Penangites' hopes and wishes for 2020

Susan Loone

Modified 1 Jan 2020, 4:42 am

Penangites take pride in their island and are delighted in it being conferred a series of world titles, all the while looking forward to a more developed state especially in terms of economic opportunities and a more effective transport system.

Last Saturday, Penang earned a mention in The New York Post as one of the 12 best countries to retire in, while The Travel on Sunday picked the island as one of its "20 Destinations With the Most Beautiful Beaches (You Can Actually Afford To Go To)".

However, Penangites are beginning to feel the pinch too as they notice a rise in development projects which could hamper their lifestyle, while NGOs and activists urge for a more transparent and sustainable development.

Penang expects to see more protests from civil society over mega projects - including the land reclamation in the south involving the creation of three artificial islands and several other road initiatives - which will go into full gear in 2020.

To capture the new year mood in Penang as we say goodbye to 2019, Malaysiakini spoke to several members of the civil society to get their expectations for 2020. 

These are their hopes and wishes in their own words:

Anwar Fazal (recipient of the Right Livelihood Award popularly known as the 'Alternative Noble Prize')

"For Penang, there is great opportunity to demonstrate our concern for global survival emergency by two simple doable things. Firstly, we can and must set up a world-class water transport network to serve the state and region. The joy and flexibility of such mobility will be celebrated.

Secondly, we must build quickly on the Rapid Bus system for the whole state with more routes and priority lanes and make that the preferred choice for the people.

These two paths above will be transformational, cheaper, more sustainable, flexible and quickly doable.

Penang will be admired globally for taking such a right path for these challenging times.

We certainly have to do some fundamental rethinking and take action on the current mega-development model for the sake of Penang and Mother Earth.

We must look into our conscience and do some heart-searching if we want to make a real difference and contribute to saving the planet for future generations." 

Meenakshi Raman (chairperson, Sahabat Alam Malaysia) 

"From SAM's perspective, our wish, which we hope and pray is not wishful thinking, is for real and genuine concern and attention be given for environmentally sound development.

With all the development plans on the table, it appears that Penang is going to lose its beautiful environment, with the massive reclamation projects that will destroy the coastlines and radically transform our beaches and seafront as we now know it with highrise development and ugly concrete structures.

The elevated highways that have been planned will change Penang to look like another Bangkok. Our hills are under grave threat, including Penang Hill, from mass loads of tourists with the proposed cable car and the Botanical Gardens will be ruined if a terminal is built through it. 

All this will be at a huge economic cost to the current and future generations who will have to pay the debts of these projects.

These are the realities that will unfold in 2020 and our wish is that the decision-makers will see the light and not embark on these environmentally and financially unsound projects."

Jeffrey Chew (Penang Port Commission chairperson) 

"The year 2020 will be an opportunity for all Malaysians to reflect back their goals and aspirations of a New Malaysia.

I am entrusted to ensure the progress of the port continues. The Port Swettenham Cruise Terminal and the development of its surrounding area will be the pinnacle in enhancing cruise tourism for 2020.

The terminal is expecting two million passengers and the PPC looks forward to ensuring the terminal provides amenities suitable for tourists as well as for the locals to enjoy.

Besides that, the emergence of one of the largest Free Commercial Zone in the country at North Butterworth Container Terminal in 2020 will serve as a catalyst to the transhipment business for the country especially goods from the Andaman Sea area.

Also, further improvement and expansion of the North Butterworth Container Terminal is expected as Penang remains relevant in the shipping industry in Malaysia."

Anil Netto (Aliran chairperson) 

"The best 2020 gift for the people of Penang would be for the state government to refrain from signing the project delivery partner agreement with SRS Consortium.

This is simply because the project is too expensive for Penang, it won’t solve the transport congestion in the state and it will cause enormous ecological damage.

Instead, the state government should focus on improving the bus service across the state (more buses and better-supporting infrastructure such as more comfortable bus stops, covered walkways and pavements) and expanding the ferry service.

All reclamation projects must be halted simply because the total fertility rate in Penang is now only 1.4 children per woman - this is well below the population replacement rate of 2.1 children. So there is little pressure on land.

Halting future reclamation projects will allow the present glut in high-end property to ease over time. Meanwhile, we should focus on building homes below RM200,000 for ordinary people using creative building techniques and designs.

We should also focus on enhancing our food security to curb rising food prices. So we should protect our farmland and precious coastal fishing waters instead of destroying them for property development and land reclamation (to create artificial islands for the wealthy).

What we need is development that is balanced between the island and mainland as well as sustainable development that will strengthen our resilience against climate change."

Khoo Boo Lim (Malaysian Hotel Associations, chairperson, Penang chapter)

"I pray for peace and more tolerance for race and religion issues. Negative reports from an unstable country will deter tourists from visiting and this will definitely have an adverse effect on the tourism industry.

I hope to see Malaysia really achieve more as the initial Vision 2020 seems to have derailed.

For 2020, I hope the government will finalise the regulations on "short-term stays" namely, Airbnb, as this issue has prolonged for too long.

Hotels provide many job opportunities and contribute a lot of revenue taxes to the authorities.

The investments are usually high and having international hotel brands does play a part in positioning and branding the country.

I also hope to see the decline in dependence on foreign labour and hope to see local Malaysians filling up the positions in the hotel."

