Guan Eng alleges political vendetta after Penang airport expansion frozen

(MMO) – Former finance minister Lim Guan Eng accused the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government of political “vengeance” in its decision to halt the Penang International Airport (PIA) expansion until at least 2023.

Lim announced the expansion when tabling Budget 2020 last year and said the move was the equivalent of cancelling the project.

“(It) is a clear manifestation of vengeance politics to punish Penang for not being aligned to the PN government,” said Lim in a statement today.

He was responding to Transport Minister Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong’s reply in Parliament yesterday when asked on expansion and upgrading works of the PIA.

Wee said that the suspension was to allow studies on airports done by National Airport Strategic Plan (NASP), which will be completed by 2023.

According to Lim, the PIA was in urgent need of the expansion as it saw a 6.9 per cent increase in passenger volume in 2019 compared to 7.7 million passengers in 2018.

“The PIA expansion project is expected to cost RM800 million for its initial expansion of capacity from 6.5 million to 12 million passengers.

“Why does PN have to wait until after 2023 to decide?” he asked.

As the study was only due in 2023, Lim also said Wee’s response implied that the government expected the fallout of Covid-19 on the tourism and aviation sector to last until at least then.

“The PIA is one of the few profitable airports outside Kuala Lumpur and the MAHB had intended to fund the PIA expansion as a private financing initiative (PFI), since it will generate a positive rate of return.

“While the NASP study for the 39 airports under MAHB may be necessary for loss-making airports, it does not make sense for projects not to proceed in relation to profitable airports like PIA.

“Is Wee saying that there will be no infrastructure works for all airports until after 2023?” he said.

He added that carrying out needed infrastructure projects would stimulate the economy depressed by the pandemic.

“Has the government forgotten that Malaysia’s economy recorded its worst GDP growth contraction in history of 17.1 per cent in the second quarter this year?” said Lim.

According to Lim, the PIA expansion project had been scheduled to kick off in June this year and be completed by 2024.

“(Should) the PIA expansion project be undertaken now, (it) can take up to four years to complete, where the tourist situation is expected to be normalised by then.

“By refusing to implement the expansion project is not only short-sighted but irresponsible, as it sends a wrong signal to investors that the economic situation will not be normalised by 2023.

“This glaringly contradicts claims by the Finance Ministry that the economy will recover quickly by early 2021,” he said.

On August 3, Wee said all proposals for new airport and expansions will be under review until the assessment is completed by 2023.

He reportedly said the proposals for new airports including the Tioman Island airport, Kulim airport and Penang airport expansion will be studied under the NASP.

He explained that the NASP study will include a study on all new or expansion and upgrading of airports, and Short Take-Off Landing Airport in the country, to ensure the building of an airport is in accordance to its real needs.

The study is also conducted to determine the direction of airport construction based on airspace requirement, economic and strategic studies.