Penang fishermen vow to fight controversial reclamation project

GEORGE TOWN: Some 6,000 fishermen in the state are determined to fight against the controversial Penang South Islands (PSI) project, which has recently obtained Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) approval.

Penang Fishermen's Association (Pen Mutiara) chairman Ibrahim Che Ros said their stand was clear -- that they would continue to reject the massive reclamation project at all cost.

"There is no way for us to accept the project, knowing that it is going to gravely affect our lives and livelihoods. We will fight against the PSI until our last breath.

"What happened to the many voices, even among our current leaders, who spoke out against the project previously? Why the deafening silence now?

"We are extremely disappointed," he told the New Straits Times.

On Wednesday, Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow announced that Penang had finally obtained the EIA approval for the PSI reclamation project, which came with 71 conditions to be fulfilled.

He also said that any reclamation works would only begin after the Environmental Management Plan (EMP) approval had been obtained, which was expected in the third quarter of this year.

Environmental groups and fisherfolk expressed dismay that the EIA had been approved.

They claimed that all the concerns they raised over the years had came to nothing and had called the Department of Environment (DoE) to make the grounds of the decision transparent.

Ibrahim said they would send a letter of appeal to the DoE soon to review the approval granted for the EIA of the PSI project.

Meanwhile, Ibrahim also expressed disappointment that both Pen Mutiara's letters for a meeting with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had been met with complete silence.

He said Pen Mutiara wrote a letter to the prime minister late last year for a meeting to discuss the PSI project and another letter when we invited him for a breaking of fast event.

"We received acknowledgment for both letters, but sadly, we did not get a chance to meet the prime minister to state our case.

"If you ask me, we are definitely disappointed with the prime minister, the Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Minister and the Agriculture and Food Security Minister for failing to defend the rights of the fishermen.

"In fact, (Datuk Seri) Anwar came to Sungai Batu before when he was just the PKR president, met the fishermen there and promised to help them. He is the prime minister now. What is holding him back?," he added.

In the July 13, 2019 meeting with residents and fishermen at Permatang Damar Laut, Anwar had said that he would meet Chowto discuss and listen to more detailed clarification on the land reclamation for the mega reclamation project, then known as the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) project.

He had said that he would meet top state leaders to look for a solution for the crisis faced by traditional fishermen in southern Penang.

"I will ask the state government whether we can guarantee the fate and interests of the fishermen.

"I know that this is difficult because I have never known in any large-scale land reclamation project worldwide where the fate of the fishermen is guaranteed," he was quoted as saying then.

During the approximately two-hour meeting, Anwar had said that he came not to prevent (the project), but to listen to the explanation from all parties, to be fair to all parties.

"What are the woes of the fishermen and what are the proposals of the state government for the fishermen.

"Whatever the project may be, never sacrifice the interests of the people," he was quoted as saying.

Ibrahim said even Anwar's daughter, Nurul Izzah Anwar, who was the former Permatang Pauh member of parliament had publicly spoken against the project.

In late May 2021, Nurul Izzah had said that the massive reclamation project should be cancelled in view of immediate pressing needs of the Covid-19 pandemic, and in an effort to preserve Penang's valuable fishing grounds, the livelihood of fishermen and overall food security.

"Where are their voices now, when we need them more than ever?" he asked.

The PSI project, covering 17 sq km, involves the development of three man-made islands covering 1,800 hectares in the waters off Permatang Damar Laut, near Bayan Lepas.

It was introduced as a funding module of the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) worth about RM46 billion.

Fishermen, who objected to the reclamation project since it was first introduced back in 2015, scored a moral victory when they won an appeal to revoke the EIA approval of the controversial project in 2021.

This came after a preliminary objection by Zakaria Ismail, head of the fishermen's unit of Sungai Batu, was allowed and approval by the DoE on the PSI's EIA was set aside.

The EIA was deemed by the court as ultra vires, null and void of Section 34A(4)(a) of the Environmental Quality Act 1974.

The Penang government subsequently submitted a new EIA for approval.

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