Angry and disgusted: Strong views from Penangites
Before the public forum this morning, organisers in the PGCC Campaign Group, a network of activists representing more than half a dozen Penang-based NGOs, were privately fretting over whether they would get a decent turnout at the seminar rooms of the Dewan Sri Pinang.
They needn’t have worried. Close to 300 people showed up to express their concern and disgust over the implications of the proposed Penang Global City Centre, referred to by some as the “Penang Graveyard and Crematorium Complex” due to its proximity to the Batu Gantong crematorium and the Western Road cemetery, not to mention its resemblance to an array of tombstones. Extra chairs had to be brought in, and even these were not enough and some had to stand at the back and at the sides of the hall.
These concerned Penangites sacrificed their Sunday morning and spent an hour and a half listening to two panel speakers before taking to the floor to express their own strong views against the PGCC.
The panel speakers were consumer rights lawyer Meenakshi Raman of the Consumers Association of Penang and Goh Ban Lee, a newspaper columnist on local government issues. The moderator was Chet Singh, formerly the general manager of the Penang Development Corporation.
Sandwiched between the two speakers was conservation consultant Lin Lee Loh-Lim, who showed in a powerpoint presentation the glaring difference between the developer’s slick brochure, which highlighted only the twisted twin towers, and the actual miniature model (commissioned by concerned nearby residents) with all 40 towers. I could hear gasps from the audience as some of them were seeing all 40 towers for the first time.
What appeared to rile up the audience the most was the developer’s attempt to hoodwink the public by not showing all 40 towers during the launch of the project and in the glossy launch booklet. (Only aerial views were shown, and where the twin towers were shown from a vantage point behind the towers and facing the sea towards the east, the 38 other towers were conspicuously missing. Someone later dubbed the project the “Millionaire’s Rifle Range”, a reference to the run-down low-cost flats in nearby Air Hitam.)
It was also pointed out that the developer had included an area of hilly land that could not be developed in their calculations of plot and density ratios to give misleadingly low figures.
Lin Lee asked who would pay for the cost of the road-widening work along Scotland Road and Green Lane to cater for the higher volume of traffic as a result of the project. Would the taxpayers have to foot the bill?
Murmurs from the audience indicated disgust.
One distinguished veteran activist got up to the mike and promptly declared that he for one would not be voting for the Barisan Nasional in the coming general election.
Aliran president P Ramakrishnan then followed up by saying that it was not enough to say “No to the PGCC!” but Penangites should also say “No to the BN!” – as that was the only language it would understand: the message of the ballot box.
Parallels were drawn to the successful Save Penang Hill campaign, following which the BN suffered a sharp erosion of support in the 1990 general election, losing a string of seats to the DAP.
Another speaker from the floor said it would be impossible to reverse the project – it was a done deal – as the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister had given their backing for the project and only God could stop it. That prompted me to remind the audience that sometimes we tend to underestimate the power of God and the will of the people and give too much credit to the CM and the PM’s ability to influence the course of events. I pointed out that with global warming heating up the planet, it was vital for us to preserve the green lungs that we have and turn them into state parks as a legacy to future generations.
Another veteran activist said the PGCC was the worst project he had seen in all his 40 years of public service in terms of the horrendous implications for the urban environment.
Did anyone bother to ask the people in the state whether they really wanted a Penang version of the KLCC – “iconic” or otherwise?
Later and inevitably, the discussion broadened to the terrible urban planning and traffic congestion in Penang. One mother of two complained about how difficult it was to walk along the roads of Penang without risking her life. Another spoke of how it was almost impossible to cross certain roads especially the busy thoroughfares. A representative of the Tanjung Bunga Residents Association highlighted illegal structures in their area.
At the end of the forum, a resolution was passed with members of the audience voting overwhelmingly against the PGCC in a show of hands. Volunteers distributed postcards for participants at the forum to sign and mail to the Chief Minister – to let him know how Penangites felt about the PGCC. Everyone seemed to agree that it was critical that the campaign reaches the Chinese-speaking group.
Someone lamented, “Where are all the young people? Aren’t they concerned about this? Have we failed in educating them (about the issue)?
After the forum, a group of students, aged around 20, came up to me said, “We felt like waving and telling him, ‘Hello, we are here!'” I was proud of them.
More than the actual turnout, it was the intensity of those who turned up and their willingness to stand up and be counted – the sense of solidarity in numbers – that struck a chord. As one member of the audience later told me, “It was exciting to see Penangites so passionate and concerned about the environment.”