Statement by Dr. Lim Mah Hui
May 10, 2016

1. NGOs initiated the idea of a Penang master transport plan

Civil society is not against the Penang state government’s idea for a transport master plan. In fact it is NGOs that first suggested this idea in 2009 to the new Penang state government that just came into power. Many professionals from civil society volunteered their time freely and served in the Penang Transport Council and helped prepare the documentation for commissioning the master transport plan that was then awarded to the Halcrow consultants in mid-2011.

So the state government cannot accuse us of opposing the idea of a master transport plan. What we are questioning is the content of the present Penang Transport Master Plan as proposed by SRS consultant (SRS Consortium) with its many flaws. SRS is a joint-venture between Gamuda Berhad, Ideal Property Development Sdn Bhd and Loh Phoy Yen Holdings Sdn Bhd.

2. Release the SRS Report in Full

The Penang State government invited public participation. It has organized many briefing sessions by the SRS consultants to members of public. We welcome that. But we say this is only a small, though positive, part of a consultative process.

However, for the consultation to be truly genuine, the first and foremost condition is for the Penang state government to RELEASE IN FULL the report done by the SRS on the PTMP. So far it has only provided very selective and superficial parts of the study to the public in public forums and on its website. The public cannot be expected to give proper feedback when they are partially blind folded. This is not acceptable for a state that professes to practice CAT (competence, accountability and transparency).

If the state has nothing to hide, as it claims, it must answer satisfactorily why the full report is not shared with the public. Which parts are confidential and why? The state cannot hide behind legal excuses and the limitations in the freedom of information curtain for not releasing the report. We have wasted six months of precious time since the report was given to the state in November 2015. Members of the public have a right to know what is in the report so that they can engage more meaningfully with the state.

3. Go Beyond Top-Down Briefing Sessions

Second, the public sessions conducted are mainly top-down briefing sessions by the consultants followed by question and answer sessions. There is little follow up on how the questions and concerns raised are addressed. When several NGOs provided written feedback, instead of getting together to professionally discuss the concerns raised and going through the objections and facts scientifically, a press conference is called to debunk the NGOs who are accused of not doing their homework. There is no positive engagement.

Among the fundamental issues raised are the population and ridership assumptions, the costs of the different public transport systems, and the lack of financial feasibility studies for each of the proposed public transport system.
If these details are in the report, they MUST be made public. They cannot be hidden and then selectively and given in piece meal to the public.

4. Don’t Put Cart Before the Horse and Financially Burden Penangites

It is easy to propose building an LRT, monorail or a tram system from an engineering point of view. But it is more difficult to manage and run them efficiently and in a financially viable manner so as to not plunge the public into huge debt as has happened in many places including the LRT system in Kuala Lumpur that has to be bailed out by the government.

Hence we have been asking that a detailed financial feasibility study be provided to the public for each of these proposed systems. This includes not only the construction costs, but the operation and maintenance costs, the depreciation costs, the replacement cost, the ridership forecast, the projected revenue, the financial break even analysis, the expected profit or loss, how much would the state have to subsidize yearly etc. Such detailed analyses on each different system and options (e.g., an LRT versus tram line to the airport) MUST be done and considered BEFORE deciding which system is most suitable and financially viable

Among the answers we are getting is that AFTER the project is built, the government will then call for tender to manage and operate the project. This is putting the cart before the horse and is NOT international best practice. It puts too much financial risk on the people of Penang.

That is why we urgently call for a genuine and open consultative process and urge the state government not rush into signing multi-billion tender awards that may end up financially unviable and burdening Penangites of this and future generations.

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