Anwar Ibrahim did not have it easy yesterday at Teluk Kumbar in southern Penang Island (see video above).
Just before meeting the fishermen, he was believed to have met representatives of SRS Consortium.
The prime minister-in-waiting must have fancied his chances as a mediator extraordinaire between the state government, contractors and developers, on the one hand, and the fishermen, environmentalists, activists and other members of the public, on the other.
But Anwar, surrounded by Penang Tolak Tambak flags and banners, was quickly disabused of such illusions. He was forced to back-pedal when confronted with the anger and strong feelings on display at Teluk Kumbar.
The reaction of the crowd effectively dispelled the political-corporate spin in Penang that this was an insignificant area with only a few fishermen.
Before arriving, Anwar must have thought the main issue appeared to be the quantum of “compensation” for the fishermen and “engagement” with “stakeholders” and “mitigation measures”.
After all, the Penang government has portrayed the issue as one of fishermen merely seeking higher compensation and bigger boats to venture further out – and many among the public have fallen for that propaganda line.
But this is false mediation. False negotiations. The fishermen yesterday were in no mood for sweet talk, corporate jargon and other typical attempts at divide-and-rule.
Faced wth the depth of anger over the project at Teluk Kumbar, Anwar himself conceded that it was hard to find a single reclamation project around the world of this scale which had not caused enormous harm to fishermen’s welfare.
Anwar and the Penang state government appear only interested in finding a way to get the project going while somehow pacifying the fishermen – probably through “compensation” – and the public.
This is a pro-corporate approach to maximise returns for the project proponents. These proponents are not interested in better, cheaper, faster alternatives to provide sustainable mobility for the whole state – with zero damage to the coastal ecology – at a fraction of the cost of the disgraceful RM46bn “PTMP”. Instead, they are only thinking of the fat contracts, enormous profits and huge “project delivery partner fees and expenses” to be reaped.
Who cares about the conflict of interest inherent in the “project delivery partner” model. Who cares about the destruction of the coastal ecology and the loss of affordable fresh fish. Who cares about the likely operational losses in running and maintaining the mega highway on sensitive hill slopes and the expensive light rail transit system (which provides just a single rail route from the airport to Komtar).
Who will end up paying for the multimillion ringgit cost of periodic dredging to clear up siltation and sedimentation along the narrow waterways between the three proposed islands?
Sadly, under the intoxicating spell of Greed with a capital G, all these project proponents and their internet shrills can think of is $$$ – and “compensation” to try and pacify the fishermen. Thirty pieces of silver.