Go-ahead likely for Penang LRT


GEORGE TOWN: The approvals from the federal authorities for the RM8.4bil Bayan Lepas light rail transit (LRT) and the massive Penang South Reclamation (PSR) scheme on the southern coast of the island are expected to be obtained before the end of the year.

Sources told The Star that the approvals would be from the Department of Environment, the federal regulator overseeing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), and the Transport Ministry.

The sources said if everything goes on as scheduled, the reclamation project for the three man-made islands would start early next year.

“The LRT project might begin in January 2020,” they said.

The LRT, together with a monorail, cable cars and water taxis, is part of the state government’s RM46bil Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP).

It will begin from Komtar in the northeast corner of the island and pass through Jelutong, Gelugor, Bayan Lepas and Penang International Airport before ending at the proposed PSR development comprising three man-made islands totalling 1,800ha near Teluk Kumbar.

It is expected to provide a fast route to the airport and will traverse densely populated residential, commercial and industrial areas.

There are 27 LRT stations along the alignment, with the maintenance depot located on the first island that is to be reclaimed on the island’s south coast.

The alignment also factors in interchanges with future LRT, Sky Cab and monorail lines that are being planned, including one that will cross the channel to connect Gelugor on the island with the Penang Sentral transport hub in mainland Butterworth. The success of the PTMP depends on funding from property development on the PSR scheme.

The Pan Island Link (PIL) 1 is another component which came to light recently as its Detailed EIA was on display at 10 locations in Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur and Penang until yesterday.

The proposed 19.5km highway links Gurney Drive to the Penang International Airport.

SRS Consortium Sdn Bhd, the Project Delivery Partner (PDP), will call for the tender of the LRT and PSR via a Request for Proposal (RFP) exercise early next year, the sources said.

SRS’s role is to supervise the projects until their completion and scale down the cost.

It is learnt that there are currently six or seven companies interested in carrying out the LRT project and the reclamation work for the islands.

“SRS will scale down the cost of the urban rail transport link connecting Komtar and Bayan Lepas, and also consider alternative proposals such as a monorail,” said sources.

It is learnt that Scomi Engineering has recently proposed a monorail project costing about RM6bil, to the state government.

A China company has also proposed to build a LRT link costing less than RM6bil.

On the three man-made islands, it is said that more than RM4bil would be spent on the reclamation.

“The cost is estimated to be over RM4bil because there will be a need to construct a dam and three power plants for the islands.

“One of the islands will be used for indus­trial activities. There will be industrial lots developed for sale to overseas and local investors to generate funds for the urban rail transport link.

“The other two islands will be used for building commercial and residential properties,” sources explained, adding that about RM17bil, which includes the cost for the LRT and PIL 1, has been approved.

On the viability of trams as an alternative to LRT, the sources said the move would require relocating underground sewage infrastructure, power and telecommunications cables.

“They have to be relocated because laying the rails for trams involves a lot of costly road digging. The LRT is constructed on an elevated platform and does not involve digging into the ground.

“Furthermore, the roads in Penang are narrow, so using trams with other vehicles on the same road could cause accidents,” a source added.

SRS Consortium, a 60:20:20 joint venture involving Gamuda Bhd, Loh Phoy Yen Holdings Sdn Bhd and Ideal Property Development Sdn Bhd, was appointed by the Penang government as the PDP for the implementation of the PTMP.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said he has written a letter to Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on June 29 to seek funds for the LRT project.

“We have yet to receive a reply.

“If the South island reclamation projects are not carried out, the state has no choice but to seek federal funds for the LRT,” he said during his speech at the state assembly yesterday.

Chow had earlier said the major components of PTMP would be fully funded by revenues generated from the sale of reclaimed land of the PSR project.

He said the fully funded nature of the components – the LRT and the PIL 1 – was unlike any other mega infrastructure projects currently being critically reviewed by the Council of Eminent Persons.

The SRS Consortium was concluded to have the best overall proposal among six local and international bidders, which were evaluated based on qualities such as transport master plan proposal, delivery track record, financial standing and funding/business models.

By David Tan The Star

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Has Penang Island’s growth & development become a hazard to life?


  • Malaysia’s Penang Island has undergone massive development since the 1960s, a process that continues today with plans for transit and land-reclamation megaprojects.
  • The island is increasingly facing floods and landslides, problems environmentalists link to paving land and building on steep slopes.
  • This is the second in a six-part series of articles on infrastructure projects in Peninsular Malaysia.

