Information like this is essential for ordinary people in trying to make sense of the implications of such a gigantic project, writes Mustafa K Anuar.
Penang has made the much-awaited gesture of releasing the list of 56 conditions for the approval of the environmental impact assessment for phase one of the controversial Pan Island Link (PIL1) highway project.
This came about after the state’s civil society groups demanded more information regarding the conditions stipulated by the Department of the Environment.
As we understand it, the Penang government, whose catchphrase is “CAT” for competency, accountability and transparency”, initially refused to reveal those conditions as it reportedly fears they are too technical for most people to understand.
Not releasing this vital information, even in a summarised form, on this basis might have earned the state government the reputation of being patronising and arrogant, and undo the goodwill it has built with civil society organisations whose concern for the environment is well known.
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Besides, riding roughshod over legitimate concerns is obviously not an image that the state government – which is part of the Pakatan Harapan coalition that professes to champion transparency and accountability – would want to cultivate.
We should be mindful that these civil society groups were up in arms even during the Barisan Nasional (BN) administration when, for example, it was thinking of developing Penang Hill. BN was dismissive of its critics, particularly civil society in Penang.
Anyway, it should be incumbent on the state government to make the supposedly technical information accessible to the layperson, particularly concerned Penang residents.
In fact, such information as the 56 conditions should have been made available to the public without civil society having to insist on it, especially in Penang, which is one of only two Malaysian states – the other being Selangor – that have enacted freedom of information legislation.
Proponents of freedom of information, and these include politicians in the ruling coalition in Penang, would appreciate the release of these conditions.
Information, as this case shows, is essential for ordinary people in trying to understand the ramifications of such a gigantic project which are not only environmental but also financial and health-wise.
Furthermore, the concerns of the purported minority in the state (as opposed to the alleged “silent majority”) should not be brushed aside as this small group of people are stakeholders too in a democratic state. At the very least, there should be a genuine connect between these disgruntled groups and the state government.
The concerns of fishermen, for instance, regarding the impact on their livelihood as a result of the planned artificial islands in the southern corridor of Penang should be looked at seriously as well as its implications on future food security.
Calling these critical groups “anti-development” does not advance meaningful discourse concerning the development and progress of the state.
Genuine feedback from the stakeholders should be welcome and appreciated, especially on such a huge and impactful project as the PIL1.
The socio-economic and physical development of the “green Penang state” should not only be rewarding to the present generation, but future generations as well.
This situation obviously necessitates the careful weighing of the pros and cons by the present generation.