Penang’s monster highway: Yeo Bee Yin’s biggest test

53
3426
Penang Forum hands over 2,000 objection letters to Yeo Bee Yin - Photograph: A concerned Penangite

Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin may have charmed many Malaysians with her candour and knowledge and the breath of fresh air she has brought to ministerial ranks.

But that breath of fresh air has hit a brick wall in the resistance concerned ordinary Penangites have mounted against the monster highway being foisted upon them under the guise of the Penang developers plan ‘transport masterplan’.

Over 800 people packed a hall at the Spice convention centre on 20 September 2018 to express their feelings about the 1,200-page environment impact assessment report on the controversial RM8.5bn 19.km six-lane Pan Island Link highway.

The town hall event was supposed to start at 8pm. But organisers had put up a spread to feed the crowd – char koay teow, fried chicken knockers, fish fillets, some chicken mayo wrap, chocolate cake, coffee and tea – all laid out buffet-style on tables surrounded by propaganda posters and videos in support of the highway. Perhaps the organisers figured that a crowd with rumbling stomachs would be a tad bit more rebellious – so, better fill their tummies before the session. One activist complained she was stopped from bringing into the convention centre a large poster opposing the highway.

By the time they called the people into the hall, it was already 8.35pm, eating into the precious time for people to voice their objections. And by the time Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, Yeo Bee Yin and the EIA report consultant from Wiranda had given their presentations, almost an hour had passed. Yeo touched on her “break-up” with plastics. She said that no one in the state government leadership was pocketing anything from the highway project – a remark that struck many in the audience as odd as no one had openly alleged this.

The organisers made a show of saying that all the water bottles laid on the long table for the speakers and consultants were reusable containers made of steel, not plastic. But they failed to see the greenwash irony of their commendable concern over the excessive use of plastic. They seemed oblivious to the elephant in the room: the monster highway that they are trying to ram through will degrade hills, chop many trees, add to air and noise pollution near schools and homes, damage two popular public parks, and increase emissions, thus aggravating climate change. The climate change angle should especially concern Yeo, whose ministry’s responsibility ought to be finding ways and means to reduce carbon emissions – not to raise them!

Someone in the organising team had the bright idea of asking the crowd to stand up for a photo opportunity (for propaganda purposes?). Many in the crowd obliged, including those against the project. But when they were then asked to show a thumbs-up sign, jeers rang out and some even showed a thumbs-down sign. Others remained seated, many among them thinking this cheap propaganda trick was a bit sneaky.

Thumbs down to the Pan Island Link – Photograph: A concerned Penangite

Aware of public disquiet, the consultants said that the three fault-lines on the hills through which the 10.1km of tunnel would pass were “not active”. (Can they guarantee that?) We also learned that the 700-plus kg of explosives mentioned in the report was “per blast” – and so they calculated that the total explosives needed was 4,000 tons (if I heard correctly from the back of the hall). Why was this total figure not stated in the report in the first place? Later, by the end of the evening, the figure appeared to have risen to 5,000 tons. Someone in the audience also brought up the issue of where these explosives would be stored during construction.

To their credit, the state government organisers had slotted in a presentation by Penang Forum critical of the EIA report. But it was already coming up to 9.45pm. When the moderator Zairil said 10 minutes would be allowed for the presentation, more jeers rang out, with some exclaiming it was “too short”. In the end, the Penang Forum reps Lim Mah Hui and Kam Suan Pheng managed to speak for about 20-25 minutes.

Among the key concerns the PF reps raised was that no serious alternatives were discussed in the EIA report such as improved public transport alternatives. If we had better public transport, despite a small population increase in Penang, there would be fewer cars on the road and a highway would not be necessary. The EIA report only discussed minor alternatives within the project such as alternative alignments and alternative methods of tunnelling rather than real alternatives to a mega highway. It also failed to provide a proper cost-benefit analysis and ignored the many other external costs such as pollution, higher accidents, degradation of hills and parks, and the vehicle emissions that would worsen climate change. What’s more, the Penang Forum reps pointed out the highway would be congested again in five to seven years, something that even Chow Kon Yeow and Lim Kit Siang had warned about the aborted Penang Outer Ring Road many moons ago. (Take the time to read the excellent Penang Forum presentation here. It won’t take you long.)