GEORGE TOWN, Malaysia — Muddy carpets and soaked furniture lay in moldering piles on the streets of this state capital. It was Sunday morning, Oct. 29, 2017. Eight days earlier, torrents of water had poured off the steep slopes of the island’s central mountain range. Flash floods ripped through neighborhoods. A landslide killed 11 workers at a construction site for a high-rise apartment tower, burying them in mud. It was Penang Island’s second catastrophic deluge in five weeks.

Kam Suan Pheng, an island resident and one of Malaysia’s most prominent soil scientists, stepped to the microphone in front of 200 people hastily gathered for an urgent forum on public safety. Calmly, as she’s done several times before, Kam explained that the contest between Mother Earth’s increasingly fierce meteorological outbursts and the islanders’ affection for building on steep slopes and replacing water-absorbing forest and farmland with roads and buildings would inevitably lead to more tragedies.

“When places get urbanized, the sponge gets smaller. So when there is development, the excess rainwater gets less absorbed into the ground and comes off as flash floods,” she said. “The flood situation is bound to worsen if climate change brings more rain and more intense rainfall.”

Five days later it got worse. Much worse. On Nov. 4, and for the next two days, Penang was inundated by the heaviest rainfall ever recorded on the island. Water flooded streets 3.6 meters (12 feet) deep. Seven people died. The long-running civic discussion that weighed new construction against the risks of increasingly fierce ecological impediments grew more urgent. George Town last year joined an increasing number of the world’s great coastal cities — Houston, New Orleans, New York, Cape Town, Chennai, Jakarta, Melbourne, São Paulo — where the consequences are especially vivid.

The empty apartment construction  site where 11 men died in an October 2017 landslide. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

Penang’s state government and Chow Kon Yeow, its new chief minister, recognize the dilemma. Three weeks after being named in May to lead the island, Chow told two reporters from The Star newspaper that “[e]conomic growth with environmental sustainability would be an ideal situation rather than sacrificing the environment for the sake of development.”

But Chow also favors more growth. He is the lead proponent for building one of the largest and most expensive transportation projects ever undertaken by a Malaysian city: a $11.4 billion scheme that includes an underwater tunnel linking to peninsular Malaysia, three highways, a light rail line, a monorail, and a 4.8-kilometer (3-mile) gondola from the island to the rest of Penang state on the Malay peninsula.

The state plans to finance construction with proceeds from the sale of 1,800 hectares (4,500 acres) of new land reclaimed from the sea along the island’s southern shore. The Southern Reclamation Project calls for building three artificial islands for manufacturing, retail, offices, and housing for 300,000 residents.

Awarded rights to build the reclamation project in 2015, the SRS Consortium, the primary contractors, are a group of national and local construction companies awaiting the federal government’s decision to proceed. Island fishermen and their allies in Penang’s community of environmental organizations and residential associations oppose the project, and they proposed a competing transport plan that calls for constructing a streetcar and bus rapid transit network at one-third the cost. (See Mongabay –https://news.mongabay.com/2017/04/is-a-property-boom-in-malaysia-causing-a-fisheries-bust-in-penang/)

For a time the national government stood with the fishermen. Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, the former minister of natural resources and environment and a member of Barisan Nasional (BN), the ruling coalition, refused to allow the project. “The 1,800-hectare project is too massive and can change the shoreline in the area,” he told reporters. “It will not only affect the environment but also the forest such as mangroves. Wildlife and marine life, their breeding habitats will be destroyed.”

The state, and Penang Island, however, have been governed since 2008 by leaders of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, which supported the transport and reclamation mega projects. In May 2018, Pakatan Harapan routed the BN in parliamentary elections. Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamed, the leader of Pakatan Harapan, assumed power once again. Island leaders anticipate that their mega transport and reclamation projects will be approved.

It is plain, though, that last year’s floods opened a new era of civic reflection and reckoning with growth. Proof is everywhere, like the proliferation of huge blue tarps draped across flood-scarred hillsides outside of George Town’s central business district. Intended to block heavy rain from pushing more mud into apartment districts close by, the blue tarps are a distinct signal of ecological distress.

Or the flood-damaged construction sites in Tanjung Bungah, a fast-growing George Town suburb. A lone guard keeps visitors from peering through the gates of the empty apartment construction site where 11 men died in the October 2017 landslide. About a mile away, a row of empty, cracked, expensive and never-occupied hillside townhouses are pitched beside a road buckled like an accordion. The retaining wall supporting the road and development collapsed in the November 2017 flood, causing expensive property damage.

  • A row of empty, cracked, expensive and never-occupied hillside  townhouses are pitched beside a road buckled like an accordion. The retaining wall supporting the road and development collapsed in a November 2017 flood, causing extensive property damage. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

    Gurmit Singh, founder and chairman of the Centre for Environment, Technology and Development, Malaysia (CETDEM), and dean of the nation’s conservation activists, called Penang state government’s campaign for more growth and mega infrastructure development “a folly.”

