Our guest writer today is Eric Cheah, a concerned Penangite.
Two and a half weeks ago, Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow reportedly rebutted ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak’s criticism of the proposed Pan Island Link phase one (PIL1), a key infrastructural component of the so-called “Penang Transport Master Plan” (PTMP).
Chow was reported as saying that the silent majority wanted PIL1, perhaps alluding to the response at a town hall meeting at Spice on 20 September 2018.
But then most of those who lined up at the mikes during the question-and-answer session voiced opposition or anxiety over the project.
In any case, silence among the wider public does not mean consent. It could just mean ignorance about the project details or just plain apathy.
An extraordinary episode at the 20 September meeting was one of Minister Yeo Bee Yin’s final statements. As she stood behind the chief minister and other state leaders, Yeo made an enigmatic remark, as if to assure the Penang people: “Don’t worry, they are not taking money!”
Many in the audience were perplexed as no one in opposition to PIL1 had alluded to the possibility of corruption! Could it be that the minister was alarmed at the magnitude of the opposition and she felt she needed to say something to shore up the plummeting credibility of the state government?
The funding model for the RM46bn PTMP, of which PIL1 would require at least RM7.5bn, is the sale of reclaimed land on three artificial islands by the state government.
Any interested buyers of some RM46bn worth of reclaimed land would have to put up expensive residential or commercial developments perhaps with a gross development value of RM200bn. Any takers?
The cashflow for the PTMP, however, would be a problem – which is why the state government is seeking a bridging loan from the federal government ie using public funds.
We should also mention that the battle of the two online petitions, for and against the PTMP, stood at 10,000-3,000 in August. Interestingly enough, by November 2018, the pro-PTMP cyber-troopers could only muster another 2,500 votes, whereas the online petition opposing PIL1 swelled to 19,300. Perhaps more people signed against the PIL1 after the Bukit Kukus tragedy in October 2018. From a ratio of 10:3 in favour of PIL1, the situation changed dramatically to 2:3!
In light of the above, the chief minister’s statement that the silent majority support PIL1 is wishful thinking.
What we Penang people can look forward to if PIL1 is launched is massive environmental degradation, increasing and worsening floods, traffic jams, landslides and an ever-present risk to the Air Itam Dam and the safety of those in the Air Itam valley and beyond. All for what?
Another foreseeable risk is possible financial difficulties to the state. By then, the people of Penang will be able to decide whether the D in DAP stands for democratic or for developers.
PIL1 and PTMP are a classic case of overreach.
Eric Cheah is a concerned Penangite.