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Penang highway project: History haunting DAP

By Zulfikar Ali Abdul Aziz

This article was originally published on 13/08/2018

A heated debate is taking place on why DAP was against the Penang Outer Ring Road (PORR) project in 2002 but for the Pan Island Link 1 (PIL 1) highway project now. I was in Penang in 2002 when the PORR project was hotly debated and opposed by NGOs and opposition parties like DAP. I relive this debate now in the form of PIL 1.

I am a resident in Tanjong Bungah. Like millions of other Malaysians, I voted for Pakatan Harapan (PH) and support a government that promises change and hope. But I am saddened to see that even in the early days of the PH government, some leaders have begun to adopt the attitude of Barisan Nasional (BN), ignoring the voice of the rakyat and vilifying legitimate concerns raised by them.

On Aug 10, Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said he had opposed the PORR because it was proposed as a tolled road. He also said the NGOs had misled the public. So I decided to google the facts for myself.

I found this on the DAP website. In a speech on May 29, 2002, Chow said he opposed the PORR for several reasons.

The first thing he said was: “If the findings of the Halcrow report are true, Dr Koh would be irresponsible in pushing the PORR through as this will not be a long-term solution to the traffic congestion on the island.”

Incidentally, Halcrow was also the consultant for the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) under this government.

Other reasons given were that DAP was against collecting toll, and that the open tender system was not practised. He also said “Penangites are oblivious of the impact of the PORR on Penang’s future and the quality of life on this beautiful island because of the lack of information”.

He ended by calling for a review of the PORR project which he said should not be “bulldozed through”.

On June 15, 2002, he reiterated the same points he had raised in Parliament as a motion against the PORR.

It is clear that the matters of toll and open tender were not the only reasons Chow was against the PORR. Otherwise, he would have said that he supported the project as long as tolls were not collected and an open tender system was implemented. He was against the PORR because it did not solve traffic congestion. So readers should judge for themselves who is misleading whom.

A further search turned up a report in Malaysiakini dated May 28, 2002 which quoted Lim Kit Siang saying the same thing. He could not have been clearer on the primary reason DAP was rejecting the PORR.

Lim said: “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, after the completion of PORR… What Penang needs is an efficient public transport system based on a sustainable transport policy, as PORR is not a medium-term let alone long-term solution to the traffic congestion nightmare on the island.”

He continued, “For medium- and long-term improvements, the Halcrow report recognised that a sensible option in promoting continued and sustained growth for Penang would be for the car adapting to the city as in the case of Singapore, rather than the city adapting to the car in the case of Bangkok.”

As a Penangite who voted for DAP, my question is: why is the present DAP leadership going against its own stand?

A poster is making the rounds to justify DAP’s support for PIL 1. It says PIL 1 will be toll-free and an open tender will be made. It will relieve traffic for more than 20 years and complement other forms of public transport in Penang. The PORR, on the other hand, does none of the above.

My questions are:

1. Did the present Halcrow report of the Penang state government claim the PIL 1 would relieve traffic for more than 20 years? In the Halcrow report, the PIL project was not even mentioned. So who made this unsubstantiated claim? The PIL project was inserted by SRS Consortium. The members of the consortium are not traffic experts; they are infrastructure contractors and developers.

2. Has the Penang government practised genuine open tender or only a request for proposal (RFP)? It has already been pointed out by Ahmad Hilmy of USM and Lim Mah Hui that an RFP is not an open tender.

3. Will the PIL 1 really complement other modes of public transportation? In Phase 1 of the Penang Transport Master Plan, RM17 billion is allocated for PIL 1 and an LRT. No other funds have been put aside for other components of public transport. It is unlikely that other funds are available. So how can PIL 1 complement other components of public transport?

4. Finally, the Penang government should not boast that PIL 1 is going to be toll-free because it is a financially and ecologically irresponsible policy which undermines its own stated objective to increase the public modal share of transport. Is the Penang government also going to make the existing two bridges and ferry service toll-free?

Zulfikar Ali Abdul Aziz is an FMT reader.

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