The body language among the politicians during Penang Forum’s presentation was a study in contrast. Yeo turned around to look at the Penang Forum slides, projected on the backdrop behind the speakers at the table on the stage. Chow, for his part, faced the audience grimly, his hands clasped together at chin level.

Penang Forum’s Mah Hui then handed over a stack of some 2,000 objection letters, neatly wrapped in a yellow ribbon, to a bemused Yeo. (The deadline, already extended, for the objection period is supposed to be 24 September – but this must be further extended as many Penangites are still in the dark about the extent of the damage this monster highway will inflict on Penang).

By the time the crowd was allowed to raise questions from the floor, it was already 10.10pm. About 50 people quickly queued up at the two mikes in the aisle. They raised a string of good questions and complaints about the highway. All but a couple of the comments were against the highway. There was no way the state government or consultants could respond to most of these questions or comments satisfactorily.

Among the many questions from the floor: who were the 58% of 3,000 respondents in so-called “focus group discussions” who indicated their support? What was the methodology used? If so, why is it that many people in areas that would be affected by the highway were unaware of the project? Someone pointed out that the highway would be just 300 metres from the base of the Air Itam Dam.

By 10.45pm, Zairil told those still queing up that only a few more questions would be taken, and the consultants would then respond.

I left after the questions and comments from the floor were cut short, convinced that this was largely a stage-managed public relations show, with the state government determined to ram through this highway over the objections of many Penangites who would be affected and who cherish their natural environment. I felt the town hall session was held just so that the state government could say it had “consulted” the public.

The strong opposition to this project displayed by the crowd, was impressive as discontent towards the highway continues to swell. Judging by the applause in response to remarks for and against the project, it was probably 50-50 in terms of support for and against the highway in the hall. And from what I hear, not a few of those in support of the project in the hall were JKKK members, staff of elected reps and staff of the contractors.

Yeo apologised as she had to leave before all the questions from the floor could be asked so that she could catch a return flight to KL. (This is what happens when the floor is open to questions only after 10pm.) Her parting remarks were non-committal, even sympathetic to the chief minister’s predicament in the face of mounting opposition to the project.

Yeo said whatever decision was made in the end, some people were going to be unhappy and compromises would have to be made. She then cited Mahathir’s logic that often the best decisions are the ones that don’t make everyone entirely happy.

This method of decision-making – when applied to something as disastrous as this environmentally damaging highway – is, with respect, rubbish. My hunch is that the EIA for this highway will be approved, with some so-called minor “mitigation” measures requested by the DoE or perhaps some minor modifications to the alignment of the highway. (I would be happy to be proven wrong.)

Far from making everyone unhappy, any decision to approve the EIA for the highway is going to make some people very happy, delighted even. Who? The state government, their partner SRS Consortium and the developers of the three new artificial islands and the Gurney reclamation which the highway appears designed to serve. The latter two stand to reap windfall profits from land reclamation, infrastructure construction and property development. The public will be left with degraded hills and parks as well as noise and air pollution, not to mention all the inherent risks of this project – and congestion once again after five to seven years.

Soon the ball will be in Yeo Bee Yin’s court, and she will have to deal with it according to her conscience and principles rather than loyalty to her party. She has to take a clear stand on the highway and not defer to party seniors. Concerned Penangites will be watching closely to see how she responds and will judge her accordingly.

Next stop: the state government’s presentation on SRS’ mega plan on 30 September.

Please help to support this blog if you can.

Read the commenting guidlelines for this blog.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
53 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Michelle Quah

Public relations show. Pg Gov big disappointment!!!

Kimmy

If only 50% of Penangites can break off from their personal cars and take public bus, then all these controversial transport plans will never take place.

Limli

Agreed. Dr Lim and the environmentalists must walk their talk. Sign a declaration that they will give up their cars and take the bus or tram when BRT/ tram system is up. Better still, do mass public education and get 37% of Penangite car users to sign a similar declaration. Then PIL definitely will not be needed.

