DAPInsider-On January 27, 2013, Lim Guan Eng just unveiled his grand road infrastructure expansion plan costing total RM8 billion and recently he said that he has awarded the RM8 billion tender to construct road and undersea tunnel projects on the island to Malaysia-China joint venture Consortium Zenith BUCG Sdn Bhd.

The project consists of a 6.5km Gurney Drive-Bagan Ajam undersea tunnel, a 4.2km Gurney Drive-Lebuhraya Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu bypass, a 4.6km Lebuhraya Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu-Bandar Baru Air Itam bypass and a 12km road connecting Tanjung Bungah and Teluk Bahang.

Chief Minister of Penang Lim Guan Eng said the construction company would be given 44.51ha of reclaimed land in Tanjung Pinang in phases. One of the four conditions set by the state government is that the concession period for the third link will only be for 30 years and the toll charges must be similar to the second Penang bridge.

It is difficult to understand why the state government is insisting on going ahead with these projects although a number of parties have voiced their reservation that this is not a long term solution to solve congestion problem in Penang.

The so-called open tenders appear to be so secretive that no one really knows about it or no one seem to notice or realize. Everything is done in an unholy haste.

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 shows 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 Lim Guan Eng. The 6.5km Sea Tunnel connecting Gurney Drive to Bagan Ajam in particular is likely to be a white elephant project going by expert opinions expressed 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 especial 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 or bigoted rush.

Penangites expect the DAP-led Pakatan state government to restore Penang ’s free port status once Pakatan captured Putrajaya. The free port status will be of no meaning 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 goes against the motto of Penang Transport Council: moving the people, not cars. This goes against its 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 arrogant plans of Lim Guan Eng which it failed dismally.

Is the council 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? Why have 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 trivialize their expertise. They have allowed Lim Guan Eng to persist in pressing onward all the road construction solution 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.

Tunneling 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 Channel 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 literally 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 announcement of the project with the concession and all the land swapping deals shrouded in secrecy, the state government had dropped all pretense of competency, accountability and transparency. Lim Guan Eng’s unwavering decision to sail against public opinion and then to openly defend his undemocratic actions was just one aspect of his one man’s executive decision process that was atypical.

Lim Guan Eng is a politician that 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 opinion 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 was effectively ignored, so that the CM can decide everything to suit his own ambitions?

This is the betrayal of the highest order of the people who have voted the DAP. It is unacceptable and must be stopped at all costs. This is a lousy attempt to hold our desire for change for 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 want to use the coming election as a referendum for his policy choice. 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.

Can Penangnites allow this to happen and be trodden rough shod over by this Colussus Lim Guan Eng and our pleas ignored? Is he really working for the best interest of Penang?

Coming up next: EXCLUSIVE: Who benefits from the RM 8 billion project?
The cronies behind the scenes will be exposed.

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