Penang groups accuse state government of ignoring rule of law by proceeding with reclamation project

(MMO) – Two non-governmental organisations (NGO) have accused the Penang state government of ignoring the rule of law by proceeding with the controversial three-island reclamation project despite ongoing legal action by fishermen against it.

Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) president Mohideen Abdul Kader and Sahabat Alam Malaysia president Meenakshi Raman said a group of fishermen are legally challenging the Department of Environment’s (DoE) approval of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the project.

They said the legal process, allowed under the Environmental Quality Act 1974, will be heard in the middle of next month.

“The fishermen’s appeal provides an opportunity to fundamentally review the DG’s approval of the EIA as to its soundness,” they said in a joint statement today.

They said all claims of environmental soundness by the state government regarding the project, including the proposed mitigation and offset measures, are being legally challenged.

“The fact of this appeal is being ignored by the Penang state government, who intend to proceed with the project anyway without awaiting its outcome, contrary to good governance and respect for the rule of law,” they said.

They pointed out that the DoE, when approving the EIA, acknowledged that there would be permanent negative effects, which are significant for fishery resources, the fishermen and for the nation’s food security.

They concurred with Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar who called yesterday for the mega project to be cancelled.

“Why sacrifice prime environmentally sensitive areas when the state can carry out its intended development on the mainland of Penang, in Seberang Perai, if indeed this is necessary,” they said.

They said the state should consider alternative opportunities on the mainland instead of sacrificing the island’s environment in the name of development.

Yesterday, state infrastructure and transport committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari responded to Nurul Izzah by claiming that the Penang South Islands (PSI) project is needed as a key economic recovery driver for the state.

Zairil said an independent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) showed that the project would bring in RM70 billion in foreign direct investments (FDI) and create more than 300,000 jobs over a 30-year timeframe.

Mohideen and Meenakshi said there was no way to verify when the independent study was conducted, whether it was done before the country and the world’s economies suffered due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Further, the PwC study was not previously cited as the basis for the project but appears now as an afterthought, following strong opposition to the project from NGOs and others, based on sound scientific and socio-economic grounds,” they said.

They said a recent report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) released last year revealed that the economic fallout from Covid-19 is ongoing and increasingly difficult to predict but there are clear indications that things will get much worse for developing economies before they get better.

“So, there are grave uncertainties on the economic front and claims of FDIs flowing in will need to be interrogated further,” they said.

They claimed that the PSI project, which will create 4,500 acres of reclaimed land, will involve the dumping of about 190 million cubic metres of fill material comprising sand and rock into the ocean.

“This amounts to the size of 76,000 Olympic size swimming pools being built in the sea,” they said.

They said due to the impact on the economy by the pandemic and loss of jobs, there is evidence that many in the country, especially in the lower income category, are returning to the sea and land to fish and farm to feed their families and to earn a living.

“Surely we must preserve our rich biodiversity resources that exist in our oceans more than ever, instead of sacrificing them for some illusory gain in the future,” they said.

They said if the state went ahead with its current plans and trajectory, Penang will lose its precious ecosystems and there will be nothing green left in the state.

“It is World Environment Day on June 5 and World Oceans Day on June 8 so for the sake of our environment and oceans, we reiterate our support for Nurul Izzah’s call for the massive reclamation project to be cancelled to preserve Penang’s valuable fishing grounds, the livelihood of fishermen and overall food security of the nation,” they said.