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Penang Umno motion - PKR reps' conscience, or planned revolt?

Umno assemblyperson for Pulau Betong Muhamad Farid Saad’s motion against land reclamation in the Penang state assembly on November 20, 2015, shamelessly ignored the previous Penang BN government’s abysmal track record of parcelling out 3,241 acres of land reclamation in contrast to the 60 acres of land reclamation approved by the present state government.

Farid’s motion against land reclamation is absurd as it would include land reclamation approvals by the previous BN state government, which Farid as a member of the previous administration had fully supported it.

Farid’s motion had proposed that there should be public feedback on land reclamation, and all new reclamation projects be suspended until a complete detailed environmental impact assessment is conducted as well as any projects which brought negative effects to Penang should be cancelled.

Farid’s motion was superfluous because the requirements of public feedback and approval of detailed environmental impact assessment (DEIA) were already a legal necessity under federal law before any land reclamation can proceed.

Witness the Tanjung Pinang reclamation project by E&O Bhd, which involved a DEIA, exhaustive public hearings and consultations conducted by the Department of Environment and also the Town & Country Planning Department, both which are Federal government agencies. In other words, Farid’s motion was superfluous and brought nothing new in terms of public hearings and consultations or even DEIA, as these are compliance issues already required by Federal laws.

The real sticking point in Farid’s motion is that by postponing or suspending all new reclamation projects, it exposes the state government to the risk of paying compensation running into hundreds of millions of ringgit. Farid had refused to address his role as a member of the BN state government that had approved reclamation projects.

Some of the reclaimed land by BN were approved without open tenders at giveaway prices of RM1 per square feet. Of the 3,241 acres of reclamation land approved by the previous BN state government, 744 acres had been reclaimed leaving 2,500 acres to be reclaimed.

Motion a devious trick

Under the present laws of the sanctity of contract, the state government is bound by the land reclamation approvals of the previous BN state government. Any postponement or suspension of the remaining 2,500 acres, especially on those that had already complied with federal laws on DEIA and public hearings, will likely invite issues of compensation payments. Compensation payments on such large tracts of reclaimed land involves hundreds of millions of ringgit if not more, and may ultimately bankrupt the state government.

To fully cover the state government from having to make compensation payments to suspend land reclamation approved by the previous BN state government, why is there no full indemnity of such payments by the federal government offered to the state government? If Farid’s motion is passed, it would be patently absurd that the present state government would have to pay compensation to delay land reclamation approved by the BN state government. Any responsible government would not allow itself to be bankrupted in such a manner.

In other words, this motion would allow BN to play the hero in opposing land reclamation and also force the present state government to pay the price for stopping land reclamation approved by the BN state government.

Such a devious and slick tactic of playing both sides, is a win-win situation for BN. At once a hero politically for opposing land reclamation and yet at the same time, their crony companies also adequately compensated for any delays or suspension of land reclamation.

How can Umno be trusted on opposing land reclamation now when Farid refused to account nor apologise for his support for land reclamation when BN was in power?

And yet there are some who are entrapped by Umno’s devious and slick tactic until they are willing to trust that “a leopard can change its spots” forgetting the axiom that “kingdoms may change but not so easily one’s basic character”.

PKR 5 preplanned?

First is DAP Tanjung Bunga assemblyperson Teh Yee Cheu. Teh broke party ranks and stood with Umno by voting for the motion. After an emergency meeting following the end of the Penang state Assembly involving all 19 DAP assemblypersons, Teh told a press conference that he realised he had made a mistake and apologised to the party. He promised to return to the party and was willing to accept any punishment meted out.

All Penang DAP assemblypersons are deeply unhappy that a DAP assemblyperson is willing to trust and stand together with Umno - a first in DAP’s history. Voting in support of Umno’s motion against his own party is unacceptable and warrants stern disciplinary action. Following Teh’s public admission of committing a mistake and public apology, his matter will then be dealt with through DAP’s internal party mechanism.

The five PKR assemblypersons who abstained from voting cannot be dismissed as an act of a loner, but pre-planned and organised. PKR whip Ong Chin Wen the assemblyperson for Bukit Tengah told the press that the PKR 5 abstained in accordance with their conscience and that it “reflected the current political situation”.

Does this mean that their own four PKR assemblypersons holding government posts, namely Penang deputy speaker Maktar Shapee, the three PKR excos of Deputy Chief Minister I Mohd Rashid Hasnon, Abdul Malik Abul Kassim and Afif Bahardin, who voted against Umno’s motion have no conscience?

What type of current political situation is he talking about when the Umno assemblypersons had earlier opposed PKR’s motion to ask that imprisoned PKR leader, Anwar Ibrahim, be given medical treatment of his choice as well as refused to answer to questions relating to the RM2.6 billion donation scandal?

Abstention by the PKR 5, as a BN daily emphasised, is as good as supporting Umno’s motion and an “act of mutiny from within”. Can the PKR 5 be counted upon as a reliable or dependable partner, ally or member of the Penang state government?

This is politically untenable as one cannot run with the hares and yet hunt with the wolves. In this regard, we appreciate Salleh Man’s loyal support to the Pakatan Harapan Penang state government even though he remained a PAS member.

PKR party within party?

Equally disturbing is Ong’s claim that the five PKR assemblypersons had decided to abstain and duly informed their party leadership. However he refused to say which PKR national leader he had informed. Ong also admitted that the other four PKR assemblypersons who supported the Penang state government by opposing Umno’s motion had no knowledge that the PKR 5 intended to abstain.

This is a clear sign of dissatisfaction by the PKR 5 or even a mutiny against the 4 PKR assemblypersons holding government posts.

If true, this shows that there is a party within a party in PKR, one comprising of those holding government posts and the other comprising backbenchers which appeared to be backed by national PKR leaders.

The Penang state government does not intend to meddle into the internal party problems of a party ally and will give PKR time to resolve them before the state government decides how to deal with their preference to trust Umno more than their own state government.

Finally the people of Penang will decide who they trust more on land reclamation - Umno or their own state government of Penang.

Related stories:

Penang PKR Youth wants apology from Lim over Umno motion

Guan Eng accuses PKR abstainers of siding with Umno

PKR: Don't distract from Anwar's jailing by bashing daughter

LIM GUAN ENG is Penang chief minister and DAP secretary-general.

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