George Town, 4 June 2021
The Penang South Islands (PSI) project appears to be gaining much attention these days, most recently from Minister of Youth and Sports Dato’ Sri Reezal Merican and Minister of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives Dato’ Sri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.
The marginalisation of Penang
Shortly after forming its backdoor government last year, Perikatan Nasional (PN) has had its sights set on Penang. Three crucial and strategic infrastructure projects were cancelled or suspended, namely the RM100 million Penang Hill cable car project, the RM800 million Penang International Airport expansion, as well as the very important multi-billion ringgit sukuk bond guarantee for the development of Penang’s LRT system.
It is most unfortunate that in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, when all efforts should be focused on the national vaccination drive and the dire situation of our healthcare system, PN ministers are instead intent on persecuting the State of Penang once again.
This time, they are attacking the PSI, a project that is meant not only to fund the infrastructure development in the State such as the LRT and the Pan-Island Link 1 highway, but also to establish new economic opportunities in the future.
Smoke and mirrors
It is most ironic that the two PN ministers would use social and environmental concerns as the basis for their rejection of the PSI. This is because they do not appear to have any qualms whatsoever towards the reclamation projects in PN-led states such as Kedah, Johor, Terengganu, Kelantan and Melaka.
In fact, the National Physical Planning Council (MPFN) recently gave its blessings for Melaka to develop 7,081 hectares of area including 4,485 hectares of coastal reclamation, which is more than twice the size of the proposed PSI (1,821 hectares). Why is it we do not hear a single squeak from these ministers? Where is their concern for social and environmental issues in this project which is far bigger than Penang’s? Their silence in this case is deafening and proves that Penang is being victimised for none other than political reasons.
I find Wan Junaidi’s boast about his deep concerns for the environment intriguing, because it was during his tenure as Minister of Natural Resources and Environment that Malaysia became one of the worst dumping grounds in the world, importing 941,100 tonnes of plastic waste from other countries from 2016 until he was replaced in 2018.
The incongruity in Wan Junaidi’s stance persists even in his current portfolio as the minister in charge of entrepreneur development. Does he not know that by attempting to stop the PSI project, he will be curtailing economic growth and development in Penang?
As for Reezal Merican who claims that there are better ways other than reclamation to fund the infrastructure development of Penang, such a statement is extremely ironic coming from him because it is his very own PN government that cancelled the sovereign guarantee that had been approved by the previous Pakatan Harapan government.
How very convenient to blame Penang for not trying other alternative financing methods when it is his own Cabinet that blocked the proverbial door for Penang. Without the ability to raise funds from the market, Penang has to revert to the original plan of reclaiming land.
PSI as recovery driver
I have addressed the social and environmental concerns related to the PSI project in my previous statement so I will not repeat them here. The fact is that the PSI is designed not only to be a sustainable development compliant with international ESG (environmental, social and governance) standards, it will more importantly be a catalyst for foreign investment and the creation of high-value jobs, as well as a way to plug the brain drain while attracting the best talent to Penang.
More crucially, the PSI also functions as a recovery driver in a post Covid-19 world as identified by the Penang Socio-Economic Recovery Consultative Council. The project is set to generate 300,000 new jobs and attract RM70 billion worth of FDI over the next 30 years. But if construction can begin this year, then we are expecting to create 5,000 jobs in the next three years with a capital injection of RM7 billion into the local economy throughout the reclamation of the first island.
Therefore, the call by PN ministers to cancel the PSI is hypocritical and nothing more than political persecution of the highest order, designed to stifle the future wellbeing of Penang by killing jobs and suffocating our recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.
Zairil Khir Johari
Penang State EXCO for Infrastructure and Transport