GEORGE TOWN: In view of the huge national debt, the review of costly projects should not be limited to those initiated by the previous Federal Government.
Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) president S.M. Mohamed Idris said mega projects carried out by state governments should also be reviewed, on the same principle of avoiding luxury projects and saving cost to protect the finances of the nation and the state, and the rakyat’s future.
As such, he said, Penang‘s mega projects should also be put on hold until a review was carried out.
“Penang should serve as a model state in also reviewing its projects and cutting costs, and not stand out by going against the national trend,” he said today.
Idris said CAP was concerned that the new Chief Minister, Chow Kon Yeow, had made it a priority to speed up the implementation of costly projects, especially those related to the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP).
He said Chow had even expressed the hope that the new Finance Minister, Lim Guan Eng, would help Penang to implement the projects.
“With the country going on an austerity drive, there must be a re-prioritising of how limited funds are spent,” he said.
“CAP agrees that allocations for the most basic projects should be raised, especially those related to flood prevention and mitigation, rehabilitation of hills and hill slopes that have suffered from landslides, enlargement of forest and catchment areas, and improving the coastal environment. “Billions of ringgit are required for these activities. The Federal Government should allocate the funds to Penang.
“However, it appears that the state government is placing higher priority on the group of projects under PTMP, which is reported to cost up to RM46 billion, according to press reports in June last year.”
The PTMP projects include a RM6.43 billion undersea tunnel and three paired roads – Light Rail Transit project, Penang South Reclamation, including reclaiming land to create three man-made islands with a total area of 1,800ha, highways and a major development in Gurney Drive. In addition, there is also a plan for a cable car to Penang Hill with a terminal in the Penang Botanic Gardens.
Idris said one of the planned roads, from Teluk Bahang to Tanjung Bungah, was expected to cost RM1 billion.
“The road is only 10.5km long and is expected to save only 14 minutes of car travel time, making it one of the most expensive roads in the country, if not the world,” he said.
“The state government claims the PTMP projects will be financed by the private sector but the state is giving land and land rights (including for reclaimed land) to private developers.
“Moreover, if some of the transport projects are not able to recover the costs for the companies (for example because the number of passengers or the fares are too low), will the government bail them out?
“Insufficient information has been given to the public on the components of PTMP.
“The state government must provide details of each of the projects – the cost, financing, assumptions on passenger numbers, fare or toll charges, and the number and prices of housing units to be built by the developers, and the environmental and social impacts.”
He added that the cost of the feasibility study and design for the three paired roads was reported to be more RM300 million.
He noted that there were cheaper alternative ways to improve transport, especially if the focus was on expanding public transport and not cater to private transport.
He said CAP was calling on Chow and the state government to:
* Review the PTMP projects to cut costs and consider alternatives;
* Put on hold all projects related to PTMP, and other luxury and mega projects until a review is completed;
* Consider cheaper alternative plans for transport that focus on public transport;
* Give priority to use limited funds, including from the Federal Government, for flood prevention and mitigation, repair of eroded hillslopes and rehabilitation, and protection o
f forests, water catchment areas and coastal resources;
* Make public the details of all the components of the PTMP projects, including estimates of costs, financing, loans and assumptions of cost recovery; and
* Make public the agreements entered into by the state and local authorities with the developers and proponents of PTMP and other expensive projects in Penang.
He congratulated the Federal Government for making bold and quick moves to save much-needed funds and improve the nation’s finances by reviewing the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail project, cancelling the Klang Valley MRT 3 project and reviewing the East Coast Rail Link and other projects.
Chow said he would respond to the matter in due time. He also said that he would announce whether a bonus would be given to the state’s civil servants once a decision was made.