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Penang International Airport a victim of vindictive Putrajaya

MP SPEAKS | I was piqued by an Internet news item that “Shenzhen Airport, via its official Weibo account, stated it expects to welcome its 40th millionth passenger for the year on 15th December 2016”, the first time the airport’s annual passengers have exceeded 40 million, and I wondered what were the air passenger traffic for Malaysia for the major airports, particularly Penang International Airport (PIA).

I found that according to Ministry of Transport’s annual transport statistics, total air passenger traffic (excluding transit passengers) in the past ten years had slightly doubled from 42.9 million in 2006 to 85.9 million in 2015.

KLIA claimed the bulk of the air passenger traffic, from 23.6 million or 55.2% of total air passenger traffic in 2006 to 48.6 million or 56.6% of total air passenger traffic in 2015.

Kota Kinabalu International Airport occupied second place, with 3.86 million passengers or 8.99% in 2006 to 6.57 million or 7.64% of total air passenger traffic in 2015.

PIA leapt from fourth place with 3.09 million passengers or 7.2% in 2006 to 6.25 million or 7.27% of total air passenger traffic in 2015.

Kuching International Airport slipped from third place in 2006 to fourth place in 2015, with 3.1 million or 7.2% in 2006 to 4.76 million or 5.5% of total air passenger traffic in 2015.

The fifth to eight places for air passenger traffic in 2015 (compared to their 2006 data) are as follows:

5. Subang - (2015: 3,059,035 / 2006: 83,502)

6. Johor Bahru (Senai) - (2015: 2,581,986 / 2006: 1,308,386)

7. Langkawi - (2015: 2,336,177 / 2006: 932,094)

8. Miri - (2015: 2,241,913 / 2006: 1,518,568)

Worst eyesore nationwide

In my political work particularly in the past two decades, I have virtually travelled to all the airports in the country maintained by Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd except the small and out-of-the-way airports in Redang and Tioman.

As a regular air traveller, I can say without fear of contradiction that the eyesore among the list of airports in the country is the Penang International Airport (PIA), which the Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said only last month is in danger of turning into a busy “pasar malam” if the much-needed expansion plans are not forthcoming.

Taking into account transit passengers, the passenger traffic handled by PIA last year reached 6.26 million passengers, and would have gone past the 6.5 million passenger capacity this year for PIA - which is only targeted to be achieved four years later in 2020.

The tardiness in planning ahead of time for PIA is most inefficient, incompetent, irresponsible and completely unacceptable, especially as Penang contributes RM7 billion annually to the federal government in taxes and duties.

In response to a media last month quoting the Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai as saying the application to upgrade the PIA could not be considered due to “allocation constraints experienced by the federal government”, Guan Eng said he had previously asked Putrajaya to expand the PIA to handle at least 10 million passengers per annum.

He warned that “if we are another year late to expand the airport, it would be like a night market. Hence, we would have to change the name of the airport to ‘Pasar Malam Antarabangsa Pulau Pinang’.”

Skipping over PIA

Not only the people of Penang, but Malaysians who use the PIA would agree with Guan Eng that the PIA is bursting at its seams hitting 6.5 million passenger capacity in 2016 and not in 2020, and it is greatly disappointing that the federal government is not prepared to expand PIA but willing to provide funds to expand in other states where capacity is yet to be reached.

Is MCA president Liow exacting his petty political revenge, for the MCA being reduced into a '7/11' political party in the last general elections? MCA only won seven parliamentary and eleven state assembly seats - with MCA having to beg for ministerial and deputy ministerial appointments based on Umno charity giving out Senatorial sinecures.

Liow is guilty of the most contemptible abuse of power in denying needed funds for PIA expansion, as he is punishing the people and state of Penang for the political failure of MCA.

Liow should know that he should be transport minister for all Malaysians, and not just for a '7/11' political party.

Everyone in Penang and Malaysia, should demand that Liow and the entire MCA leadership be held responsible for the injustices of withholding funds for the expansion of the PIA to sabotage the economic development of Penang.

Unless Liow stop his petty, small-minded, vengeful and vindictive punishment of the people and state of Penang in denying funds for the expansion of PIA, which has reached its capacity of 6.5 million passenger traffic in 2016 and not in 2020, all right-thinking and justice-minded Malaysians throughout the country should teach Liow and MCA a lesson in democracy in the 14th general election.

Wherever Liow and the MCA ministers and leaders go, Malaysians should question them to justify their petty and small-minded vengeance.

Must Pakatan Harapan win Putrajaya before PIA ceases to be a “pasar malam Antarabangsa Pulau Pinang” just as Penang only stopped being “garbage dump of the Orient” when it came to be ruled by a DAP-led state government?

LIM KIT SIANG is DAP Parliamentary Leader and MP for Gelang Patah MP.