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Denial of the undeniable by blind supporters of Penang South Reclamation

The bay of Teluk Kumbar, a rich seafood-producing area, should not, at any cost, be destroyed

Golden area: Fishermen bringing back a large catch at Teluk Kumbar, Penang - ZAKARIA ISMAIL

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When people put their personal interests before those of the public, they become unable to see, nor are concerned about, the long-term future, running into centuries ahead.

Their vision is limited to the here and now, and at most the very near future during their active lifetimes at the most.

Those criticising the NGOs that are standing up to the Penang state government’s grandiose money-making project in the bay of Teluk Kumbar say that they “really can’t fathom why the Penang NGOs and the Penang State Opposition parties are against the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) Project. The PSR is supposed to breathe life into Penang at a time when we are suffocating economically from the effects brought about by the Covid-19 Pandemic. Why cut that lifeline?”

That the mega-reclamation will “breathe life into Penang”, when it is suffocating economically from the effects brought about by the pandemic, is a joke.

Apparently, the project “is expected to generate over 300,000 jobs by 2050”. But that is not during the current Covid pandemic period! And they don’t say that most of those jobs will be for cheap foreign labour or for modern-day slaves.

Some of the undeniable facts are:

The fishermen (about 5,000 of them) are gainfully self-employed.

The fishermen are not demanding that the government provide them jobs in “safe working environments” on land, as fishing in the sea is a very dangerous vocation.

The hard, noble work of the fishermen is not for self-enrichment as is the mentality of the corporate figures that compete to outdo each other and amass financial wealth. Those fighting tooth and nail for the Penang South Reclamation to proceed fall into this category of selfish, self-centred people.

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Fishing (particularly inshore fishing) is a one-of-its-kind industry that does not need human input to obtain the final product (unlike factories). Thus, it is a sector without the risk of bankruptcy and many layoffs.

What is the guarantee that the foreign direct investments that are being worshipped as miracle ‘solutions’ to employment and the economic growth will still be such lovable things in future centuries?

If they are not, could the three artificial islands be dismantled and the rich fishing waters that the place was known for be restored for fishing again? So, should one out of greed be so callous as to gamble and destroy a nature-given food-producing area for posterity?

Ikan tenggiri (narrow barred Spanish mackerel) sells for RM40/kg. A whole fish could fetch RM150 – ZAKARIA ISMAIL

At a time when the world is in such dire environmental straits and global food security is threatened, shouldn’t food security be top of the agenda of any wise government?

Fishing in the bay of Teluk Kumbar is not just about the 5,000 fishermen, but much more: it is an industry that provides seafood (an important component of Malaysian diet) to tens of thousands of people daily. Should all these consumers be denied affordable seafood, which provides them cheap protein, so that the rich can make more money?

Destroying the rich fishing grounds in the bay of Teluk Kumbar amounts to killing a critical food-producing industry, which has run for hundreds of years – an industry that is not dependent on ‘raw material sourcing’ (unlike factories) and can go on and on for as long as there are people on Penang Island. Is this the wisdom of today’s materialistic government?

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Fishing jobs are available to anyone, anytime, as they don’t depend on paper qualifications, vacancies and interviews. All that is needed is grit. Thus, fishermen’s children don’t have to worry about white-collar jobs. There was a young Malay graduate from Kuala Lumpur who went to Singapore and worked as a garbage collector, remember? When circumstances demand it, fishermen’s children could take to the sea like ducklings to water, even if they have gained degrees.

Does the Penang government not want ordinary people to be self-employed (egas fishermen), but to be ‘slave’-clothed as employees in factories (whether foreign or local) to help the rich become richer and to be at their mercy for a livelihood?

Instead of blindly gunning the NGOs, the champions of the Penang South Reclamation should, with a conscience, study what government experts in fisheries and the environment have said in official documents:

The Penang state fisheries director wrote, in a letter dated 26 January 2021, to the Malaysian Fisheries Development Board (LKIM) for Penang state:

“Secara dasarnya Jabatan Perikanan Malaysia TIDAK MENYOKONG dengan cadangan tersebut kerana projek tersebut akan membawa kemusnahan kekal kepada ekosistem perikanan seluas 4,500 ekar dan memberikan impak negatif yang sangat besar kepada sumber perikanan, sosioekonomi nelayan dan jaminan bekalan makanan (food security).”

(As a matter of policy, the Malaysian Fisheries Department DOES NOT SUPPORT the proposal because the project will cause permanent destruction to the 4,500-acre fisheries ecosystem and will have a very great negative impact on fishery resources, the socioeconomic status of the fishermen and food security.)

Bountiful catch at Teluk Kumbar: The udang besar (large prawn) is sold at RM55/kg. The entire catch here is worth RM650. The fish among the prawns is ikan kembung (Indian mackerel), which the fishermen will use for their meals – ZAKARIA ISMAIL

The director general of environment wrote, in a letter dated 25 June 2019, to the Penang state secretary:

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Pihak Jabatan ini ingin menarik perhatian pihak Kerajaan Negeri Pulau Pinang bahawa pembangunan projek akan menyebabkan kemusnahan kekal dan residual impact ke atas ekosistem dataran lumpur (mudflat), fishing ground, kawasan pendaratan penyu, dan sebahagian terumbu karang di Pulau Rimau yang merupakan ekosistem penting kepada sumber perikanan. Kemusnahan kekal ini akan memberi impak negatif yang signifikan kepada sumber perikanan, nelayan dan jaminan sumber bekalan makanan negara.

(This department wishes to bring to the attention of the Penang state government that development of the project will cause permanent destruction and residual impact on the mudflat ecosystem, the fishing grounds, turtle landing sites, and parts of the coral reefs in Pulau Rimau which are an important ecosystem for fisheries resources. This permanent destruction will have a significant negative impact on fisheries resources, the fishermen and food security of the nation.)

So, the Penang government and its supporters who are ruling party members and people with business interests like real estate and tourism should not resort to telling untruths to Penangites. The NGOs are only highlighting the concerns expressed by government experts as above. Researchers, academics and politicians from the Penang ruling coalition (eg Nurul Izzah Anwar of PKR) and from other parties have also expressed strong objections to the mega-reclamation project.

In this age of global climate change, food security and health issues, it is not making money that should top the agenda of those in power. Rather it is the wellbeing of the ordinary masses and food security that should the priority. The bay of Teluk Kumbar, a rich seafood-producing area, should not, at any cost, be destroyed.

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