PenangFirst

I’ve tried. The bus service is too inconsistent. Waiting times can sometimes be an hour ! Using a car in Penang is frustrating(traffic jam,illegal parking) and I only drive when I have too. I use a motorcycle when possible as it is the most convenient transport but it is also unfortunately the most dangerous. One can only dream of public transport like those found in Japan.

Shriek

Trams will be same as buses because they share the same road with ah pek, ah sho and ah low. If any accident with trams it will be like ramming into the battle tank. Unless pg lang will to donate land for the exclusive tramways. Our famous ah pek complains he has to wait to 50 mins for rapid bus. Joke rapid bus. Furthermore buses will detours, pick and drop passengers. What more for long distance buses.

shriek

You tried but those who attend spice or USM come by cars. How many walk, cycle, skate board, scooter, bechah or bus. They come by cars because they orso want to balek rumah early. Otherwise how to go back home early?

Carmen

You have not tried long enough.
If the public bus is not efficient, why not feedback to Penang Forum for action?

shriek

Good one. Ah pek only complain to himself telling he waiting for 50 mins for the RApid. Why not complain to pg forum and peng land forum can organise forums again in Spidey or us m like recent events. This time, RAPID will throw a banquet. If RAPIDs are not efficient, peng land forum can roll the heads like ah pek wants to eat chow miem

PenangFirst

Thanks Anil for the report. I admire the dedication of the activist, even when the odds are clearly stacked against them. They are the only legitimate opposition left in Penang. Sadly, I think if it ever comes to a referendum, the majority of Penangites will probably support PIL. They just want to drive their nice big cars , be home in time with family to watch their TV serial. Hang the environment and pollution. However, one wonders why the Penang government are so embraced in the arms of the property developers. Probably time to furiously scratch their backs after all… Read more »

tunglang

All the environment-caring manifestos drenched in smelly ceramah salivas of Pakatan Harapan will be their Achilles heel in future dealings with the not-so-stupid Rakyat. Mr Chow, you are no different from that Niao Kong. In fact you are so arrogant, a far cry from a more EQ YB with big ears in your past dealings with problems that Niao Kong tried (hard) to avoid face-to-face with angry Penangites. Shame on you. When in power, many politicians are devious chameleons that change colours faster than the Beijing Face Change SiFu can show off. But they still think they have 9-lives of… Read more »

Shriek

Ah pek, face changing does not cone from beijing. Don’t spin. You re good in batting facts wrong

tunglang

Then art of face change comes from DAP lah!

Shriek

Same with ah pek. Tokong was cm, you bodek chow. Now you change your face bodek tokong.

shriek

Now another changing face from one musical chair to another. No wonder top top spinner.

tunglang

Facts wrong? Go ask Jacky Chan from who he learnt the art.

shriek

Of wrong facts, don’t spin and say Jacky chan is your jedi master and sifu. Do you know where did Jacky learned his kung fu?

Norman

The free char kway teow (IDEALly sponsored, no pun intended) cannot mask ‘smelly ceramah salivas’?

Shriek

Think of the days before NS highway. Pg lang will take one day to travel to Kuala or two days to singland using the trunk road and passing gopeng, kampar, tapah andvtg malim townships. See how much congestion and risks when cars, buses, lorries and trucks passes through the town centre where there are local traffic circulating. The trunk roads used by lorries are slow moving and being one lane on each direction, cars have to slow down and hence burn more fuel. So the same if one wants to travel from airport to batu ferringhi. Why one has to… Read more »

Heng GS

YB Yeo be careful with your promises to Penalties 9n environmental matters. Don’t be like YB Sim with his empty promise to Bayan Batu 70 thousand s voters to replace Mayang Mall Cyber library 7nfulfilled since June 2017.
Sim now rejected by retirees and young parents community such that he hides in Bukit Gedung avoid the resentment.

Ma jiji

Aware of public disquiet, the consultants said that the three fault-lines on the hills through which the 10.1km of tunnel would pass were “not active”.

“not active” means what ? I do have some reserve about tunneling matter for I’ve been in Taiwan witnessing many “unforeseen and bizarre” incidents that caused many innocent lives – just because the public blindly put their trust in the so-called “experts” ?!

