Saturday, February 2, 2013

Tokong's Chinese New Year Stimulus Package

On Jan 27, Lim Guan Eng just unveiled his grand road infrastructure expansion plan costing total RM7billion. The road infrastructure expansion plan involved the following 4 projects:
1) a 4.6km bypass linking Bandar Air Hitam to Lim Chong Eu Expressway
2) 6.5km Sea Tunnel connecting Gurney Drive to Bagan Ajam
3) 12km Tanjung Bungah to Telok Bahang paired road
4) 4.2km road from Gurney Drive to Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypassing the city center

Those projects are in final stage of so called open tenders which no one seem to notice or realize.

The very next day, Lim Guan Eng administration unveiled another RM140 million road expansion plan for 1.5km Jalan Bukit Minyak-Alma. This is the most expensive road expansion project in Malaysia since independent.

The announced spectacle reveals one of the most important developments in Penang politics—the widening gulf between politicians' policy decisions and the preferences of the people toward specific issues. This announcement can be added to the long list of policies that failed to mirror public opinion. The arrogance of the CM shown a continuing trend of declining responsiveness to the public's policy preferences.

The conventional wisdom that politicians habitually respond to public opinion when making major policy decisions is proven wrong by this cocky arrogant tokong.

The 6.5km Sea Tunnel connecting Gurney Drive to Bagan Ajam in particular is deemed as a white elephant project by sustainable transit advocates. With the second bridge, designed to cater for traffic need until 2022, near completion, the undersea tunnel is rendered unnecessary in near future. Why do we need to spend billions of ringgit for a dead-end to Gurney Plaza?

The decision to build the undersea tunnel was rammed through without public debate especially when there is a genuine concern on how it will affect the Penang port as a transhipment port. A transhipment port is one where the shipment of goods or containers are transloaded to a bigger vessel for the next destination. Thus, it required deeper channel up to 18.5m to cater for larger vessels.

The decision to build the undersea tunnel should be based on a feasible study that evaluate it's impact on the growth of Penang port. It should not be pursued for the adrenaline rush of Lim Guan Eng for a political legacy. If Penang want to be a transhipment hub like Singapore it could ill afford to make a decision based on an adrenaline rush.

Penangites expect the Pakatan state government to restore Penang 's free port status once Pakatan captured Putrajaya. The free port status will be meaningless once Penang port unable to assume the role of regional transhipment hub like Singapore or Hong Kong.

Critics have pointed out that Gurney Drive and the surrounding Pulau Tikus neighbourhood become a traffic quagmire during rush hour and weekends and it’s difficult to imagine how the proposed tunnel will solve the problem.

The decision to build more roads instead of improving the public transport system go against the motto of Penang Transport Council: moving the people, not cars. This go against it's promises of seeking a new approach in handling public transport and mobility. The state government promised to adopt a new vision paradigm in tackling transport, one that moves people away from our dependence on private transport mode to a more economically and ecologically sustainable public transport system. The biggest and most formidable challenge for the Penang Transport Council is to fight against the the adrenaline rush of Lim Guan Eng which it failed dismally.

The council is made up of “state and city council members, civil servants, university professors, professionals, stakeholders, and members of the public with no spine or sense of dignity. They have failed to deliver their promises of moving the people, not cars. They have allowed Lim Guan Eng to usurp their decision making authority and to trivialize their expertise. They have allowed Lim Guan Eng to persist in pressing onward all the road construction solutions to the bewilderment of sustainable transit advocates.

Another major decision was how the construction was to be financed. According to Lim Guan Eng, no monetary payment or funding should be given by the state for the construction of the projects as cost incurred would either be recovered through concession, land swap, toll or any other form.

Costs for the sea link tunnel would be recouped from toll charges expected to be same as the Penang Bridge and second bridge while construction of the roads would involve land swapping deals.

Tunnelling is a major engineering challenge. A serious risk with underwater tunnels is major water inflow due to the water pressure from the sea above under weak ground conditions. The tunnel also had the challenge of time—being privately funded, early financial return was paramount.

We have witnessed the scandalous concession given to highway operators in the past which literarily sold out the people and the government. We do not expect the present leadership to travel this treacherous road again. We do not expect the ill-thought-out schemes to be driven by corruption and serve as new conduits for filching government lands. We want the state government to be transparent and come out clean on the concession and land swapping deals

The state government had dropped all pretense of competency, accountability and transparency when the concession and all the land swapping deals are shrouded in secrecy.

When questioned by journalists on the concession, Lim Guan Eng claimed that the concession would be offered without a government guarantee for traffic volume. When pressed further, how Lim could has achieved it.  State public works, utilities and transport committee chairman Lim Hock Seng said the Tanjung Pinang land and other small parcels, and a 30-year concession period to collect toll would be offered to the concessionaire. The concessionaire is allowed to do anything they want on that land. Lim failed to justify the 30-years long concession and did not provide further detail about the concession. It is an amazing change of stand if we look back at how Guan Eng criticised the unfair concessions given to highway operators in the past. Now he is justifying it with a more lucrative deal! If you have short memory, allow me to borrow his criticism on highway concession to criticise his handling of the concession:
This is unacceptable and giving such a long concession only benefits the few, allowing the toll operator to earn mega profits of pharaonic proportions at the expense of 1.6 million ordinary Penangites especially when the prime land at Tanjung Pinang is estimated to cost a few billions.
Why the indecent haste to push through the projects before the coming election, and why do Lim Guan Eng think he has either the authority or the expertise to make the final decision on our behalf without referring to any feasibility study? If Guan Eng is so confident of defeating BN in the coming election, why complained about the lack of authorities on public transportation? Why the projects should be taken off before election? The truth is that Lim Guan Eng has no confidence defending his administration in the coming election. He also shown no confidence on the ability of Pakatan capturing Putrajaya. He need to ensure that his pet projects are pushed through before it is too late. The people , therefore, find the indecent haste with which the projects were pushed an utterly disregard to public opinion. By imposing his whims and fancy on the  local authority to serve his self interest rather than those of the people, Lim Guan Eng has set a very bad and dangerous precedent for the potential abuse of power.

Lim Guan Eng's unwavering decision to sail against public opinion and then to openly defend his undemocratic actions is just one aspect of his one man's executive decision process which is atypical.

Lim Guan Eng is a politician who will not hesitate to change public opinion not by directly persuading the public on the merits of his policy choices.  But by "priming" and distracting public opinion with the argument that the urgency to defeat BN for change should take precedence over policy decision that affect the people.

Do we need a state government in which the state legislative assembly and public opinion are effectively ignored, so that the CM can decide everything to suit his own ambitions?

This is the betrayal of the highest order. It is unacceptable and must be stopped at all costs. This is a lousy attempt to hold our desire for change to ransom. A leader who ignore the voice for change pose a more insidious threat to democracy than BN's machinations. Time has proven that Lim Guan Eng sought to circumvent our desire for change and defied the public at almost every turn.

Only the heat of an imminent election and the elevated attention that average voters devote to it motivate politicians to respond to public opinion and absorb the costs of compromising their policy goals. Lim Guan Eng wants to use the coming election as a referendum for his policy choices. If Guan Eng wins reelection, it will be seen by many, especially those who have made their careers in politics, as a vindication of his ambitious property and construction-centric policy agenda.

Since the Pakatan coalition is confident of capturing Putrajaya in the next 13 GE, will Lim Guan Eng stops the highway projects if his coalition wins power? Lim administration should not award the project until after the 13GE and after a proper study of the issue. I am sure any responsible government, using the same justification, would do the same. - Khoo Kay Peng

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