Malaysia: Mega projects go on without public consultation

Mohamed Idris. (Photo: CAP)

The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP, a member of the Malaysian Social Watch coalition) is complaining on the lack of public consultation by the Penang state government regarding several mega projects that include the construction of a 6.5 km undersea tunnel, a 12 km road and two bypasses of more than 4.0 km.

CAP president S.M. Mohamed Idris, who had been labelled as an "old man" by Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, said he would not stoop to such a level by defaming the chief minister by name-calling.

"He called me an old man while their cyber-troopers had also resorted to calling me all kinds of derogatory names including 'mamak' [a racist insult] just because CAP had raised issues of public concern in the state," he said. "However, all this is not going to stop CAP from continuing to voice up, just like we have been doing all this years."

Mohamed Idris added that those holding public office must always be prepared to accept criticisms and respond to them with due decorum.

"CAP is shocked to note that both the chief minister and his special officer (Zairil Khir Johari) appear to have no understanding of the objective and process of public consultation,” explained Idris. “Briefing NGOs generally on the mega projects and making statements about them to the press or in the State Assembly does not constitute public consultation."

Mohamed Idris said those officers should understand that public consultation involves engaging the public at the earliest stage of the decision-making process, providing adequate information about the projects and giving due consideration to the representations and views made by individuals and civil society organisations.

"Such a process has definitely not been adopted by the state government with regard to the projects Lim had announced," Idris warned

Mohamed Idris also questioned Lim on whether any preliminary study had been carried out with regard to the need for, and viability of, the projects, as well as their economic, social and environmental impacts.

"If the government is serious about practising the CAT (competency, accountability and transparency) principle with regard to large public projects, then it should introduce and implement guidelines on public participation. CAP would like to emphasise that our comments and criticism of policies and projects are made solely in the public interest," he concluded

"In politics, it is dangerous when autocracy dictates a governing style. Everything a politician says is ultimate and everything else is discounted. It is upsetting that one can be blinded by the power that affects judicious decisions," Idris said.

The president of CAP said it was important for consultation to be carried out with people directly affected by such projects and policies made by those in power to ensure their efficacy.

"The state's roads and undersea tunnel projects did not include public consultation. Views from non-governmental organizations alone did not constitute the public," he said.

CAP had on March 5 issued a press statement calling the state government to consult the public on the mega projects in the state.

“The mega projects costing billions of dollars, which ultimately have to come from public resources, are meant to speed up motor traffic but not to provide affordable and efficient transport for the public,” warned Idris in his statement.

“The undersea tunnel, in addition to the new bridge which is scheduled to be operational shortly, will serve only to bring more motor vehicles into the island, contributing to the worsening of traffic congestion. As it is, there are more cars than people on the island. So any addition will have serious traffic impacts,” he added.

“The issue of transparency and openness regarding the proposed projects is of prime importance in the early stages of planning and decision-making. The public should be provided detailed information from the beginning on the potential benefits and impact of the project and details of the land swap deals so that they can make an informed decision on the need for such mega projects,” Idris said.

More information
CAP: Introduce public consultation guidelines:

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Malay Mail:
The Malaysian Insider: