(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.
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!
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.