Article first published on 17/02/2020 https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/letters/2020/02/566179/penang-transport-master-plan-trojan-horse
The Penang chief minister is rushing to sign a Project Delivery Partner (PDP) agreement with SRS Consortium to implement the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP).
Initially proposed to solve Penang’s traffic problems, this transport plan has morphed into a coastal reclamation scheme consisting of three islands totalling 1,820 ha.
One could claim that the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) project was sneaked into the state agenda inside a Trojan horse called PTMP.
Since 2013, the key focus and goal of the PTMP project has shifted from “moving people” to “moving cars” to a coastal reclamation project.
Civil society helped the state produce the Halcrow Plan to guide Penang towards a targeted statewide 40 per cent public transport ridership.
After endorsing the plan, the state government put out a Request for Proposal instead of an open tender based on specifications.
Within a few months of getting SRS Consortium on board, the cost of PTMP swelled from RM27 billion to RM46 billion.
The bloated PTMP was a Trojan horse bedecked with jewels: light rail transit, bus rapid transit, monorail, tram and cable car.
The Penang government decided to prioritise three mega project components for implementation: the RM8 million to RM10 billion LRT, the RM9.6 billion Pan-Island Link and the RM11 billion PSR project.
Ordinary people are not likely to dwell on the fact that most of the remainder transport components will take decades to roll out, by which time the long awaited transport modes may be obsolete.
The added attractiveness of the PDP model, in the case of PTMP, is that it provides the state government with the flexibility to modify or deviate from any plan.
However, Penang island is neither an island-state nor an island nation like Singapore.
More than half of Penang’s population live in Seberang Prai and they complain about traffic congestion, and a lack of quality development and jobs.
Penang islanders complain about traffic congestion, overdevelopment and environmental degradation.
In the past, the state relied on Penang Development Corporation to manage its industrial expansion.
With an airport coming up in Kulim, Kedah, an opportunity presents itself to develop a new Free Industrial Zone Corridor on the mainland, supported by planning and investment.
Yet the state government seems intent on focusing the first RM30 billion worth of PTMP projects on Penang island, stretched out over 10 to 15 years or longer.
Bear in mind that after 12 years of the Pakatan government, Penang is still without gazetted local plans for its 1.8 million population.
While failing to provide residents with the full benefits of town planning according to the Town and Country Act, the chief minister allocated RM5 million for a master plan for 400,000 future residents of the Penang South Islands.
The question is, who will the master plan serve?
In undertaking PTMP and PSR, the state government will not be protected against possible losses.
Penang residents will mourn the “tragedy of the commons” and bear the heavy social and environmental costs of ecosystem destruction on the island’s south.
They will also lose out from the missed opportunity to prosper Seberang Prai.
Notwithstanding, PDP will be assured of its fixed fees and reimbursables in managing many contracts.
In Sabah and Sarawak, the federal government has decided to axe the PDP model in the PanBorneo Highway project to save cost. This has given rise to allegations of double standards: why should the federal government turn a blind eye to Penang exceptionalism?
The government vows to abandon business cronyism to fight corruption and to spearhead institutional reforms.
It should start by carrying out a review of the Penang PDP arrangement, PTMP and the social and environmental impact of PSR.