The PORR alignment exhibition should be extended for a month, accompanied by a public consultation  on its transparency, justice,  viability and compatibility with sustainable transport policy or   whether the RM1.02 billion 17.8 km PORR would have a utility life-span of less than five years and merely  create one of two Midas  in exchange for a 30-year toll burden  for Penangites 

- to Reservoir Crescent residents affected by the RM1.02 billion Penang Outer Ring Road (PORR) project in Penang
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Monday)  The 10-day Penang Outer Ring Road Project (PORR) alignment exhibition should be extended for another  month which should be  accompanied by a public consultation  on its transparency, justice,  viability and compatibility with sustainable transport or   whether the RM1.02 billion 17.8 km PORR would have a utility life-span of less than five years and merely  create one or two Midas  in exchange for a 30-year toll burden  for Penangites. 

In Greek mythology,  the Greek God Dionysus gave Midas, the legendary king of Phrygia, the power to turn anything he touched to gold.  In modern-day Malaysia, we have Barisan Nasional leaders playing Dionysus, creating a few Midas at the expense of the people through the highly perverted process of privatization. 

The 10-day PORR alignment exhibition should be extended for another month, accompanied by a wide-ranging public consultation and feedback process involving the Federal and Penang State Governments, the Economic Planning Unit of the Prime Minister’s Department, the Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment,  the Malaysian  Highway Authority, the Penang State Government and the Penang Municipal Council and the ratepayers and people of Penang as many questions about the transparency, justice, viability, compability with the policy of sustainable transport have not been answered. 

Firstly, on transparency. Why should the PORR project be privatized without open tender to the company, Peninsular Metroworks Sdn.Bhd., which has no track record in highway construction, with only  a paid-up capital of only RM50,000 – and according to the Deputy Chief Minister,  Datuk Dr. Hilmi Yahaya in the Penang State Assembly on Friday, with “some of its shareholders who had previously been declared bankrupt”! 

The unique  brand of the Malaysian privatisation of billion-ringgit mega-projects is to create a few Midas by awarding them the privatization projects, although they have no track record nor technical expertise and financial capability, and when these mega-projects fail, as in the case of MAS, STAR, Putra, Indah Water Konsortium and Renong , for the state to use taxpayers’ money to save these Midas from bankruptcy – the classic Barisan Nasional practice of piratising social profits but nationalizing mega-losses. 

The people of Penang do not want PORR to join the ignominous list of  failed  privisatisation mega-projects with the taxpayers having to bail out the Midas from bankruptcy at public expense. 

Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon was most misleading when he  said that  the PORR project will be self-funded with  the concessionaire generating  its own funding.  If so, then PORR should be like the RM400 million  Jelutong Expressway (JEway), whose concessionaire was given the right to reclaim 132 ha of land for property development, but was not allowed to impose toll or given any prime state land. 

As Hilmi told the Penang State Assembly on Thursday that the PORR contract has yet to be signed, the Penang State Government should persuade the Cabinet to re-open the bids for the PORR concession to invite the best offers based on two alternative State Government offers, one only with the right to reclaim 500 acres of seafront off Gurney Drive while the other with the added offer of 30 ha of prime state land worth RM200 million, with both without the right to impose toll. 

There is a powerful case for a re-bidding of PORR project by way of an open tender as the Letter of Intent issued to Peninsular Metroworks should have expired  as it was given five years ago in 1997. 

The second issue is the justice of the PORR project to more than 150,000 people on the island or over 20 per cent of the population who would be affected by the project, including the some  200 dwellings – 76 private houses, 70 government quarters and 50 squatter homes – temples, shrines and cemeteries directly affected.  The depreciation of property values of those not directly affected by the alignment as well as the costs of social and environmental degradation of PORR should be given full and fair consideration. 

Everyone adversely affected by PORR should be given a chance not only to submit objection but the right to ensure that the objection is given serious and full consideration – which can only come by way of a public consultation process. 

Third,  the viability of PORR and whether it is compatible with a sustainable transport policy.  The Sunday Star yesterday referred to the Halcrow Report, a 1998 Penang Urban Transport study commissioned by the state government,  which predicted that the PORR would ease traffic flow and save travel time significantly after its construction but for only eight years. 

The Halcrow Report  predicted, traffic volume would increase so fast that it would overwhelm the capacities of existing roads, resulting in reduced vehicle speed and longer travel time. 

The nightmare of the Penang traffic congestion is likely to be back to square one not in eight years but probably less than five years, as it was based on the assumption that the PORR would be ready by 2002 and that the third link would have connected George Town with Butterworth with the Northern International Airport on two reclaimed Kedah islands up and operating!                                                                                               

What Penang needs is an efficient public transport system based on sustainable transport policy, as PORR is not a medium-term let alone long-term solution to the traffic congestion nightmare on the island. 

Immediate attention must be given to the drawing up of a viable public transport masterplan that can be implemented in  the next two years to achieve the reduction of traffic congestion, considering options like an efficient public bus system,  the monorail, LRT, etc. so that Penang can be a role model of sustainable transportation instead of being the latest victim of motorization and the destruction of architecture, heritage and culture. 


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman