This was the press conference held on Monday at the CAP office – the first major event held there since the passing of the legendary SM Mohamed Idris.
A Malay version of an online petition against the massive 4,500 acre land reclamation was launched. The petition, endorsed by 45 NGOs, is also available in English, Chinese and Japanese. So far it has collected 23,000 signatures (have you signed yet?), leaving a rival petition in support of the reclamation trailing far, far behind.
Check out the official logo of the Penang Rejects Reclamation campaign, which was also launched on Monday:
People are already complaining about the restrictions when viewing the detailed environmental impact assessment report, which is being displayed for one month – during the fasting month. Some have asked for an extension but the state government is not budging. It said there was an earlier EIA display – but that EIA report was rejected by the Department of Environment, so this version on display can’t be the same one. Why the haste to conclude the display – shouldn’t we be trying to make the report accessible to as many people as possible? Anyway, isn’t the decision whether to extend the display of the EIA up to the federal DoE and not the state government, especially given that it is the project proponent?
Read Ravinder Singh’s account of his experience in trying to view the EIA report on the land reclamation: The Penang govt’s ‘invisible’ transparency and accountability. I know his frustration. I experienced the same problem in looking at the SRS proposal for traffic infrastructure. We were expected to plough through 20 thick volumes that were put up on public display – and we were not allowed to bring our phones in to take photos of the pages; instead we had to hurriedly scribble notes down. And I was a Penang Transport Council member back then. Thank heavens I am no longer in that council. I can tell you from first-hand experience, it was a real farce.
So I am not going to waste my time with the public display of the detailed EIA for the massive reclamation this time. It is a waste of time because you know their minds – politicians and selected contractor and developers in the consortium – are set on it.
So much for public consultation.
Speaking of which, check out Sherry Arstein’s Ladder of Citizens’ Participation:
This is how David Wilcox describes it:
1 Manipulation and 2 Therapy. Both are non participative. The aim is to cure or educate the participants. The proposed plan is best and the job of participation is to achieve public support by public relations.
3 Informing. A most important first step to legitimate participation. But too frequently the emphasis is on a one way flow of information. No channel for feedback.
4 Consultation. Again a legitimate step attitude surveys, neighbourhood meetings and public enquiries. But Arnstein still feels this is just a window dressing ritual.
5 Placation. For example, co-option of hand-picked ‘worthies’ onto committees. It allows citizens to advise or plan ad infinitum but retains for power holders the right to judge the legitimacy or feasibility of the advice.
6 Partnership. Power is in fact redistributed through negotiation between citizens and power holders. Planning and decision-making responsibilities are shared e.g. through joint committees.
7 Delegated power. Citizens holding a clear majority of seats on committees with delegated powers to make decisions. Public now has the power to assure accountability of the programme to them.
8 Citizen Control. Have-nots handle the entire job of planning, policy making and managing a programme e.g. neighbourhood corporation with no intermediaries between it and the source of funds.
In the case of the Penang government’s “public consultations” and “public displays”, I think we are somewhere between levels 2-4 ie close to the bottom of the ladder, tokenism at best. What we have is mostly one-way top-down information, no serious alternatives given, “managed” consultation, ritualistically going through the motions – and lots of state/corporate propaganda and public relations (the latest being a ridiculous “LRT Hunt” – to put more wool over the eyes of unsuspecting Penangites, who are not aware of cheaper, quicker alternatives).
All this, so that they can later say, “We consulted, what.”
But enough of this rubbish. Stand up and be counted. The least you can do is sign the petition.