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Call for review of mega project: Penang transport masterplan

Penang Forum meeting with new Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow on 6 June 2018 - Photograph: Chow Kon Yeow's Facebook

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Daim Zainuddin, the chairman of the Council of Eminent Persons, announced on 18 May that the council would review all mega projects to determine “if they are to our advantage”.

While Daim was presumably referring to projects involving foreign interests, Penang Forum would like to ask that this call be extended to cover all mega projects regardless of whether the parties involved are foreign or domestic. Indeed, the pertinent question here is whether the mega project will not only benefit the people but will also protect the environment for future generations.

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow recently announced that the state government would prioritise and hasten the implementation of the Penang transport masterplan, which is a mega project estimated to cost RM46bn.

We call on the PH state government to review this mega project because the Pakatan Harapan’s Manifesto Promise no. 39 ‘Balancing economic growth with environmental protection’ has a commitment to improve public transport.

Given the scale of the funding for this mega project the State must ensure government procurement produces the best value for taxpayers’ money (Promise #23). The awarding process used was based on a Request for Proposal, rather than a true open tender, which did not allow for any meaningful comparison of bid documents as the scope of work was not fixed. Hence the award process must also be reviewed and revisited.

Furthermore the present transport masterplan was based on the assumption that buses, ferries and a cross-channel bridge were under federal control and there was nothing the state could do about it. So it did not focus on how these could be improved or expanded. But now that circumstances have changed, the plan needs to be revised.

In view of Malaysia’s commitment to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement which are in force, and Pakatan Harapan’s commitment to sustainable public transport, Penang’s transport policy should be radically shifting from building more highways (to accommodate more cars) to putting in place a first-rate comprehensive network of public transport.

Planning for equitable public transport should take into consideration the following criteria:


  • Fiscal prudence that should consider cost-effectiveness in construction, operation and maintenance. Detailed financial analysis of different public transport systems must be done and compared. The most cost-effective system should be selected.
  • Other important considerations are efficiency of operation, predictable schedules, and systems compatibility
  • The different components of the transport system must be well connected and integrated, socially inclusive, with a low impact on the built and natural environment.
  • Extensive public consultation at every stage – with plans available for online viewing and download so that more people can view and comment – must be carried out. The exercise must be open to scrutiny.
  • Independent consultants who are at the forefront of designing equitable, sustainable transport must be engaged to do the review of the plans. They must not be associated with or employed by parties involved in tendering for the project.

The 2016 transport proposal is a mega project put forward by SRS Consortium to the Penang state government. The design and planning fails to meet most of the above criteria. The overpriced package includes many components of mega-road building that will discourage people from using public transport and undermine the stated goal of increasing public modal share of transport. Although public consultations have been held about impacts in specific localities, open scrutiny of the whole design was strongly discouraged.

The original Penang transport masterplan by Halcrow involved public consultation, but the state pressured the consultants to add the undersea tunnel and three highways costing a total of RM6.3bn just before it adopted the plan in 2013.

The SRS proposal costing RM46n includes a proposal to reclaim 4,500 acres of land (comprising three islands). It departs drastically from the officially adopted 2013 Halcrow masterplan. Thus, a thorough, proper and independent review should be carried out to ascertain its suitability, viability and sustainability.

The massive proposed reclamation will destroy fishing grounds and jeopardise fishing livelihoods and a vital local source of seafood. It will be environmentally unsustainable due to expensive maintenance costs (required for dredging) in the future. Promise 10 of the PH Manifesto talks of ensuring food security and protecting the welfare of farmers and fishermen.

Last but not the least, with rapid changes in public transport technology and new trends in info-mobility, it is imperative that any existing plan for public transport should be re-examined. A new public transport design has to be integrated to encourage, walking, cycling, and bus use.

In view of all the above considerations, Penang Forum calls on the PH government, which promises accountability, transparency and openness, to exercise fiscal prudence and to review the present RM46bn SRS transport proposal in line with PH’s promise to review all mega projects that may not be advantageous to the people.

Penang Forum steering committee
7 June 2018

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