The tunnel and highway projects will have an impact not only along Gurney Drive, but across much of the north, east and south-east of the Island – and the mainland at Bagan Ajam.
So were public consultations carried out for affected residents to give their views? Was much publicity given to these consultations? Were such consultations adequate given the scale and geographical impact of the projects?
Usually a guideline is that such consultations should be open to the public to submit their views over 12 weeks. Read these guidelines on public consultation by the UK Department for Business, Enterprise
and Regulatory Reform and the guidelines for major project community consultation by the New South Wales Department of Planning.
In the case of the Botanic Garden Special Area Plan, the public were allowed a month to submit their views. Upon appeals by NGOs, this was extended to two months (expiring tomorrow!). A systematic process is being followed for the Garden, involving the exhibition of the plan, submission of public comments, and then hearings where individuals may choose to be present to put forward their comments, objections and proposals personally.
How much more extensive should the consultations be for projects involving billions of ringgit?
Even for the Penang Transport Masterplan, the consultants were in the dark as to whether these mega projects would indeed go ahead. (At a consultation with stakeholders for the Masterplan, I heard a consultant asking a Penang state exco member whether the mega projects were actually “committed”.)
I was also pleasantly surprised to learn during the public consultations for the Masterplan that a lot of the feedback from the public was for sustainable transport and public transport options to be pursued and promoted.
The state government and the federal government (including Rapid Penang and the ferry operator) should set aside political differences and come together to work on viable sustainable public transport options for Penang. Am I politically naive to suggest that? Yes, but in the long-term interests of ordinary Penangites, that is the only viable and sustainable way to go for the state.
It is not totally impossible. The state government has made a good start with the CAT shuttle bus service and the Best Penang Bridge shuttle bus, in both instances working with Rapid Penang. These are commendable initiatives that should serve as the foundation for more sustained cooperation. (The longer-term objective should be for Rapid Penang to come under the state government.)
The alternative is a road congestion nightmare for Penang that doesn’t bear thinking about.
Introduce Public Consultation Guidelines
CAP is compelled to respond to the unwarranted outburst by Penang Chief Minister YB Lim Guan Eng on CAP’s complaint on the lack of public consultation by the State Government on some recent mega projects. The mega projects in question are the construction of a 6.5 km Gurney Drive-Bagan Ajam undersea tunnel, 12 km road connecting Tanjung Bungah-Teluk Bahang, 4.2 km Gurney Drive-Lebuhraya Tun Dr. Lim Chong Eu bypass and 4.6 km Lebuhraya Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu-Bandar Baru Air Itam bypass.
We reiterate our earlier press statement, namely, that there has been no public consultation on these mega projects.
CAP is shocked to note that both the Chief Minister and his Pegawai Khas Encik Zairil Khir Johari appear to have no understanding of the objects and process of public consultation.
Briefing NGOs generally on the mega projects and making statements about them to the press or in the State Assembly do not constitute public consultation.
Public consultation involves engaging the public at the earliest stage of the decision-making process, providing adequate information about the projects and giving due consideration to the representations and views made by individuals and civil society organisations. Such a process has not been adopted by the State Government with regard to the mega projects. A good example of public consultation is the ongoing process in developing a Transport Master Plan for Penang and the Special Area Plan for the Botanic Gardens.
The key question is: Before signing a Memorandum of Understanding and calling for request proposals for construction of these mega projects, was a preliminary study carried out with regard to the need for, and viability of, these projects, as well as their economic, social and environmental impacts? If such a study has been carried out, why was the information not shared with the public for them to make useful representations to the authorities? It would be disastrous to embark on these projects involving huge costs and serious economic, social and environmental impacts without such a study.
Encik Zairil gave reducing traffic congestion as the reason for implementing these mega projects. The State Government has already engaged consultants to prepare a Transport Master Plan, and the question arises as to why a decision was taken on these mega projects as a solution for traffic congestion even before the consultants had made their recommendations.
It is instructive to note that in response to press queries whether the projects were part of the Transport Master Plan, the Chief Minister responded by characterising these projects as a “bonus”. The notion of a bonus is something that is additional to what has been agreed. Presumably, the Chief Minister has persuaded himself that he is giving the people of Penang a gift in addition to what they bargained for. That may very well be so, but the point is that this is effectively an admission that the projects were never part of the Transport Master Plan. The attempt to pass them off as a “bonus” cannot make them so.
If the government is serious about practising the CAT principle with regard to large public projects, then it should introduce and implement guidelines on public participation. The British government and, in Australia, State Governments have implemented such guidelines. The British guidelines provide that “formal consultation should take place at a stage when there is scope to influence the policy outcome”.
CAP would like to emphasise that our comments and criticism of policies and projects are made solely in the public interest and not designed to advance any political or party interest. For over 45 years we have criticized, without fear or favour, projects and policies which do not bring long-term benefits to society and which have serious adverse social and environmental impacts. We will continue to do so.
In the interest of our people and nation, it is vital that Malaysian politicians, NGOs and the media should embrace a culture of debate and discussion in a spirit of mutual respect. Most importantly, those who hold public office must always be prepared to accept public criticisms and respond to them with due decorum.
S M Mohamed Idris
Press Statement By Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng In Komtar, George Town On 13.3.2012.
The Penang PR state government has chosen to be transparent and accountable by getting public inputs and consultation over its proposed 4 infrastructure projects to mitigate traffic congestion and spur economic development in the state, especially Seberang Perai Utara(SPU). No public consultation was held by the previous BN government when building the 2nd Penang Bridge. And yet the Penang PR state government is being criticized more severely for being transparent and accountable than the previous BN state government, which had never sought public input or consultation over the 2nd Penang Bridge.
