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GEORGE TOWN: Penang Barisan Nasional will reinstate the island’s free port status once it recaptures the state in the next general election.
New state BN chairman Teng Chang Yeow said the reinstatement was part of a master plan to turn Penang into an international tourism destination.
He said the state BN had sent the proposal to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and the latter was looking at it "positively".
"Now it is up to the people to decide. We will gather the public's response and their support for the proposal. We will announce details of the mechanism after that," he said after chairing the state BN meeting yesterday.
Asked how quickly the status could be restored, he quipped: "Once we are the government."
He said the restoration of the status needed amendments to the Financial Act and any state government needed to work with the Federal Government to achieve this.
To a question on how even Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was clamouring for the status to be restored before the general election, Teng said: "If the chief minister wanted it, he should have asked for it four years ago, not now.
"Has he even prepared any plan on why it should be restored?
"Tourism in Penang has been on the decline and we need to make a breakthrough. That is why we have prepared a master plan on which areas we need to look at if we want to see the state developed further."
Citing Singapore as an example, he said Penang needed to look at another engine of growth, as relying on the manufacturing sector alone was risky.
He said other projects identified by the state BN included proposals to develop areas on the mainland into and international financial centre and aquaculture hub, while the island would be used for medical tourism, education hub and entertainment centre.
He said the coalition had prepared a master plan on how to overcome issues concerning infrastructure and public transport for the island and mainland.
The New Straits Times reported last week that a proposal had been mooted to boost tourism investments in the state.
The restoration of the free port status is part of a move to improve the tourism appeal of Penang and Langkawi and to attract high-net investors to the islands. Penang was a free port from the colonial days until the status was revoked in 1969.
Teng said an international financial services hub in Seberang Prai, an integrated public transport network for the state and a site to promote creativity and innovation were part of a proposal forwarded to the Federal Government.
He said the proposals for transportation and infrastructure projects for Penang, which could run into billions of ringgit, were meant not only to reduce the state's dependency on manufacturing to drive the economy, but also to create new jobs in the services sector.
"The hub for financial services is aimed at attracting institutions, such as insurance firms and banks, to Seberang Prai. Butterworth's position as a logistic centre places it in good stead to serve as a financial services hub," he said after unveiling projects to make the services sector the state's engine of growth.