Home TA Online DoE’s lightning approval of Penang’s massive reclamation stuns forum audience

DoE’s lightning approval of Penang’s massive reclamation stuns forum audience

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A long weekend – that’s all it took for the Department of Environment to approve a 4,500-acre land reclamation project. Anil Netto reports on a lively forum organised by Penang Forum today.

The public forum on land reclamation at the Regional Centre for Education in Science and Mathematics (Recsam) in Gelugor, Penang this afternoon drew a crowd of more than 200 concerned fishermen, activists and Penang residents.

The audience learned several new things today.

Penang Forum’s Evelyn Teh revealed that the Department of the Environment approved the environmental impact assessment for the 4,500-acre southern reclamation project in Penang Island at lightning speed.

Even the comic superhero The Flash would be impressed. The DoE’s performance was even faster than the speed at which it approved phase two of the Seri Tanjung Pinang project – the 891-acre land reclamation in Tanjung Tokong in northeast Penang Island – in 2014: that approval took less than a month after the feedback period closed.

This time, for the three-island project in southern Penang Island, the DoE received the environmental impact assessment on Friday, 21 June 2019, said Evelyn. Just four days later, on Tuesday, 25 June, approval was granted with 72 conditions ie within a couple of working days. That was just 13 days from the 12 June deadline for submissions of public comments. (The EIA had previously been rejected by the DoE on 2 August 2018.)

How the DoE managed to study all the public objections in a matter of days I haven’t the foggiest idea. Many in the audience either gasped or shook their heads at the DoE’s super-efficiency in approving the 4,500-acre reclamation at warp speed.

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If the project goes ahead, the entire beach along southern Penang Island would be dug up for the reclamation in the first year of work – and this would wipe out the coastal plankton, which is the food for the fish in the southern coastal waters.

Island B (the middle island of the three islands) would be the first to rise from the sea water, but the entire project could take decades to complete.

Penang Fishermen’s Association chairman Nazri Ahmad said the fishermen are planning a “hari mogok” – a strike day – on 4 November. The 5,000 fishermen in the state will not be going to work that day, in a bid to raise public awareness of the critical importance of the fisheries sector to the state’s food security. Nazri said the details of their strike action would be finetuned later.

Some 90% of fish in local markets are from Penang’s coastal waters. The fishermen claim the fish from these waters are of higher quality than imported fish from the region: “ubat mayat” (preservatives) is used on imported fish, unlike local fish which is sold fresh, they say.

How would the reclamation fare in the face of climate change and rising sea levels was another issue that was raised.

Participants at the forum got an exclusive sneak peek at Andrew Ng Yew Han’s moving documentary “A Fisherman’s Prayer”. The firm showcases the tranquil waters of Penang Island’s southern coast and depicts the anxious times faced by the fishermen ahead of the reclamation. Only those blinded by ringgit signs would fail to be moved by this touching documentary. See the trailer below:

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As the forum progressed, one participant whispered to me, “Critics of Penang Forum can no longer label the group as a bunch of retired elite, urban English-educated folks who have nothing else better to do.”

I looked around and yes, sure enough, the crowd at the forum and even the organisers were a completely mixed bunch, revealing the deep-rooted anxiety in Penang – across the board. Participants were multi-ethnic, comprising young and not-so-young fishermen, activists, professionals, academics and ordinary folks, male and female from both the urban and less urban parts of Penang. The young people organising this forum took centre stage, comfortable in both Malay and English.

How fitting it was these ordinary folks were all coming together for a common purpose on Malaysia Day, out of a desire to protect our precious natural heritage, the livelihoods of the fishermen and the food security of everyone in the state.

Here is the streaming of the full forum:

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