GEORGE TOWN: The Penang government has stressed that any decision on whether or not to approve the proposed Penang South Reclamation project should be dealt with on technical grounds and not be influenced by politics.
Expressing shock over Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s statement yesterday, in which he said that the Federal Government would not approve the project if it adversely impacted the people, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said any decision on the matter should not seek to victimise the people of Penang who wanted the light rail transit (LRT) project.
Lim said if that was the case, then why were similar reclamation projects allowed to be carried out in Johor, Melaka and Kedah, in which the land being reclaimed was three to four times bigger than that proposed by the Penang government.
“In our case, the matter is still being studied by the Department of Environment, and the progress is good.
“So, we feel that this should be handled technically and not politically. The decision made (yesterday) is not based on views by environmental specialists. It is just a political decision to fulfil the request of Balik Pulau member of parliament Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya.
“We are shocked by the prime minister’s announcement, which gave the impression that the project would not be approved,” he said when met at the opening of the Japanese Technology Week in Komtar here today.
Lim also stressed that his administration was concerned about the plight of the fishing community, adding that the state government gave out free “pukat pantai” to all fishermen twice a year.
“And surely, when we talk about the livelihood of the fishermen who may be affected (by the project), the state government has asked that appropriate compensation be given, as well as attempting to minimise the impact (of the project) to those going out to sea.
“We have to be mindful that our proposed reclamation project is not similar to beach reclamation, as is the case in Johor.
“Here, we are creating man-made islands. So, in terms of access to the sea, the fishermen can still go to sea from their existing location. It is just that there will be man-made islands in front of them.
“We will ensure that any impact will be minimised, compensation is given out and that fishermen can continue to go to sea and fish,” he said, adding that Penang’s compensation to its fishermen was the record highest in the country.
Lim also reminded the Federal Government that it promised to build the LRT in Penang three times over the past eight years, a promise it had yet to fulfil.
“This is why we have to implement the project on our own through the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP), which will be funded through the reclamation.
“So, if the reclamation is not allowed, the LRT project can’t proceed,” he added.
During a “Kenduri Rakyat” in Balik Pulau yesterday, Najib said the Federal Government would not approve the proposed reclamation project if it was not environmentally friendly and would bring about a negative impact on the people.
He said that the development project, which would “throw sand into people’s rice bowls”, should not be implemented.
Najib added that other alternatives, which could save taxpayer money, should be considered first.
The state government proposed the reclamation project, located off the southwestern coast of Penang island, as a means to fund its highly-ambitious PTMP.
The 1,821ha of land to be reclaimed would see the creation of three man-made islands.
The RM46 billion PTMP project is proposed as a means to reduce the state’s traffic congestion. It will include a LRT system, a mass rapid transit (MRT) system, and several highways.
The project’s proposal has been met with objections from several quarters, particularly environmentalists and the fishing community.