GEORGE TOWN, July 7 – The recent decision to extend the Light Rail Transit (LRT) to Tanjong Bungah has sparked criticism regarding the absence of essential studies such as the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Social Impact Assessment (SIA), and Traffic Impact Assessment (TIA). This abrupt extension raises questions about the adherence to laws that mandate these studies be conducted before project approval.
It has been suggested that the sudden extension to Tanjong Bungah is a means of compensating the developer for the shortfall encountered in reaching the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) islands, with the project length and number of stations increasing as a result. However, the lack of the required assessments raises concerns about the transparency and thoroughness of the decision-making process.
Transport Minister Loke Siew Fook, when announcing the approval, stated that a comprehensive public feedback exercise would be carried out prior to the commencement of construction to ensure the concerns of the local community are taken into account. However, critics question the efficacy of this exercise if it is conducted after the project has already received approval. They raise the valid point that if the directly affected public does not approve of the project, will it be forced through or abandoned?
This approach to project planning is seen as problematic, as conducting public consultations after project approval may lead to skewed results, with consultants potentially under pressure to present a majority in favor of the project. It is argued that public consultations should be an integral part of the decision-making process from the beginning.
Furthermore, concerns have been raised about the EIA for the PSR, which reportedly omits critical information such as the illegal encroachment of trawler boats into the reclamation area, known for its abundant fish population. This omission is seen as a bias that could have influenced the project’s approval process. The statement from the current Environment Minister about “Public EIA reports that hide vital facts” only serves to underscore the need for transparency and accuracy in these assessments.
In light of the Federal Court judgment in the Sg Ara hill development case, which highlights the importance of consulting with the affected people before making any decision on a project, calls have been made for the government to respect the laws that mandate public consultation and proper studies prior to project approval.
The current practice of creating “Garis Panduan” (guidelines) instead of following the Local Plan to justify project approvals, as seen in the Sg Ara Hill development case, is viewed as illegal. It is urged that the government upholds development procedures as established by law and avoids bending backward to facilitate developer approvals.
The failure of similar transportation projects, such as the LRTs and MRTs in Kuala Lumpur, to significantly reduce road traffic has also been pointed out. Former CEO of Pemandu, Dato’ Sri Idris Jala, had envisioned a 50% reduction in road traffic by having 50% of the city’s population commute using LRTs and MRTs. However, the increasing congestion on roads in Kuala Lumpur has raised concerns about repeating the same experiment in Penang.
The Penang Residents’ Movement (PRM) acknowledges the need for an efficient mass transport system in Penang but believes that the LRT alone will not address this need. They argue for a comprehensive system that caters to the convenience of the entire city’s population, emphasizing the importance of learning from past failures and avoiding the repetition of unsuccessful endeavors.
As discussions continue regarding the LRT extension to Tanjong Bungah, advocates urge the government to prioritize transparency, public consultation, and adherence to legal procedures to ensure the best outcomes for Penang’s residents and overall development.