The PR Penang state government concedes that it has failed to convince some NGOs such as the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) of the importance of the proposed 4 infrastructure projects to mitigate traffic congestion and spur economic development in SPU specifically and Penang generally. The projects in question are the construction of a 6.5-km Gurney Drive-Bagan Ajam(near Butterworth) undersea tunnel, 15 km road connecting Tanjung Bungah and Teluk Bahang, the 5 km Gurney Drive-Lebuhraya Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu bypass and the 5 km Lebuhraya Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu-Bandar Baru Air Itam bypass.
CAP is not the only organization that has opposed the 4 infrastructure projects. Even BN and Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has opposed the construction of the undersea tunnel from Gurney Drive to Bagan Ajam on 17 November 2011. However public feedback from Penangites, particularly at Gurney Drive and SPU, shows that an overwhelming majority of Malays, Indians and Chinese support and want these infrastructure projects to proceed.
The Penang state EXCO had decided to undertake these projects by open competitive tender on 19 October 2011 after public consultations were conducted from 29 April 2011. Therefore it is untrue for CAP to claim that the Penang state government had not conducted public consultations.
The Memorandum of Understanding(MOU) signed on 28th April 2011 between Beijing Urban Construction Group(BUCG) and the Penang state government had no legal force as the Penang state government had clearly stated that these projects must be conducted by open competitive tender. That the MOU signing was witnessed by both Malaysia Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was a positive indication of China’s interest in undertaking these projects in Penang.
Following the MOU signing, the Penang state government had asked for public inputs beginning on 29th April 2011. Two consultative sessions were even held by me directly with the NGOs on 16 October 2011 and 19 November 2011. In both sessions, CAP was represented by Rudhrapathy Vijayala (Ravi). I did not remember Mr Ravi expressing strenuous opposition to the four infrastructure projects at the end of the session.
The PR state government is presently conducting a pre-qualification exercise by open competitive tender for the 4 infrastructure projects to short-list qualified companies with the financial strength, technical expertise, experience and track record to complete the infrastructure projects. No money will be paid, as the 4 projects were to be financed by a land swap from reclaimed land by Tanjung Pinang Development Sdn Bhd(TP).
During the consultative session on 19 November 2011 with the NGOs, I had explained the rationale for coming up with the sea tunnel infrastructure projects to compel Tanjung Pinang Development Sdn Bhd(TP) to surrender as much reclaimed land as possible to the state government. By two agreements signed with the previous BN government in 1990 and 1999, TP was given the right to reclaim 980 acres of land.
Over 200 acres have already been reclaimed by TP, which is now the Straits Quay project. TP has the legal right to reclaim the remaining over 700 acres. For the PR state government to prevent TP from reclaiming land would require payment of enormous sums of compensation to TP.
The only recourse available to the PR state government was to require a sea tunnel and road infrastructure projects as compliance to road traffic requirements to compel TP to surrender as much reclaimed land as possible to the state government. CAP must also bear in mind that TP is now owned by a government-linked corporation(GLC), Sime Darby Bhd.
Unfortunately, the state government had no control over public transport as it is a federal jurisdiction. Much as we want to improve public transport, the Penang state government is helpless to act as this is completely up to the Federal government. All bus services, taxis and trams or LRT are within the powers of the Federal government.
Even when the Penang state government wanted to provide free CAT bus services paid by the state government around the heritage enclave of George Town, the federal government initially rejected the initiative. The Penang state government was willing to pay RM720,000 per year to provide the free CAT bus services, which is very popular with local residents and tourists. Only after intense appeals by the state government directly to the Minister in charge for nearly a year, was the approval finally given for a free CAT bus service paid by the state government.
CAP president SM Mohamed Idris had said that public consultation involves engaging the people at the earliest stage of the decision-making process, providing adequate information about the projects and giving due consideration to the representations and views made by individuals and civil society organisations,”. I would like to humbly remind the veteran CAP President that the very process he outlined was followed in deciding whether or not to proceed with the 4 infrastructure projects.
Only after due consideration, did the Penang PR state government decide to approve the 4 infrastructure projects to reduce traffic congestion to Batu Ferringhi, from Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway to Gurney Drive and the densely populated areas of Paya Terubong and Relau. As for the sea tunnel, not only would it facilitate communication between the island at Gurney Drive to the mainland at Bagan Ajam, it would also spur economic growth in SPU. The Penang PR state government wants to bring development growth to SPU to dispel vicious lies that the Malays and BN supporters in SPU which is dominated by BN, are neglected or marginalized.
The PR state government is equally concerned about the environmental effects surrounding the construction of the sea tunnel. These environmental concerns will be dealt during the second round of public consultations when the design and route is chosen by end 2012. Even though NGOs such as the CAP has strongly objected to these infrastructure projects, the state government will still engage them by inviting them to the public consultation after the design and the route is chosen. If the state government is not satisfied then, the state government can still reject and refuse to proceed with the infrastructure projects.
According to the schedule for the construction of the projects under the pre-Q exercise, the earliest date for commencement of works on the tunnel is end 2015. This is to allow all the technical, design and environmental studies to be carried out between 2012 and 2015. If the government is not satisfied, the EXCO can refuse to sign the final construction agreement which is the final requirement scheduled for the middle of 2015.
LIM GUAN ENG