The appointment of Chua Soi Lek as Penang Port Commission chairperson comes at a crucial time for the port.
One of the prime rules of journalism is, always follow the money. Where the money is, that’s where things happen. Two major factors could explain the relatively high-level appointment of an MCA leader to head the Penang ports’ regulatory authority:
1) Privatisation of Penang port and wharves’ operations could be on the cards. The politically well-connected Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary’s name has been mentioned in various reports. Penang Port Sdn Bhd CEO Ahmad Ibni Hajar was reported in September as saying they were also awaiting the government’s approval on plans to list the company. Big money stakes will be up for grabs if the listing does proceed. (I maintain that Penang Port should remain in government hands. Preferably it should come under the state government’s purview.)
2) And let’s not forget that major expansion and upgrading work is in store for the Penang piers, deep water wharves, container terminals and ferry operations.
The extension of the wharf at the northern end of the North Butterworth Container Terminal has been completed, increasing the length from 900m to 1,500m. This will be serviced by high-speed rail-mounted gantry cranes, an additional bridge to the mailand and a 25ha storage yard nearing completion. The expected ‘moves per hour’ at the terminal is expected to rise from 22 to 25.
That’s not all. Take a look at the other big-money projects in the pipe-line that could add up to billions of ringgit:
North Channel Dredging (RM351 million has been requested)
Dredging of the 11.5 meter ACD (Approach Channel Depth) North Channel to 13.5 metre (or 14.5m?) ACD to serve mother vessels calling at the port.
Prai Bulk Cargo Terminal
Relocation and construction of a new Dangerous Goods (DG) Terminal to the south of PBCT by 64 metres. Construction of the new trestle for DG pipelines and the 64-metre berth is expected to commence in January 2008. Shifting of the pipelines to the south should start in May 2008 and the new DG berth is targeted to be ready in November 2008.
Fast Boat (Ferry Terminal)
Penang Port Sdn Bhd will introduce fast boat services between the island and the mainland. The fast boats, which cater for pedestrians and motorcyclists, take only half the time to reach the destination compare to ferries that take 15 minutes. A total of five units of fast boats will be bought to complement the ferry services.
The number of ferries will be reduced from the current eight to five when fast boat services are implemented.
Centralised Tankage Facilities (CTF)
The CTF project is located near to the Bagan Ajam Toll on Butterworth Outer Ring Road encompassing an area approximately 100 acres off the nearby coast. The facilities inside the CTF will include various types of oils & gas storage tanks, road tanker loading terminals, gas filling facilities, drumming facilities, blending tanks for bio diesel, lube & additives and warehousing.
The project estimated cost is approximately RM1.2 billion and will be operational by the end of 2013. This project will form a hub for moving liquid cargoes in and out within Malaysian and International waters. The water draft will be approximately 13.0 metres as to accommodate vessel size up to 50,000 DWT. The total expected and estimated volume of liquid cargoes to be handled by CTF is 700,000 metric tonnes per month.
Value Added Activities and Reclamation Project
A total of 1,000 acres will be reclaimed at the North of NBCT which will be developed into container yards and other value adding activities like the:-
- Free Trade Zones Activities (Free Industrial Zones / Free Commercial Zones)
- Warehousing / CFS and Logistic Activities
- Distripark and Inland Clearance Depot (ICD)
- Cold Storage and Halal Hub
- Centralised Tankage Facilities (CTF)
At the current Butterworth Deep Water Wharves, value added activities are being carried out within the Free Commercial Zones area, e.g. On Dock Depot Operations, Warehousing and Container Freight Stations to ensure greater flexibility to all of wide ranging import and export commercial activities with minimal documentation needed .
Source: PPC website
With so much big money at stake, no wonder the federal boys want a ‘trusted’ hand to oversee the Penang ports, wharves and terminals, and presumably that’s why they opted for MCA’s Chua Soi Lek (never mind the role of MCA hands in the PKFZ debacle).
One final thought: are we going to spend all these public funds only for a future privatised entity to reap the operational profits?