Penang NGOs appeal to PM to review all mega projects, particularly PTMP

Penang Forum Steering Committee member, Dr. Lim Mah Hui (left) gave a media statement on getting an independent review for the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) which costs a lot at a press conference at the CAP office.

(NST) – A group of Penang non-governmental organisations have urged Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to review all mega projects, which involve billions of ringgit of public funds.

Penang Forum, the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) and allied civil societies said these include the bloated Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) mega-project costing a colossal RM46 billion.

Penang Forum steering committee member Dr Lim Mah Hui, in congratulating Anwar on becoming the prime minister, said he had set the tone for his new administration by commendably shunning extravagant spending, especially in his choice of official car, saving the government a large sum of money.

He said Anwar had also trimmed ministerial pay and slimmed down the Cabinet to reflect the new administration’s commitment to financial prudence.

“In the same vein, we hope the new prime minister will review all mega-projects, which involve billions of ringgit of public funds. As the new prime minister is surely aware, civil society groups in Penang have consistently highlighted the bloated PTMP mega-project.

“As such, it was disingenuous of the Penang government to recently mention the rail link from Penang island to mainland Penang, as this does not fall under PTMP Phase 1, which will take years to complete. Instead, what is in Phase 1 is a mega-highway project on sensitive hill terrain – the RM9 billion “Pan Island Link” – and a RM10 billion single-line elevated light rail transit project. Both mega-projects come up to almost RM20 billion.

“We have consistently pointed out that these projects are bloated and unsustainable. What’s more, the SRS Consortium’s PTMP financing model – to raise funds from selling 4,500 acres of reclaimed land off the southern coast of Penang Island – has clearly failed.

“We hope that the federal government’s commendable prudence in spending will extend to the ecologically and financially unsustainable mega-projects in Penang,” he told a press conference at CAP’s office here today.

Lim said they would officially write in to Anwar and Transport Minister Anthony Loke to ask them to review and do away with the PTMP altogether.

Elaborating, Lim said when SRS first put forward their proposal, the people were told a key reason behind the pick was its financial model which would not cost the public anything as the proceeds from the sales of reclaimed land would finance the transport infrastructure.

The only financing required would be a couple of billion of ringgit of bridging loans to meet working capital shortfalls.

“By now, however, it is clear that the land reclamation, dogged by ecological concerns and a listless property market, will not be quick enough to raise enough funds to finance the RM20 billion required under Phase 1 – hence the Penang government’s desperate plea to the federal government for financing for the PTMP.

“But we question the wisdom of making such a financial commitment without carrying out an independent review and due diligence, especially given the federal government’s own severe financial constraints.

“To put an end to the ding-dong argument over who is right – the Penang government or the Penang NGO – we propose that the federal government engage international experts on sustainable mobility to review the bloated PTMP,” Lim said.

He said one such body that could be roped in was the non-profit Institute of Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) based in New York, which had considerable expertise in looking at sustainable mobility solutions.

“We believe the focus should be on building up the bus system in Penang and later upgrading busy routes to street-level rail lines as and when the need arises and improving first and last mile connectivity.

“As it stands, Penang has fewer than 400 buses. Long before Singapore started its MRT system, it drastically improved its bus service.

Today the island republic has almost 6,000 buses and they even carry more passengers than their MRT system – hard to believe, but true. This would cost only a fraction of the SRS PMTP.

“Also, we need to maximise the potential of water transport in the state given that much of the state is so close to the sea. Sadly, we have already lost the regular iconic Penang ferries.

“Please subject the PTMP to international review by a genuinely independent body of sustainable mobility experts. Surely, that is not asking too much, given the tens of billions of ringgit at stake,” he added.

Lim stressed that they were in support of viable transportation system.

Meanwhile, Sahabat Alam Malaysia president Meenakshi Raman said, with the changing scenario, there was an urgent need to review the PTMP.

“When the PTMP was first mooted, it was a totally different scenario.

“Now, we are going into global recession, the property market is down and we are only recovering economically after the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Also, components of the project are riddled in legal battle. As such, we don’t see how the Penang government can continue with this project,” she said.

CAP president Mohideen Abdul Kader said the PTMP mega-project should be thrown out.

He said the federal government has to convince the Penang government to abandon “this crazy project”.

“At a time when we are talking about food security, we are actually killing our fishing community.

“If the state is looking for land to develop, we have plenty of them on the mainland. Reclamation is certainly not the answer. It will only cause irreparable damages, which makes no sense,” he added.

Mohideen said there were similar projects in other states which were halted midway and the government had to step in to bear the burden.

“The Penang government is not listening to the NGOs. As such, we are appealing to the prime minister to step in and stop the project altogether,” he said.