K Veeriah (trade unionist) 

"My hopes for Penang include for the related authorities to address the escalating cost of living, the fragile ecosystem of the hills be preserved and that massive reclamation projects be rescinded so as to protect our rich marine life and, in the process, ensure our fisherfolk their only source of sustenance.

The multi-billion ringgit Penang Transport Master plan should also be reviewed for an alternative and less costly transport system.

The development of the mainland including an emphasis on agriculture, cottage economic activities, tourism and addressing the worsening traffic congestion should also be on the agenda. 

I also hope to see more affordable homes for lower and middle-income wage earners and the drastic increase in household assessment be withdrawn."

Nazri Ahmad (Penang Fishermen Association chairperson)

"Penang fisherfolks hope that the coming year sees us safe at sea so that our livelihood is guaranteed, we hope to also enjoy the prosperity of the sea with the hope the ocean will be protected."

Stanley Sudhagaran (activist, former chairperson of the Episcopal Commission for Migrant and Itinerants in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei)

"My wish for Penang in 2020 is for the DAP government led by Chow Kon Yeow to wake up before it's too late.

They need to understand that they are not doing Penang any good by this massive overdevelopment including the building of tunnels, highways and huge land reclamation.

There is no point in trying to become like Singapore or Hong Kong. Penang is unique in our own way and we should protect our identity and way of life. Once that is gone, we become no different than other developed states or countries.

Our beaches are being destroyed, prices of property are skyrocketing, many villages, parks and flora fauna are being destroyed in the name of development.

I expect it to get worse in 2020. It's still not too late for the government to realise this and hit the brakes.

We need to think of development that protects our identity and way of life.

My other hope is also for state elected representatives to perform their duties boldly and bravely. Sadly they are playing to the tune of the executives in Penang and dare not question their policies and decisions on many matters.

They need to come out from their comfort zones and start playing their role effectively to keep the executives in check.

Kamarudin Abdullah (founder and president of Islamic Propagation Society International)

"I wish is to see a mature society with an understanding of each others' religions. 

Dialogue needs to be encouraged and we must learn to agree to disagree. It is best for us to focus on what we have in common.

The media should not instigate unnecessary topics that bring unhappiness to the people.

The government should focus on stabilising and increasing Malaysian currency values while upholding the constitution which our forefathers have agreed to."

Zikrullah Ismail (Pertubuhan Warisan Tanah dan Teroka Bandar chairperson)

"My hope for Penang 2020 is that everyone from the state leadership to the civil society will realise that progress and development need balance from three dimensions - economics, ecology and culture, with a heritage of identity. This is the recipe for harmony, prosperity and success for Penang 2020.

Development based on economic and physical materialism cannot overcome the problem of homelessness around Georgetown, the Unesco-recognised city.

It would be meaningless for Penang if the wealthy are taken care of but the lower class community remains neglected.

The issue of the climate crisis, protection of wildlife biodiversity and the prevention of natural disasters will remain on paper in various conference discourses if no real action is taken by us.

At the same time, the living heritage is also being neglected for the purpose of development.

We hope that these three important dimensions are being taken into account by everyone especially the Penang government as we march into 2020."

Boo Soon Yew (educationist)

"To think of our hopes for 2020, we need to reflect back on 2019 and even before that. And as a Penangite, I cannot but earnestly look back to a watershed moment, politically, when Penang and Selangor "changed hands" in 2008.

Yet as we look to 2020, despite a wider extension of this "changing of hands or changing of the guard", the early euphoria of post GE14 is now coupled with trepidation as we look to take the early steps into 2020.

On this premise, it is my hope for 2020 that the powers that be; the police and the judiciary especially, to execute their duties as they should.

I also hope for better tolerance, in the sense of looking at things like a two-sided coin. I hope for better accessible representatives; whether MPs, assemblypersons or local councillors.

David Marshel (Malaysian Tamilar Kural, chairperson)

"Well done, Penang for reaching this far with its missions. However, there are issues which should be addressed quickly in 2020. 

Penang is continuously hit by floods where it has become troublesome for the people of Penang. Penangites are facing flood issues continuously for the past years. To counter this, the state should implement the flood mitigation project in critical areas.

Apart from that, I hope the authorities will take action on those who try to provoke racial and religious tension. In my opinion, we don’t want to have any chaos in the state due to that in the future.

We should embrace every religion and ethnicity and show the right attitude towards those who are different from us.

We want Penang to remain harmonious and peaceful in order to foster unity. I hope Penang will be an example state in development, peace, rising technology and unity for the other states in Malaysia."

Sangga Sinniah (school principal)

"As the slogan of the state is a 'cleaner, greener, safer and healthier Penang', I would like everyone to reflect on the slogan.

Thaipusam is one of the main attractions of Penang island for foreigners, therefore can we have a plastic-free Thaipusam? Tons of single-use plastic food wrappers get wasted during this one-day festival just because of food donations for the public.

Why can't we serve food on banana leaf or plates to stop food waste and plastic waste?

Improve public transportation system; there are so many highways to overcome traffic congestion but until now there is no proper implementation.

All we need is the precise management system of the Penang public transportation so that many elderly people can have a smooth journey.

There should be severe punishment for any irresponsible person who throws rubbish in the middle of the road while driving and walking.

Illegal food stalls also need to be abolished as it's a great distraction for cleaner Penang and encourages unhealthy eating habits among the public."

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