HAVING seen his first term badly disrupted by Covid-19, Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow now has his work cut out for him as he aims to steer the state into post-pandemic recovery.
The Pakatan Harapan leader has laid out the Penang2030 Vision as the blueprint to progress, and his leadership is sure to come under scrutiny, especially with the coming state election.
Following are excerpts of The Star’s exclusive interview with Chow.
You are coming to the end of your first term as the Chief Minister of Penang. What are the plans that you have seen through during your tenure?After assuming the post in 2018, there are two key result areas that I need to continue to work on.
The first is the 68-point manifesto of the 2018 general election. Last year, we achieved slightly over 90% of these 68 election promises.
Among them were limiting the tenure of the chief minister to two terms and the appointment of the state Opposition leader as the Penang Public Accounts Committee chairman.
The second one is the Penang2030 Vision, which is sort of the vision statement of ‘Chow Kon Yeow’.
We have achieved 47% of the Penang2030 vision that is divided into four themes and 16 strategic initiatives.
The 12-year plan has over 200 projects and programmes.
The newly-launched Penang Strategy for Economic Ecosystem Development (Penang SEED) is a short- to medium-term kind of plan aimed at achieving a dynamic, equitable and inclusive prosperity for all Penangites. This is in line with the Penang2030 theme to upgrade the economy in order to raise household income. This is what I intend to work through till 2028 or 2030.
On the various major projects that have been announced, what can we look forward to after this?
A) The Ayer Itam-Lebuhraya Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu bypass (Package Two) is 35% complete. The schedule for completion is January 2025.
B) The North Coastal Paired Road between Tanjung Bungah and Teluk Bahang (Package One) is awaiting the green light to get started. If we are given a new mandate, we will be back at the discussion table to implement Package One.
C) The Penang Undersea Tunnel (linking Gurney Drive on the island and Bagan Ajam on the mainland) has been put on hold as there are still issues to be resolved. If the tunnel is built, that means the North Butterworth Container Terminal (NBCT) would not be able to expand north-ward. We are still waiting for the appointment of the Penang Port Commission chairman so that he can convene a board meeting to deliberate on this.
(Package One and Two projects, and the Gurney Drive-Lebuhraya Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu bypass, are the three major roads and tunnel project awarded to Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd or CZC in September 2013. The project is seeing good progress following ECK Development Sdn Bhd’s takeover of major shareholding of CZC.)
D) The Pan Island Link 1 (connecting Gurney Drive to the Penang International Airport) is to start work on one section of this highway project, from Bukit Gedung that connects to Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway in Bayan Lepas, along the Sungai Keluang corridor that will cut across the industrial area. That is the prioritised segment of the highway project and would cost around RM1bil to RM2bil. For now, everything is put on hold until we get a new mandate.
E) As for the Light Rail Transit (LRT), this a surprise gift from the Federal Government which announced it would fund the project undertaken by Mass Rapid Transit Corp Sdn Bhd (MRT Corp). The proposed LRT line will now be extended to Tanjung Bungah from Penang International Airport. Since the LRT depot will now not be on the Penang South Island (PSI), the Penang government’s choice is the Penang Pesta site in Sungai Nibong.
On the George Town-Butterworth Rail Line to reduce daily congestion on the Penang Bridge, can you elaborate?
This is also under the purview of MRT Corp. If you refer to the Penang Transport Master Plan study consultant Halcrow Consultants Sdn Bhd and SRS Consortium’s proposal, there is a cross channel link connecting Butterworth and George Town.
I would say it is in the consideration of the MRT Corp under the second phase.
Tell us more about the controversial PSI project, which could be a hot topic during election campaigning.
The environment impact assessment (EIA) report was approved in April. We have been working on this for years.
Now that we have obtained the approval, don’t you think it is important to announce it now?
You said the future of Penang is on the mainland where Batu Kawan, with so much land available, is the industry corridor of Penang. How then do you justify the needs for the implementation of PSI on the island?
Even with the PSI, it can only provide 700 acres (283ha) of industrial land, which is not a lot. It is a catalyst project although the original idea was purely land revenue to finance the LRT project.
SRS Consortium, the project delivery partner, has appointed a renowned economic consultant and planner to do the studies and proposal to carry out the industrial park.
This convinced us to continue with the economic and industrial development.
Since the inception of the unity government, the Bayan Lepas LRT and the expansion and upgrading project of the Penang International Airport (PIA) have been announced. Any other mega projects that Penang would benefit from federal aid?
Hopefully, the Federal Government will also be committed to the PhaseTwo project, which involves the cross-channel George Town-Butterworth Rail Line, and also the Juru-Sungai Dua elevated highway project on the mainland.
Traffic jams are one of the key issues that we need to tackle urgently. Otherwise, they will stifle the economic growth of Penang.
Penangites have been hit by three water cuts in a year. What are your plans to resolve this? Is tapping into seawater desalination technology one of the considerations?
In the early days, we were more concerned about the raw water source. But over the last two to three years, due to the surge in industrial development, we need to increase our water treatment capacity as well.
While waiting for talks on the Sungai Perak Raw Water Transfer Scheme (SPRWTS) to resume, we are implementing contingency plans to increase the treated water production by another 400mld (million litres per day), which will allow us to meet the needs until 2030.
If the SPRWTS can be implemented, then desalination will be our last resort because of the cost.
As Penang Pakatan chairman, how prepared do you think the coalition is in facing the state election?
We have been working daily over the last five years. This is part of our preparation.
On election day, one of the key considerations towards the incumbent is whether you have delivered or not as the state government.
You have to package what you have done and let the people know that you have fulfilled the mandate.
You have to convince the people that you deserve another chance to be in office.
That is the essence of campaigning, and we believe we have done that.
How does Pakatan Harapan intend to counter the ‘green tsunami’ which hit the country in the 15th General Election last November?
We will be highlighting our achievements and since we are now part of the unity government, we are able to achieve more together.
Even when we were on our own for the past 15 years, we didn’t do badly.
Despite not being part of the federal coalition then, we still managed to run the state well.
Otherwise, the people wouldn’t have voted us for three terms.
Now that we are part of the federal coalition, immediately within six months, we have received much good news.
With us in the state and the Prime Minister from Pakatan at the national level, we are able to achieve and deliver more.
This is something we want the voters to appreciate and recognise to make the right choice.
There seemed to be mutiny within the Penang DAP over the purported “Knock Out Kon Yeow” movement. Was there actually a plot to unseat you?
Inside the party, nobody talks about it now. We should leave it as such.