Agora Society would like to voice its support to Nurul Izzah Anwar’s three-point objection to the Penang South Reclamation project and show disapproval about the response given by the Penang state executive council member Zairil Khir Johari.
We commend Nurul Izzah’s stance on environmental justice and genuine care for the communities that the massive project would severely affect. Nurul Izzah is the elected representative for the parliament constituency of Permatang Pauh, hence she has the responsibility of taking care of the social welfare and benefits of her people in Penang and the rest of Malaysia. So, the point Zairil made about his personal retirement plan is completely irrelevant and cannot be the basis of any discussion of public policy. Nurul clearly has the mandate to voice out her legitimate concerns.
A project as huge as reclaiming 920ha or 2,273 acres of land for artificial island A under this mega-project would definitely cause irreversible damage to Penang’s marine biology ecosystems, change the landscape and affect many livelihoods. Meanwhile, the economic benefit claims cited by Zairil are elusive at best under the current global and national economic climate.
Worst of all, the raison d’etre for the Penang South Reclamation has always been about funding the “Penang Transport Master Plan” (PTMP) projects. However, the reclamation project has mutated to developers-led profit-seeking business activities and hardly about the PTMP anymore. Why should we make the southern coast communities the sacrificial lambs to satisfy the greed of others?
Instead, Zairil diverted the public attention to the Penang South Reclamation and talked about the economic benefits of attracting RM70bn in foreign direct investments, creating 300,000 new jobs and stopping the brain drain over a 30-year period. But has anyone pondered why, for all these good things to happen, the state government must reclaim three artificial islands as large as 4,500 acres in total under the Penang South Reclamation?
Can the state government explain to the people the status of the 4,526 acres of land under the Penang Development Corporation in Batu Kawan? The connectivity of the Batu Kawan Industrial Park and the surrounding areas to the Penang International Airport is not a problem, as the site is just a Penang second bridge distance away – a bridge, which until today, is still very much under-used.
If the reclamation is really about providing land for industrial development, there is still plenty of land available on the Seberang Perai side. The land cost [on the mainland] is definitely much cheaper than the reclaimed island, without the need to sacrifice nature for development. So why aren’t those hopeful investors coming already for the land in Seberang Perai but the state government is now so sure about the land sales from the artificial island, which will only be completed in the distant future?
Given all the rhetoric about having balanced development which includes Seberang Perai, why isn’t the Penang state government focusing on bringing high-skilled jobs and economic growth to Seberang Perai? in doing so, the state can also relieve the traffic situation in Penang Island and reduce vehicle gas emissions pollution. Doesn’t that sound more like a “cleaner, greener Penang” solution?
There is no need to talk about how smart and how green the artificial islands will be because the massive land reclamation phase to create these islands will have already destroyed the coastal and marine biodiversity and created so much pollution and unaccounted greenhouse gas emissions. If this is not ironic, then we should call it ‘greenwashing’. And please, stop using the consolation money offered to the fishermen to devalue their lives, lifestyle, lifetime skills and dignity.
Nurul Izzah, as the MP on the Seberang Perai side, is right to make her call. We, too, have an opinion: the Penang South Reclamation project should be scrapped. Serious doubts are already planted in many heads on whether this project truly benefits people in Penang and Malaysia – or just a select few with vested interests who will profit handsomely from this project. – Agora