The present Penang state government may not have granted any land reclamation rights since 2008, but recently concern has been expressed about possible land reclamation to finance the RM27bn Penang Transport Masterplan (of which RM17bn is for the construction of more roads and highways).
The following is an extract of a descriptive piece written for Malaysiakini by Mariam Mokhtar about a dialogue in London with the Penang Chief Minister.
The question that irked Lim was as innocuous as those that preceded it, but they brought passion to Lim. They were about the sustainability of development in Penang, hillside development and the threat posed to the breeding grounds of fish, by land reclamation.
Lim’s body language betrayed the touching of a raw nerve. He shot forward in his seat like a sprinter from the starting blocks. The pulse on his right temple throbbed. His voice rose and he bellowed, “These are outright lies, and I will sue anyone who says that. I will sue them and I have sued them.” His indignation caused a ripple of laughter.
Lim was riveting. The audience was enraptured although one cannot decide whether it was because Lim lost his calm composure, or whether it was because the audience was moved by his passion for Penang. He is not a native Penangite, but has embraced his adopted state with enthusiasm and energy. Some claim that Lim was in the right place at the right time when he won his seat in Penang.
The animated Lim raised a few eyebrows. He did not mince his words, and warned against making baseless accusations, and the crowd loved it. He added, “I challenge anyone who says that the Penang state government has granted massive land reclamation rights. These are scurrilous attacks. We stand by what we have achieved. We will defend (our achievements) with our lives.”
He advised those who were unhappy, to sue the BN government for contracts made before DAP’s time, like Tanjung Pinang Two. In 1995, BN sold reclaimed land for RM1 per square foot, instead of RM60 per sq ft, which was the prevailing rate at the time.
Lim brushed aside the criticism by saying that it was typical of the NGOs who are aligned to Umno Baru, and that Unesco has awarded Penang heritage status.
He is misinformed. These were questions garnered from ordinary Penangites, and not NGOs which are aligned with the Umno Baru opposition in Penang.
Despite his harsh rebuttal of the allegation of unsustainable development, members of the audience admitted that they would rather have him as leader than a corrupt Umno Baru or BN chief minister; the good he has done outweighs the criticism.
Lim said, “Penang is cleaner and greener now. Please don’t blame us for the wrongs of the previous BN government. We are not perfect, but we have a plan to resolve issues like public transport. You can attack me for anything, but do not attack our integrity.”
What about the land reclaimed by E & O under rights granted by the previous BN administration: 110 acres of this are to be handed over to the state government, which will then hand them over to Zenith, the tunnel developer. Zenith has already entered into a joint venture with Ewein to undertake property development on some of this land. Was that part of the original BN deal – or something more recent?
What is your view? Has development in Penang been sustainable so far?