(The Malaysian Insider) - Penang Port Commission (PPC) chief Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek was today accused of blocking Putrajaya’s proposal to deepen the harbour channel with three lawmakers from the state suggesting it was a “sinister” plot to strangle its economic growth and benefit Johor’s Port of Tanjung Pelepas (PTP).
Three Penang MPs demanded to know the Johor-born Dr Chua’s rationale in rejecting Putrajaya’s proposal to dredge Penang Port and draw bigger ships measuring 8,000 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) to call on the island state along the Straits of Malacca, the world’s busiest waterway.
“Is there a conspiracy to stifle Penang’s economy through privatisation of Penang Port to Tan Sri Syed Mokhtar al-Bukhary who will turn it into a feeder port for his Tanjong Pelepas Port (PTP)?
“Why did Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek, as Penang Port Commission chairman, reject the proposal to dredge the Penang Port channel, during a meeting of National Economic Council, the government’s economic cabinet in which Chua is a member, on 8th August 2011?” DAP MPs Chow Kon Yow, Liew Chin Tong and Chong Eng asked.
Chow is Tanjong MP as well as the state executive councillor for local government and traffic, while Liew is Bukti Bendera MP and Chong Eng represents Bukit Mertajam on the mainland.
The trio pointed out that the Barisan Nasional (BN) federal government had repeatedly promised to dredge the channel under the 9th and 10th Malaysia Plans but had yet to do so.
The Malaysian Insider reported in December 2010 that the Cabinet had approved the Ministry of Finance’s (MoF) sale of Penang Port Sdn Bhd (PPSB) to PTP, a unit of tycoon Syed Mokhtar’s logistics operations despite competitive bids from other businessmen and also the Penang government, which owns the port land.
The three MPs said they understood that Syed Mokhtar, who also owns Seaport Terminal (Johore) Sdn Bhd, may ask MoF to cut the final price for Penang Port to RM150 million from the initial RM450 million in exchange for the federal government to not dredge the northern channel which would save it RM350 million.
However, they did not disclose how they came by that knowledge.
The PR lawmakers pointed out that Syed Mokhtar also owns PTP and Johor Port and said he may decide to cut down on one of the two ports, which they said meant a closure of Johor Port’s container port.
“Seaport Terminal may bring the seven units of Super Port Panamax cranes from Penang to PTP and may bring the six quay cranes in Johor Port to place it in Penang. Essentially, Seaport Terminal may potentially engage in asset stripping,” they added.