Tsu Koon should explain how the "bird in hand" - with Penang as the site for the International Airport for Northern Region - has sudden flown away to Kuala Muda in Kedah

Speech - Tanjong DAP Dinner (II)
by Lim Kit Siang
(Penang, Thursday):
The people of Penang have not recovered from the shock of the announcement a month ago that Penang had lost the site to be the international airport for the northern region.

This shock has not been eased by the initial and very complacent reaction of the Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon. 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".

Although adverse public reaction in Penang had caused Tsu Koon to stiffen his stand and to declare that Penang would continue to "lobby and fight" for the siting of the international airport in the northern region, the battle seems to have been lost.

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.

Five days ago, Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik said the government did not want to see the booming industrial growth of Penang affected by the construction of a new northern region international airport in Kuala Muda, Kedah.

Then he let out another "shocker" when he 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.

He said: "Although we knew that in principle a decision had been made that the northern region international airport should be located in Kuala Muda, I have not heard of any objection.

"Within the Barisan Nasional, we can cater to the needs of everybody ...it is just a matter of adjustment."

The people of Penang want to know from Tsu Koon how they lost the "bird in hand" with regard to the site for the international airport for the northern region. They want to know whether Tsu Koon fought all the way for the Penang site, or whether he simply did not know that the "bird had flown".

They also want to know from the Transport Minister on what basis and criteria Penang’s long-standing bid for the siting for the international airport for the northern region was sidelined in favour of the Kuala Muda project, when the latter project was such a recent one.

It has been reported that Samudera Baru Darul Aman Sdn. Bhd. proposed the project after its reclamation proposal involving 6,300 ha was approved by the Kedah State Government in May.

Sanusi announced on June 11 that the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had faxed him a letter of approval to site the international airport at Kuala Muda.

This must make the approval for the new international airport in Kuala Muda, sidelining the Penang site which had been lobbied since 1991, one of the fastest mega-project decision-making in Malaysia and probably the world.

The people of Penang are reminded of the loss of Penang’s free port status in the 1960s. Now they have lost the "bird in hand" in siting the international airport for the northern region, with untold consequences for the economic future for the state.

This is clearly one consequence from the complacency of the Penang State Government as a result of a landslide victory for the Barisan Nasional in the Penang State Assembly elections in 1995, which virtually wiped out the DAP except for the lone Assemblywoman for Bukit Lancang, Chong Eng.


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