    “It exceeds the carrying capacity of the island. It should never be approved,” he said in an interview in his Kuala Lumpur office.

    Singh, who is in his 70s and still active, was raised on Penang Island. He is an eyewitness to the construction that made much of his boyhood geography unrecognizable. “Everything built there now is unsustainable,” he said.

    It’s taken decades to reach that point. Before 1969, when state authorities turned to Robert Nathan and Associates, a U.S. consultancy, to draw up a master plan for economic development, Penang Island was a 293-square-kilometer (113-square-mile) haven of steep mountain forests, ample rice paddies, and fishing villages reachable only by boat.

    For most residents, though, Penang Island was no tropical paradise. Nearly one out of five working adults was jobless, and poverty was endemic in George Town, its colonial capital, according to national records.

    Nathan proposed a path to prosperity: recruiting electronics manufacturers to settle on the island and export their products globally. His plan emphasized the island’s location on the Strait of Malacca, a trading route popular since the 16th century that tied George Town to Singapore and put other big Asian ports in close proximity.

  • Sea and harbor traffic on the Strait of Malacca. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

    As a 20th century strategy focused on stimulating the economy, Nathan’s plan yielded real dividends. The island’s population nearly doubled to 755,000, according to national estimates. Joblessness hovers in the 2 percent range.

    Foreign investors poured billions of dollars into manufacturing, retail and residential development, and all the supporting port, energy, road, and water supply and wastewater treatment infrastructure. In 1960, the island’s urbanized area totaled 29.5 square kilometers (11.4 square miles), almost all of it in and immediately surrounding George Town. In 2015, the urban area had spread across 112 square kilometers (43 square miles) and replaced the mangroves, rubber plantations, rice paddies and fishing villages along the island’s northern and eastern coasts.

    There are now 220,000 homes on the island, with more than 10,000 new units added annually, according to National Property Information Center. George Town’s colonial center, which dates to its founding in 1786, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008, like Venice and Angkor Wat. The distinction helped George Town evolve into a seaside tourist mecca. The state of Penang, which includes 751 square kilometers (290 square miles) on the Malay peninsula, attracts over 6 million visitors annually, roughly half from outside Malaysia. Most of the visitors head to the island, according to Tourism Malaysia.

    Nathan’s plan, though, did not anticipate the powerful ecological and social responses that runaway shoreline and hillside development would wreak in the 21st century. Traffic congestion in George Town is the worst of any Malaysian city. Air pollution is increasing. Flooding is endemic.

  • Blue tarps drape the steep and muddy hillsides in George Town to slow erosion during heavy rain storms. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

    Nor in the years since have Penang’s civic authorities adequately heeded mounting evidence of impending catastrophes, despite a series of government-sponsored reports calling for economic and environmental sustainability.

    Things came to a head late last year. Flooding caused thousands of people to be evacuated from their homes. Water tore at hillsides, opening the forest to big muddy wounds the color of dried blood. Never had Penang Island sustained such damage from storms that have become more frequent, according to meteorological records. Rain in November that measured over 400 millimeters (13 inches) in a day. The damage and deaths added fresh urgency and new recruits to Penang Island’s longest-running civic argument: Had the island’s growth become a hazard to life?

    George Town is far from alone in considering the answer. The 20th century-inspired patterns of rambunctious residential, industrial and infrastructure development have run headlong into the ferocious meteorological conditions of the 21st century. Coastal cities, where 60 percent of the world’s people live, are being challenged like never before by battering storms and deadly droughts. For instance, during a two-year period that ended in 2016, Chennai, India, along the Bay of Bengal, was brutalized by a typhoon and floods that killed over 400 people, and by a drought that prompted deadly protests over water scarcity. Houston drowned in a storm. Cape Town is in the midst of a two-year drought emergency.

    George Town last year joined the expanding list of cities forced by Nature to a profound reckoning. Between 2013 and mid-October 2017, according to state records, Penang recorded 119 flash floods. The annual incidence is increasing: 22 in 2013; 30 in 2016. Residents talk about a change in weather patterns for an island that once was distinguished by a mild and gentle climate but is now experiencing much more powerful storms with cyclone-force winds and deadly rain.

    Billions of dollars in new investment are at stake. Apartment towers in the path of mudslides and flash flooding rise on the north shore near George Town. Fresh timber clearing continues apace on the steep slopes of the island’s central mountain range, despite regulations that prohibit such activity. Demographers project that the island’s population could reach nearly 1 million by mid-century. That is, if the monstrous storms don’t drive people and businesses away — a trend that has put Chennai’s new high-tech corridor at risk.

