Misconceptions on Penang reclamation still abound

P Ramasamy

Modified 4 Jan 2018, 3:17 am

LETTER | Popular columnist, Salleh Buang in his recent NST column raised some matters regarding the land reclamation project in Penang. Having provided a broad overview of the history of the creation of artificial islands, he zoomed in to raise matters regarding land reclamation.

The Penang South Reclamation (PSR) is an ambitious project that has been proposed by the state government to raise funds for its major transportation network to relieve the island of massive traffic congestion. The project would not have been proposed had the Penang state had received funds from the federal government for the development of transport infrastructure.

Salleh operates on the false assumption that the Penang state government is embarking on the project without getting environment impact assessment (EIA) approval from the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry. This seems to be the overriding theme of his entire article, that gives the impression that the Penang state is about to embark on this massive project illegally.

Lacking independent research, Salleh Buang seems to have been guided by some of the matters raised by the minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar. From last August 2017 onwards, Wan Junaidi has gone on record for making some unwarranted remarks on the PSR project in Penang.

Earlier, he said that all reclamation works in the country including Penang had to stop to enable his ministry to come up with new guidelines for both the EIA and DEIA (detailed environmental assessment).

Once these guidelines are drafted they had to go to the cabinet, the National Land Council and National Physical Development Council before the ministry could made the decision. So, until then, the Penang state was told not to proceed with the reclamation.

Last month, Wan Junaidi, during his visit to Penang remarked that even though the EIA has not been approved, however, he personally objected to PSR because of its effect on the livelihood of the fishermen in the area, and that the reclamation might protrude into international waters causing regional problems.

Wan Junaidi, whether informed or misinformed, seems to think that Penang state would be embarking on the reclamation project early this year. Whether he is aware or unaware, the EIA for the project has not be approved, and the question of Penang state proceeding with the project does not arise in the first place.

It is rather immature for Wan Junaidi even to say that his personal remarks are different from the official ones. Of late, he has been lambasted for making this remark, something unbecoming of a senior minister who should be responsible and mature.

There was no need for the director of the Land and Mines Department to say that if Penang intended to proceed with the project, his department would withhold the granting of land title. Forgetting for a moment that the granting of land and land titles are within the jurisdiction of the state government, and not the federal government.

The director of Land and Mines Department should also not overstep his mark by making unwarranted remarks. Furthermore, the newly amended Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Act 2017 does not in any way restrict the powers of the state government, as they are merely advisory and do not impose any mandatory provisions for the state government.

It is plainly implicit that Salleh failed to do enough research on the PSR project in Penang. Most importantly, he omitted to take an objective look at the situation, but rather prematurely seems to have arrived at the conclusion that the Penang government might be embarking on an illegal project without the necessary approvals of the ministry.

In a press meet yesterday in Penang, the state government disclosed for the first time that some departments have already given their approval before the final approval could be given.

Salleh, for all his expertise on reclamation matters, seems to operate on the premise that whatever is dished out by the federal agencies on projects in Penang must be the truth.

He should understand unlike other states such as Kedah, Johor and others, the Penang state government is considered the most law abiding. The chief minister of Penang has mentioned so many times that the project would not take off without the approval from the ministry. So, what is the problem?

Why write on something in which the premise established at the outset is false in the first place. There is no illegal land reclamation in Penang! There will be no such thing as long as the present government is in power.

Furthermore, the constitution is very clear on what constitutes the powers of the state and federal government. Some of the officials of federal government departments should be aware of the divisions of power between the state and federal government. They should not overstep their mark by trying to please and humour federal ministers!

I am sure that Salleh can see through all these charades. But unfortunately, his desire to raise doubts about the PSR project in Penang seems to have blinkered his vision.

Salleh Buang is a respected columnist. Perhaps he should think of visiting Penang to ascertain what really goes in the state. He should understand that relying on the perspectives provided by the federal agencies might not tell the whole story.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.