48-hour change of position on Penang Airport by Mahathir welcome but raises the question whether this is more a political exercise than a real change of mind


Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Sunday):
The 48-hour change of position on the Penang Airport by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is most welcome, although it raises the question whether this is more a political exercise than a real change of mind.

On Thursday, Mahathir said that when the new Northern Regional International Airport (NRIA) in Kedah is operatonal, the Bayan Lepas International Airport in Penang would have to be closed down. 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.

This announcement of the closure of the Penang International Airport when the NRIA is operational was not contested in any manner by the Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon who, apart from expressing his personal sadness that a facility that has so long been in Penang may be closed down, presented his blueprint for Penang’s participation in the NRIA to make it a Penang-Kedah International Airport.

I am still waiting for an answer to my question whether with a Penang-Kedah International Airport, it means that there would be one runway on the Penang side and another runway on the Kedah side, with passengers arriving in Penang and departing in Kedah or vice versa.

The people of Penang from all levels of society however had not been convinced that the closure of the Penang Airport would be in the interests of Penang’s economic future, and had been very disappointed by the failure of the Penang State Government to stand up for the rights and the interests of Penang. They are also not very impressed by the blueprint and promises made by Tsu Koon about Penang also reclaiming an island near Sungai Muda so that the NRIA could be called Penang-Kedah International Airport.

The decision whether the Penang Airport would be closed down when the NRIA becomes operational cannot be decided and undecided in 48 hours, but must depend on a host of factors and considerations.

May be, the only guarantee that the Penang Airport at Bayan Lepas would not be closed down is for the government to reconsider its decision to have the NRIA in Kedah.

There should be greater openness and transparency about the siting of the NRIA - a process which seems to be in the hands of only one person, which is most unhealthy.

The people of Penang are very wary of the latest announcement by Mahathir because they wonder whether the Penang Airport would eventually be closed down, without any change of pace or plan, when the NRIA in Kedah is finally completed and become operational - giving no proper prior notice whatsoever.

(17/8/97)


*Lim Kit Siang - Malaysian Parliamentary Opposition Leader, Democratic Action Party Secretary-General & Member of Parliament for Tanjong