Shriek

Every one knows Taiwan has earthquakes and one struck hualian recently. And everyone knows pg is further away from the ring of fire and less susceptible to earthquake. So how can the fault is active like those in Taiwan. If taiwan can build tunnels in their earthquake zone, hokkien Chinese in pg are more kiasi and kiasu then hokkiens in Taiwan. You enjoy Taiwan but cannot see how many highways criss cross the island. How nice as tourist, one can go from Taipei to kaoshiong in few hours because of highways.

King Kong

Singapore’s success first started with only limited cars could enter the city during peak hours. When I was there I saw drivers stopping at bus stops offering lifts. One would notice in Malaysia most cars are all single drivers. With will and consistency such implementation would limit and reduce the volume of cars hence making more space for buses to move faster and regularly. As basic as that instead of building more highways and lrt which are not only costly but provides no solution like in KL. so mini cost with mega results here. Of course initially it is going… Read more »

tunglang

Right on the spot, brother!

tunglang

I mean King Kong, not shrieker!

shriek

Patience? ah pek and other tried and wait for 50 mins for the RAPID bus and another 30 mins as the stop and pick up passengers and complain. Patience, wait for two gens to catch up sing land. Busways cheap but you get what you pay. Bus stops in busways can be very quiet and unsafe as compare to lrts. It discriminates against She Man. They will not take brt if the stops are only the money. Bus you pay when the bus come and if 10 passengers pay cash, may take extra 5 mins or more. Lrt, you pay… Read more »

Benny Koay

I believe in her

Limli

I believe in her too. A person of integrity.

Teochew Penang

Believe her but not Sim Tze Tzim!

tunglang

Sim, your political career in Penang is over before GE15!

Creighton

Maybe the remark about no one in the state gov pocketing from the plan was just made in the context of Malaysia where the previous PM pocketed billions of RM while in office and the current finance minister (former Penang CM) was charged with corruption 2 yrs ago.

tunglang

Let’s be honest & have an open mind to corruption possibilities without biased worshipping of politicians: 1) One corrupt is foolish enough to leave a trail of money. 2) The other is exceedingly ‘clever’ to make it legal without the apparent flow of corrupt money trails in the bank transactions, personal or relatives. Here is where the loopholes (private personal business/affairs of buying + selling at seller’s preference, private gifts, private favours outside of office) are made legit by ‘clever’ lawyers who can ‘twist’ the judgement to their apparent evil favours. Don’t trust lawyers as much as the chameleon politicians.… Read more »

KT Wong

From at least one account I know of about dealings with Yeo Bee Yin during her term as assemblywoman, I see an echo in your account of the PIL town hall meeting. She is certainly smart and has much going for her in terms of integrity, but in terms of understanding what true democracy means, she failed before as an assemblywoman, and in this instance, is showing signs she may do so again as a minister. She had pleasantly surprised with her first moves shortly after being made Environment Minister, but it is still true that she has glaring faults… Read more »

shriek

She understand how can a soil scientist can telling off a geologist, a professional geotechnical engineer, blasting engineer and tunnelling engineer about a danger of having a tunnel under Penang hill. Soil scientist only looks after soil and soil is only a few feet below ground level. He should be telling farmers how to make better soil so that farmers and planters can produce better yield and increase his income. Same as writer of EIA. How many Malaysia EIA writer has experience in geology and tunnels?. Selangor gets its water from Pahang through a tunnel. There are no faults in… Read more »

shriek

In some western countries and demo cracy country like down under there are greens. The greens are more realistic unlike pg greens. Either western cities start to build high rise housing like hong land and chin land or lower density living which expands further away from cities. Greens seldom oppose highways but greens wanted gomen to spend more on renewable energy like solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy. As mentioned by many scientist, we are almost half way through global warming and if mankind does not do something, the process cannot be reversed. Only recently, pinoys and hongkongers… Read more »

tunglang

She must be 100% brave to break loose the corporate influence (political funding? & employee votes) on political parties in Pakatan Harapan esp. DAP. If she’s from DAP, she may face some pressure (to toe the line?) from the Secretary General who had a hand in this PTMP during his last term as CM.
Egoistic legacy is hard to break loose, but let’s hope Yeo is brave enough.

