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Reformasi (bukan Reklamasi-lah)! The ‘compensation’ gameplan

Not many years ago, when people protested against mega projects in Penang including property development on sensitive hill-slopes, the state government would warn us that if the projects were cancelled, the state would have to incur “hundreds of millions in compensation” payouts to developers.

This time, as the cries of #PenangTolakTambak ring louder, the state government seems to be falling over itself to “selesai” the problem by talking of dishing out compensation, including bigger boats for the fishermen.

It is as if all the massive problems of the disastrous RM46bn PTMP and the 4,500-acre southern reclamation plan to create three artifiical islands could be resolved simply through compensation payouts to fishermen – never mind the enormous social and environmental costs to the people of Penang.

Even Anwar Ibrahim appears to be singing a modified version of the same compensation tune – some other vague talk of improvements thrown in – despite being surrounded by #PenangTolakTambak banners during his recent visit to Penang. :

Obviously, he had not received the memo.

If he had, he would have known the fishermen’s three requests to the National Physical Planning Council at the end of their memo, which they hand-delivered during their recent protest in Parliament:

  • Cancel the reclamation in the south.
  • Undertake a comprehensive review of the entire “PTMP” by independent transport experts and planning professionals.
  • Place a moratorium on sand-mining activities in the waters off the coast of Perak.

Check out how strongly they conveyed their unmistakable message on their way to Parliament:

If the government insists on bulldozing the reclamation through – and the fishermen then find themselves with their backs against the wall – then and only then would the issue of compensation for the fishermen and so-called “transformation” of fisheries arise.

But those in power have ingored the fishermen’s three requests – even though they have received the memo. (Funny that – because they claimed that they have held over 4,000 consultations sessions with the fishermen – although the Penang Fishermen’s Association says they have met the state only once. Somebody is having a problem with maths.)

Instead state government leaders have latched on to incessant talk about negotiating compensation (many Penang people are so tired of that word) and fulfilling the growing and “tedious” list of “conditions” and “nasihat”.

One way of looking at this litany of conditions is that the various departments and ministries are trying to cover their backs by putting in all these conditions in case things go wrong.

But even though the DoE has attached 72 conditions to its EIA approval for the reclamation and even though the federal government has not yet approved the project, the Penang state government seems to be going ahead with its “phase 2”, whatever that means.

Nurul Izzah might be out of government, but she is more clued in with the people’s concerns, having also visited the fishermen recently.

She might not be aware of the intricacies of the damaging transport infrastructure components and details of the enviromentally unfriendly “PTMP” (she has called for alternative solutions to finance the PTMP rather than raising funds through reclamation). Notably, though, she has called for a more sustainable (“lebih lestari”) plan.

It is apparent that Nurul Izzah is against the massive reclamation, raising some uncomfortable questions about the whole reclamation business in Parliament. Check her out in action below:

Good for her! Showing some real leadership qualities there – unlike many of her fellow MPs who are as silent as churchmice on this issue or kowtowing to their party bosses.

Meanwhile, concerned Penangites are venting their frustration on social messaging platforms by coining their own acronyms to rival the official so-called Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP), which is drastically different from the original transport plan by Halcrow consultants:

Penang Offset Master Plan = POMP, reflecting the pompous talk of compensation to bulldoze the reclamation through. POMP is supposed to fulfil some of the concerns by the Developers over Environment – or rather, Department of Environment – over the reclamation.

Penang Infrastructure Master Plan = PIMP. Never mind.

Then, there’s this:

It is sad that it has come to this. Like many Malaysians, many Penangites voted for Reformasi! – but perhaps their calls have been misunderstood. For, in Penang, all they seem to be getting is non-stop Reklamasi.

‘Tolak Pampasan! Tolak Tambak!’ Anwar finds fishermen in uncompromising mood

Anwar Ibrahim did not have it easy yesterday at Teluk Kumbar in southern Penang Island (see video above).

Just before meeting the fishermen, he was believed to have met representatives of SRS Consortium.

The prime minister-in-waiting must have fancied his chances as a mediator extraordinaire between the state government, contractors and developers, on the one hand, and the fishermen, environmentalists, activists and other members of the public, on the other.

But Anwar, surrounded by Penang Tolak Tambak flags and banners, was quickly disabused of such illusions. He was forced to back-pedal when confronted with the anger and strong feelings on display at Teluk Kumbar.

The reaction of the crowd effectively dispelled the political-corporate spin in Penang that this was an insignificant area with only a few fishermen.

Before arriving, Anwar must have thought the main issue appeared to be the quantum of “compensation” for the fishermen and “engagement” with “stakeholders” and “mitigation measures”.

After all, the Penang government has portrayed the issue as one of fishermen merely seeking higher compensation and bigger boats to venture further out – and many among the public have fallen for that propaganda line.

But this is false mediation. False negotiations. The fishermen yesterday were in no mood for sweet talk, corporate jargon and other typical attempts at divide-and-rule.

Faced wth the depth of anger over the project at Teluk Kumbar, Anwar himself conceded that it was hard to find a single reclamation project around the world of this scale which had not caused enormous harm to fishermen’s welfare.

Anwar and the Penang state government appear only interested in finding a way to get the project going while somehow pacifying the fishermen – probably through “compensation” – and the public.

This is a pro-corporate approach to maximise returns for the project proponents. These proponents are not interested in better, cheaper, faster alternatives to provide sustainable mobility for the whole state – with zero damage to the coastal ecology – at a fraction of the cost of the disgraceful RM46bn “PTMP”. Instead, they are only thinking of the fat contracts, enormous profits and huge “project delivery partner fees and expenses” to be reaped.

Who cares about the conflict of interest inherent in the “project delivery partner” model. Who cares about the destruction of the coastal ecology and the loss of affordable fresh fish. Who cares about the likely operational losses in running and maintaining the mega highway on sensitive hill slopes and the expensive light rail transit system (which provides just a single rail route from the airport to Komtar).

Who will end up paying for the multimillion ringgit cost of periodic dredging to clear up siltation and sedimentation along the narrow waterways between the three proposed islands?

Sadly, under the intoxicating spell of Greed with a capital G, all these project proponents and their internet shrills can think of is $$$ – and “compensation” to try and pacify the fishermen. Thirty pieces of silver.

250 fishermen march to Parliament in ‘PenangTolakTambak!’ protest

Some 250 fishermen and several activists from Penang and Perak marched to Parliament this morning to hand over a protest memo to government leaders over the massive three-island project in Penang and extensive sand-mining in the waters off Perak.

Penang Tolak Tambak: 133,000 sign petition to save turtles’ nesting zone

An online petition to save the nesting spots of the Olive Ridley turtles in Penang has astonishingly drawn support from some 133,000 people around the world.