Transport Ministry denies claims of 'political vengeance' against Penang

PETALING JAYA: The Transport Ministry has come up with a detailed explanation to disprove claims that three out of four projects in Penang had been cancelled as a form of "political vengeance" against the state.

The ministry said the claims painted a cynical and incorrect perception of several large-scale Penang projects in question under its purview.

"In regard to an article on Malaysiakini dated Jan 7, titled 'PN using weapon called 'Wee' to victimise Penangites - Guan Eng'," the ministry wishes to address the misconceptions and falsehoods that YB Lim Guan Eng and YB Lim Hui Ying have raised.

"During a recent press conference in Penang, YB Lim falsely claimed that three out of four projects in Penang had been cancelled as a form of 'political vengeance' against the state. This is patently untrue," it said in a statement on Friday (Jan 8).

Lim is former Penang chief minister and his sister Hui Ying is Penang DAP secretary.

On the Penang ferry service, the ministry reiterated it has been restructured in a modernisation drive – not cancelled.

The modernisation takes into account comfort, travel speed, passenger safety, sustainability in maintenance and long-term viability.

"This is to reduce inconvenience to the users of the old ferries, which were prone to breakdowns on an average of once a month.

"RM30mil has been allocated by the Federal Government to purchase new water buses and vehicle transporters for the service.

"An interim complement of two fast ferries will be leased from Prasarana Malaysian Bhd until the new vessels can be brought into service within 18 months.

"The modernisation phase will begin with introducing three passenger-only water buses from Jan 1, followed by two vehicle transporters that will carry only two-wheelers such as motorcycles and bicycles, to be received in 2022.

"The service provider, Penang Port Sdn Bhd, will expedite the introduction of these new vessels as soon as they are deemed seaworthy by the supplier," it said.

To preserve and honour the previous ferries as a slice of Penang's culture and heritage, it said proposals would be sought to convert them into floating restaurants, museums and tourist cruises based on suggestions by various parties, including Hui Ying, made in the Dewan Negara on Dec 17.

On the Penang International Airport upgrade and expansion, the statement said Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong had given an oral reply in Parliament to Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow that the project had not been cancelled.

"However, a review of the proposed project will be discussed in consideration of the macro-economic situation given the continuing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on worldwide aviation passenger demand.

"During this time, it was recommended to the Penang state government to first resolve issues related to the land acquisition that will enable the airport expansion in the future," it said.

Prior to this, it said Dr Wee had also held a discussion with Chow on Aug 27 last year to inform that the Covid-19 pandemic had adversely affected the aviation industry and Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd's capability to finance the airport's proposed upgrade and expansion.

"The International Air Transport Association (IATA) had reported on June 28 that global flights dropped 55% in 2020 compared to 2019.

"The drop in passenger volume for the Penang Airport is 78%, from 8.256 million in 2019 to 1.816 million in 2020.

"Although passenger traffic is expected to recover nominally this year, IATA expects passenger traffic to remain at some 30% in capacity and will not recover completely until 2024 due to the lingering pandemic.

"These numbers with their drastic effects on the tourism industry mean that a detailed relook at airports nationwide is extremely important to ensure survivability and sustainability."

The ministry also said it had not cancelled the Light Rail Transit from Bayan Lepas to Komtar (BLLRT) project as alleged, adding the state government had, in contrary, yet to submit the final social impact assessment (SIA) and environmental impact assessment (EIA) approvals.

The SIA and EIA from the Environment Department and PLANMalaysia are necessary for the Land Public Transport Agency (Apad) to recommend for minister approval for the final railway scheme under sub-section 84(6) of the Land Public Transport Act.

"The ministry had earlier given its conditional approval for the railway scheme of the project, subject to the final SIA and EIA approvals.

"The Penang state government had been informed on Nov 10 that the final railway scheme cannot be approved yet without the requisite SIA and EIA approvals for the entire proposed alignment.

"By law, the ministry cannot give partial approvals and both the EIA and SIA approvals are necessary as the proposed alignment will require land reclamation (dubbed Penang south reclamation) and will affect future expansions of the Penang airport," it added.

Calling on political leaders to refrain from disseminating fiction for their political gain but provide real facts to the public, the ministry said it continues to welcome input and suggestions from all state governments for the public transport infrastructure development and upgrade for sustainability, comfort and safety for all passengers.

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