Shriek

Brave not to bow wow to greens. Greens better concentrate on global warning, reusables, recycles, wind and solar energies. Better roads burn less fuel and less time.
Ask those attend meeting in splice, how many walk, skate board, roller skates, bicycle bechah, scooter, bus or they all come in personal cars. One or two in a car or pooled car? They all can talk but never do.

tunglang

Were you there to witness to support your claim or a lie?

shriek

You don’t seems to be there. Can’t hear your voice.

shriek

Newspaper reported the Primer ie CM of NSW travel by train to office. If peng land has LRT, Mr Chow perhaps will go to komtar by LRT. It has style, faster than vehicles on road and by right everyone pay from his pocket ie using his money from home to office. Then from office to anywhere, he starts his official duties and can use tax payers official car.

Kampong Lad

1. Besides her remarks of nobody from state gomen was pocketing anything (pagi tanam pokok, petang dah boleh makan buah ka? Hari Ini kawin, esok dapat anak?), she (joking?) said that she had no private jet. 2. Che det’s logic eh? Proton was one of his best decisions made in 1980’s. We opposed for a simple reason i. e no volume. 3. Most penangites prefer pil1, why? They want to be seen with their beautiful cars. Kalau boleh parking dalam restoran. 4. Now the voters had transferred the power to them, so, they decide what’s best for penangites, konon konon… Read more »

Norman

“pagi tanam pokok, petang dah boleh makan buah ka?”

Maybe YB Sim the agriculture minister can answer you with supercrop, now that he has forgotten about library commitment.

King Kong

YB busy lobbying for DSAI.
Hoping to get full ministerial position when DSAI is PM?
Whatever is his ambition, he must not deny Bayan Baru an air-conditioned reading room with free wifi and newspapers, if no budget for a library with books.

shriek

Then, should ask for a reading room or a community centre with ping pong tables

tunglang

And a shrieking room for frustrated souls who don’t get a digital library!

Limli

Are the attendees a broad representation of Penangites or mostly environmentalists whose minds had been made up before the townhall meeting? Can the environmentalists come up with a comprehensive alternative, complete with public opinion survey and viable way to finance their proposal? So if PIL is done away, what is the alternative? Some say BRT. Draw up specific masterplan for BRT with route, location of stations, feeder lanes, costing, how many years it can cope with population growth, etc and present this to the public. Don’t just tear down a proposal to solve congestion woes with no well-thought alternative master… Read more »

Shriek

Tram . what experience har Crow had on trams? Papers said for third xmas they city will face on going construction and billion aus dollar by contractor. Business went down as customers do not want to face the dins. Even in outer Syd, cars will delay due to junctions by tram crossing. No need rocket science or transport consultant . Choice us bus, trams or lrt.

Creighton

This has already been done. See bettercheaperfaster.my

Shriek

How many pg lang and Malaysian lang are tunnel blasting experts or have experience in tunnel blasting and can quote reasonably the amount of TNT required? We need experts and Chinese has been blasting tunnels in chin land and in bakun dam. Lay men think it is a problem but to tunnel blasting engineer is sup sup sui.

Norman

Anil should have titled it as “Yeo Bee Yin’s biggest escape”…

quan

Yeo Bee Yin has another bigger task to do now lah! The massive plastic waste dump from N.Z. and Australia – “Now, NZ, Australia dumping plastic waste in Malaysia, says report”.

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia has become a dumping ground for New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom to dispose of plastic waste, according to Radio New Zealand (RNZ).
The news outlet said after China – which previously accepted around 50% of the world’s waste – banned plastic imports beginning this year, Malaysia has become a “popular alternative”.
https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2018/09/23/now-nz-australia-dumping-plastic-waste-in-malaysia-says-report/

King Kong

Bring your own containers to ta-pow hawker food and avoid using plastic bags and disposable polystyrene containers. Drink from the cup no need plastic straws.

Shriek

All foreign material like oranges etc had to be imported and they are approved by another ministry . then custom must check and says OK. After landed in Penang. What can she do as importation is approved by others. Better check facts.