adalah keutamaan yang paling penting dalam peringkat awal perancangan dan membuat keputusan.

Katanya lagi, “Rakyat perlu diberikan maklumat lengkap dari awal mengenai potensi, manfaat dan kesan projek dan butiran pertukaran tanah supaya mereka boleh membuat keputusan bermaklumat mengenai keperluan projek mega tersebut.”

Kami tidak mempertikaikan hakikat bahawa isu ketelusan dan keterbukaan merupakan keutamaan yang paling penting, malah sebagai kerajaan yang berdasarkan prinsip CAT (Cekap, Akauntabel, Telus), kami telah mengambil pelbagai langkah untuk memaklumkan pihak umum mengenai projek-projek infrastruktur yang dicadangkan.

Pada 28 April 2011, satu sidang akhbar telah diadakan di Jabatan Perdana Menteri di Putrajaya mengenai penandatanganan Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) di antara Kerajaan Negeri Pulau Pinang dan sebuah syarikat milikan kerajaan negara China. MOU itu telah disaksikan oleh kedua-dua Perdana Menteri Malaysia Dato’ Sri Najib Tun Razak serta Perdana Menteri China Wen Jia Bao.

MOU tersebut telah menyatakan minat syarikat kerajaan negara China ke atas empat projek infrastruktur Kerajaan Negeri Pulau Pinang yang bertujuan untuk mengurangkan kesesakan lalulintas, iaitu terowong 6.5km dari Butterworth ke Gurney Drive, jalan pintas 4.2km dari Gurney Drive ke Lebuhraya Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu yang akan mengelakkan pusat bandar, jalan 4.6km yang akan menghubungkan Bandar Baru Air Itam kepada Lebuhraya Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu dan jalan berpasangan 12km dari Tanjung Bungah ke Teluk Bahang. Semua projek ini akan dijalankan secara tender terbuka. Kos dianggarkan di antara RM5-8 bilion untuk keempat-empat projek ini tetapi dijangka lebih rendah kerana ia dijalankan dengan tender terbuka.

Ini telah diikuti oleh sidang akhbar di Dewan Undangan Negeri Pulau Pinang pada 29 April 2011 untuk meminta pandangan rakyat ke atas empat projek infrastruktur tersebut. Ini telah disusuli oleh beberapa lagi sidang akhbar dari semasa ke semasa. Dalam sidang DUN pada 10 Mei 2011, Ketua Menteri telah sekali lagi menjawab soalan-soalan mengenai projek-projek infrastruktur tersebut.

Kerajaan Negeri dan juga MPPP telah menerima beberapa pandangan dan cadangan sejak 29 April 2011. Tambahan pula, Ketua Menteri juga telah mengadakan sesi perjumpaan dan perbincangan bersama wakil-wakil NGO dan pihak umum termasuk dengan Penang Forum pada 16 Oktober 2011 dan juga pada 19 November 2011. Dalam kedua-dua forum tersebut, Mohamed Idris telah dijemput tetapi beliau tidak dapat hadir dan telah menghantarkan wakil CAP.

Oleh itu, adalah mengejutkan bagaimana CAP boleh menyatakan bahawa tidak ada rundingan dengan NGO atau rakyat apabila begitu banyak ruang diberikan untuk membincangkan isu-isu berkaitan dengan projek-projek infrastruktur tersebut. Mengikut senarai kehadiran, kami boleh mengesahkan bahawa wakil CAP iaitu Rudhrapathy Vijayala (Ravi) telah menghadiri kedua-dua sesi tersebut.

Selaras dengan prinsip Cekap, Akauntabel dan Telus, Kerajaan Negeri Pulau Pinang telah pun menggunakan pelbagai saluran untuk menyampaikan maklumat kepada pihak umum, termasuk dalam sesi perbincangan yang dihadiri wakil CAP. Justeru, kenyataan Presiden CAP yang mempersoalkan dasar keterbukaan dan ketelusan Kerajaan Negeri adalah tidak tepat dan amat dikesali.

Kami juga ingin mengingatkan bahawa proses tender terbuka yang dilangsungkan melalui RFP (Request For Proposal) juga akan melalui kajian kebolehlaksanaan serta penilaian kesan kepada alam sekitar. Kedua-dua proses ini akan melibatkan penyertaan pihak umum dan akan menentukan keperluan projek-projek tersebut serta mengenal pasti alternatif-alternatif lain.

Adalah jelas bahawa Kerajaan Negeri Pulau Pinang telah mengamalkan dasar yang terbuka dan telus, bukan sahaja dengan penyampaian maklumat kepada pihak umum tetapi juga melalui dua sesi rundingan dan perbincangan dengan wakil-wakil NGO dan pihak umum yang dihadiri oleh Ketua Menteri sendiri.

Rudhrapathy Vijayavale represents CAP on the Penang Forum Steering Committee and he was present at both the meetings with the CM.

And Malaysiakini quotes him as saying:

‘It is not public consultation’

When contacted Rudhrapathy said a meeting of NGO reps with CM is not considered “public consultation”.

Public consultation include displaying plans and information about state projects, for example, the public is invited to propose their plans for the Penang Botanic Gardens, at level 3, Komtar.

“Yes, we had meetings twice with him but this is merely a meeting between NGOs and the state government, it is not public consultation,” he told Malaysiakini.

“During an NGO meeting with the CM, we express our views and grievances and he explains and clarifies his point of views. We have so far stuck on to our views and opinions,” he added.

Radhrapathy said at no time during the meetings did the NGO representatives “agree to all” the arguments presented by Guan Eng.

“Despite all our explanation and arguments, the CM fails to listen and goes ahead anyway with his views,” he added.