Here are two articles by Loh-Lim Lin Lee and Mike Tan, which provide a more realistic, alternative perspective of the unsustainable development model in Penang. These pieces are in response to an article “Penang’s curse” by a Nisha Sharma in Free Malaysia Today. Take the time to read and mull over the two responses below.
You may be forgiven for your lack of in-depth knowledge about Penang since you left a long time ago and only come back on holidays and are inconvenienced by traffic jams.
Civil society groups are totally supportive of public transport. In fact, we were the ones urging the setting up of the Penang Transport Council – as seen by the calling up of many members from civil society to sit in the council. It led to the Halcrow report, which was meant to be the basis for the future transport planning of Penang.
The current so-called “PTMP” is a total bastardisation of the Halcrow report. The “PTMP” is not based on Penang’s needs but on developers’ profits. It prioritises elevated highways, cutting through Penang’s hills and various highly overpriced systems that are not suitable for Penang.
The cloth should be cut to fit the wearer. We are an island of less than one million blessed with hills, rivers and trees. Give us a system that suits us. All civil society wants and what we fight for is an efficient at-grade (ie street-level) ART bus or tram – cheaper, faster low-hanging fruits. We want policies discouraging cars, visionary planning that is not linked to land reclamation and housing developers.
Construction costs are among the highest the country has seen. Does it not ring any bells for you? Why persist with an exorbitant tunnel we can’t afford; why tunnel through hills when we can’t manage an elevated highway without incurring deaths and disaster?
Penang is being sold to the highest bidder offering the most audacious unsuitable and most expensive schemes. Instead of the vibrant Penang that you think we will get with “PTMP”, you will see a state crushed by debt and suffering Penangites.
Loh-Lim Lin Lee is a veteran Penang-based activist.
Penang’s curse is the government’s shame
by Mike Tan
I wish to address some points raised in a recent article by FMT reader Nisha Sharma entitled “Penang’s curse”.
Nisha writes: “First the critics were against the LRT, then the highways, and now, reclamation. The initial complaint was over the use of taxpayers’ money. The state then came up with a plan to build the LRT and highways through revenue earned from reclamation. That, too, is not acceptable.”
Nisha is wrong.
The truth is, the Penang government wants taxpayers – not only from Penang, but the entire country – to pay for the building of the first phase of the Pan Island Link (PIL1). The Penang government has requested a loan of RM1bn from the federal government to finance the “PTMP”, specifically the PIL1 project. Where does the federal government gets its funds? From taxpayers.
In addition, the PIL1 highway will be toll-free; yet its many tunnels and the road itself will require maintenance and incur operational costs. Who will bear those costs? The Penang government. And where does the Penang government get its funds from, ultimately? From taxpayers.
So the initial complaint still stands: taxpayers’ money will be used for the project, no matter what.
Secondly, Nisha writes: “Yes, we do need fish on our dining table but when the bigger players come to the fore with modern facilities to bring in 10 times more catch in half the time and cost, will the traditional fishermen be able to survive?”
Again, Nisha is wrong.
Improvements in technology do not equal positive benefits. You don’t need to be an expert to know this. Just watch “Wicked Tuna: North vs South”, which is being aired on the National Geographic channel, and you will learn that although fishermen have the latest in technology and gadgets, they can only land a single tuna fish per vessel per day.
Why? Because of the quota set by the Fisheries Department due to depleted fish stocks. And why are fish stocks depleted? Because of overfishing in previous decades due to improvements in technology! Hauling 10 times more catch will lead to unsustainable fishing and will cause our oceans to be depleted.
What will ensure there is fish in the seas are suitable breeding grounds for fish to spawn and grow till adulthood and management of fisheries that emphasises sustainability. That means the protection of mangrove areas as most fish species caught for our food breed and grow in mangrove areas before moving on to the sea in their adulthood.
Nisha’s article reflects the mentality of the general public quite accurately. Most Malaysians lack the time and inclination to do a bit more research to understand topics, especially relating to the environment. This results in knee-jerk responses that focus on simple arguments which do not stand up to scrutiny and common sense.
Many Malaysians want things and results fast, without considering any other factors. Perhaps we have become a consumer society where we always think that we – the customers – are right, and that everyone should pander to our wants first and foremost.
As a society, we should try our best to educate ourselves and each other. We should also spend time learning about various topics, not just stick to those that concern us or have a direct impact on us. Otherwise, we are likely to end up as a self-centred, egocentric and materialistic community.
A society is led by its leaders. In Malaysia, and Penang for that matter, leadership roles tend to be dominated by political figures. They lead, and most of the time, Malaysians follow. So if Penang is in a rut, then the Penang government – and the politicians in it – are to be blamed.
The Penang government should provide firm leadership in areas that are important for the sustainability of the state and not champion mega projects that it deems important for its “legacy”.
Which is more important to Penangites: water supply or an LRT system? The Penang government has yet to ensure that water supply to the state is protected: the Ulu Muda catchment area has yet to be protected, and logging still happens there. Talk of a tri-state effort to protect the region has died down, largely due to the states’ demands that compensation be given by the federal government to Kedah.
What is funny is that the Penang government is also asking for RM1bn from the federal government for its highway project. If the state government is so concerned about securing the water supply from Ulu Muda, shouldn’t it use the RM1bn to compensate Kedah instead of earmarking it for a transport project?
I wholeheartedly agree with Nisha that Penang is in a rut, but I think that the government is the party responsible for putting the state there. After all, it was elected to administer the state.
Instead of concrete plans to boost the state in aspects such as the economy, tourism, industry, agriculture, fishery, social and cultural sectors, the Penang government has decided to pour RM46bn into a single sector: transport.
How much is spent to boost Penang’s economy? How much for tourism? How much for agriculture? What about fishery? Social and cultural programmes?
It seems that the transport sector is the most important sector to the Penang government, based on the amount of investment. If the Penang government can spend RM46 billion on the transport sector, common sense would insist that it is spending much more on more important sectors. But it is not.
So much money, so little imagination and creativity in planning and organising. What a shame. Does it make sense at all?
Penangites, I am sure that any of you can think of better ways to spend RM46bn to improve Penang. Currently, the Penang government’s best idea is to reclaim three islands, build an LRT system and a 20km road from north to south of the island. Can you seriously believe that these three projects can help improve your life as Penangites? Do share with all of us, especially your fellow Penangites.
Here’s a challenge for every Penangite: how would you spend RM46bn on Penang? I think it’s time for you to tell the state government how to spend your hard-earned money properly.
Mike Tan is a former associate editor of The Ant Daily.