This is particularly so after the various assurances given by Federal Ministers that Penang’s industrial growth would not be affected by the construction of the new northern region international airport in Kuala Muda, Kedah.
In fact, just a month ago, the Transport Minister, Datuk Dr. Ling Liong Sik said the Penang Airport’s international status would be retained and Penang’s tourism, investment and industrial development would not be affected by the construction of the proposed RM6 billion international airport in Kedah.
The MCA Penang State Convention last month even passed a resolution praising the Federal Government for its decision to retain Penang International Airport’s international status and expand it to cater for increased passenger and cargo volume.
How does all these assurances by the Transport Minister square with the statement by the Prime Minister yesterday about the closure of the Penang Airport after the new Northern Region International Airport in Kedah becomes operational?
How can the Transport Minister give an assurance to the people of Penang that the international status of the Penang Airport would be retained but in a month later, the Prime Minister talks about the closure of the Penang International Airport?
Mahathir said that due to limited land, the airport in Bayan Lepas cannot be expanded to meet future demands. Furthermore, the high cost of land in Penang will not make the expansion of the airport effective.
He said: "We foresee that in future, with increased economic growth, the airport in Penang will no longer be able to meet a high demand.
"With demand and without capacity for expansion, the airport may be closed when the NRIA is operational."
On 10th July 1997, Liong Sik told the press that the Cabinet had approved a RM100 million expansion of the Penang Airport to enable handling of up to 350,000 tonnes of cargo annually. Is this just a prelude to the airport’s eventual closure after the completion of the new international airport in Kedah, in the same way that expansion plans were approved for the various terminals at the Subang International Airport although they would all be phased out when the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang is completed next year?
Mahathir asked Penangites to "think Malaysians" by giving full support to the new international airport in Kedah - as if they would be acting in a very unMalaysian spirit if they insist that the new Northern Region International Airport should most appropriately be sited in the Penang state! This is very peculiar logic.
What is even more remarkable is the statement by Mahathir that Penang’s first Chief Minister Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee was accused of losing Penang’s free port status and now Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon was being similarly victimised by allegations that he lost Penang’s plan to have a northern regional international airport.
To put the record straight, the party which made the most political mileage in the allegation that Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee lost Penang’s free port status was none other than Parti Gerakan which was one important reason how it could get elected into state power in the 1969 general elections.
Secondly, Tsu Koon did lose Penang’s plan to have a northern regional airport, especially as he had made this pledge to the people of Penang in the last general elections.
The people of Penang are still shocked by Tsu Koon’s initial and very complacent reaction when news that Penang had lost the northern regional international airport was first made public. When asked if the new proposed airport in Kuala Muda could adversely affect tourism in the State, Dr. Koh said that on the contrary, it might actually boost Penang’s tourism.
Dr. Koh said: "If fast-speed water taxis and ferry services are established between the reclaimed island to the north of Penang directly to the Batu Ferringhi tourist belt, Georgetown and other locations, tourists can be brought to Penang directly from the proposed airport by sea."
He said the State Government would give its input on this idea to the Federal Government as well.
This is most shocking for the Penang Chief Minister seems to have given up even without a fight for Penang to be the northern regional airport, and was immediately talking about playing auxiliary role to the new proposed international airport in Kedah in terms of "water taxis" and "ferry services".
All these years, the people of Penang have been given the impression that there would be no problem whatsoever in siting the new international airport for the northern region in Penang, the only issue is whether on the island or in Seberang Prai - and even on this issue, the decision seems to have been taken that it would be on the mainland.
The question the people of Penang are entitled to know is how the "bird in hand" - the siting of the new international airport for the Northern Region - had sudden flown away to Kuala Muda in Kedah, which would have enormous repercussions on the economic growth of the state, whether in industry or tourism.
Last month, Liong Sik said that there had not been any official objection from the Penang State Government on the construction of the northern region international airport in Kuala Muda so far.
Penangites are entitled to know whether the Penang State Government has submitted an official objection to the construction of the northern region international airport in Kedah, and asked the Cabinet for a chance to present its case why it should be sited in Penang.
Secondly, Penangites are also entitled to know whether the removal of northern regional international airport from Penang is fair when the people of Penang had given the Barisan Nasional, particularly Gerakan and MCA candidates, such a resounding mandate in the April 1995 general elections - or whether this is one direct consequence of such an overwhelming victory by the Barisan Nasional in Penang.