Nothing has changed with the passing of the unanimous motion on land reclamation by the Penang state assembly on 20 May 2016.
What did the unanimous land reclamation motion in the Penang state assembly actually say?
The emergency motion, which was tabled under Standing Order Rule 34 (8), was tabled by State Local Government committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow (Padang Kota – Dap).
“The Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) is very important and has to be supported to solve the traffic congestion and upgrade the efficiency of the public transport system.
“This August House voices out its concern over the land reclamation project to create three islands of about 1,619 hectares, which will fund the PTMP project, as raised by assemblymen from both sides of the political divide; the state government and the state opposition.
“We put forward a motion that the house resolves that the state government should not start the land reclamation project until they get Department of Environment’s approval on a Detailed Environment Impact Assessment (DEIA), which will also be monitored and reviewed by the Penang Transport Council as well as find an alternative method of funding the PTMP that is feasible and sustainable including requesting funding from the Federal Government,” he said.
Hold on a second; flash back to 2013-14: This was exactly what the public was told in the wake of severe criticism over Phase 2 of Seri Tanjung Pinang land reclamation – no work would start until the detailed EIA was approved.
And we all know what happened.
We found out how utterly meaningless the EIA process was and how the public was largely kept in the dark about the EIA study before it was approved.
We found out how the detailed EIA was promptly approved by the federal Department of Environment despite a long litany of concerns by civil society. (Federal government-linked company Sime Darby was a major shareholder in the developer E & O.)
We found out how a long list of concerns raised by Penang Forum and others NGOs were totally ignored. In fact, Penang Forum did not even received a response from the DOE to the lengthy memo it submitted.
We found out how an array of highly paid consultants were hired by the developer itself. So how independent was the detailed EIA study?
Look at the state of Gurney Drive today. What has caused the siltation elsewhere in Penang? What kind of monitoring work was carried out for Phase 1?
What is the impact of Phase 2 including the Gurney Drive reclamation that has just started?
The second part of the unanimous motion says that the land reclamation will be monitored and reviewed by the Penang Transport Council.
Big deal. At one time, the council had representatives from civil society, making it more independent of government.
But today, the council, chaired by Chow Kon Yeow and Lim Hock Seng, comprises mainly politicians and civil servants. Civil society reps have been left out of the council. How critical and independent can the council be? Even if the council members are critical, what weight do their views carry?
So remember 2014 (when the detailed EIA for STP Phase 2 was approved), and don’t let down your guard with the southern Penang Island reclamation.
If anything, the state government’s support for the land reclamation motion is a sign that it cannot ignore public disquiet and criticism over the land reclamation and transport masterplan.
But, in effect, the motion merely deflects the criticism towards the Department of Environment and the EIA process, which – as we have seen on numerous occasions, notably in Seri Tanjung Pinang Phase 2 – is little more than a formality.
Nothing has really changed.