    The urgency of the debate has pushed new advocates to join Kam Suan Pheng at the forefront of Penang Island’s environmental activism. One of them is Andrew Ng Yew Han, a 34-year-old teacher and documentary filmmaker whose “The Hills and the Sea” describes how big seabed reclamation projects on the island’s north end have significantly diminished fish stocks and hurt fishing villages. High-rise towers are swiftly pushing a centuries-old way of life out of existence. The same could happen to the more than 2,000 licensed fishermen and women contending with the much bigger reclamation proposals on the south coast.

    “How are they going to survive?” Han said in an interview. “This generation of fisherman will be wiped out. None of their kids want to be fisherman. Penang is holding a world fisherman conference in 2019. The city had the gall to use a picture of local fisherman as the poster. No one who’s coming here knows, ‘Hey you are reclaiming land and destroying livelihood of an entire fishing village.’”

    “We all want Penang to be progressive. To grow. To become a great city,” he adds on one of his videos. “But at whose expense? That’s the question. That’s the story I’m covering.”

  • Andrew Ng Yew Han, a 34-year-old teacher and documentary film maker whose “The Hills and the Sea” describes how big seabed reclamation projects on the island’s north end have significantly diminished fish  stocks and hurt fishing villages. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

    Another young advocate for sustainable growth is Rexy Prakash Chacko, a 26-year-old engineer documenting illegal forest clearing. Chacko is an active participant in the Penang Forum, the citizens’ group that held the big meeting on flooding last October. Nearly two years ago, he helped launch Penang Hills Watch, an online site that uses satellite imagery and photographs from residents to identify and map big cuts in the Penang hills — cuts that are illegal according to seldom-enforced state and federal laws.

    Kam Suan Pheng and other scientists link the hill clearing to the proliferation of flash flooding and extensive landslides that occur on the island now, even with moderate rainfall.

    In 1960, Malaysia anticipated a future problem with erosion when it passed the Land Conservation Act that designated much of Penang Island’s mountain forests off-limits to development. In 2007, Penang state prohibited development on slopes above an elevation of 76 meters (250 feet), and any slope with an incline greater than 25 degrees, or 47 percent.

    Images on Penang Hills Watch make it plainly apparent that both measures are routinely ignored. In 2015, the state confirmed as much when it made public a list of 55 blocks of high-rise housing, what the state called “special projects,” that had been built on hillsides above 76 meters or on slopes steeper than 25 degrees. The “special projects” encompassed 10,000 residences and buildings as tall as 45 stories.

 

Rexy Prakash Chacko, a 26-year-old engineer who helped launch Penang Hills Watch, an online site that uses satellite imagery and photographs from residents to identify and map big cuts in the Penang hills. Image by Keith Schneider for Mongabay.

“There is a lot of water coming down the hills now,” Chacko said in an interview. “It’s a lack of foresight. Planning has to take into account what happens when climate change is a factor. Clearing is happening. And in the last two years the rain is getting worse.

“You can imagine. People are concerned about this. There was so much lost from the water and the mud last year.”

Ignoring rules restricting development has consequences, as Kam Suan Pheng has pointed out since getting involved in the civic discussion about growth in 2015. After the October 2017 landslide, she noted that local officials insisted the apartment building where the 11 deaths occurred was under construction on flat ground. But, she told Mongabay, an investigation by the State Commission of Inquiry (SCI) found that the apartment construction site abutted a 60-degree slope made of granite, which is notoriously unstable when it becomes rain-saturated.

“State authorities continued to insist that development above protected hill land is prohibited,” Kam said in an email. “There is little to show that more stringent enforcement on hill slope development has been undertaken. Hopefully the findings of the SCI will serve as lessons for more stringent monitoring and enforcement of similar development projects so that the 11 lives have not been sacrificed in vain.”

 

Penang undersea tunnel developer CZC ‘duped into paying RM22mil’ at gun point?


GEORGE TOWN: The developer of the Penang undersea tunnel project claims it was duped into paying two individuals RM22mil to stop graft investigations.

Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd (CZC) senior executive director Datuk Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli (pic) said they were told that action would be taken against them if they did not pay.

“They (the duo) claimed to be the powers that be. Eventually, we found out it was not true. We were conned,” he said.

He said the company had previously followed all the rules.

“But at that particular period of time, we didn’t know what was the rule of law. It’s not bribery but the act was akin to putting a gun to my head,” he said.

Zarul Ahmad said he could not disclose the details because the case was still being investigated by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

“I believe soon they will come out with something pertaining to those issues,” he said.

Zarul Ahmad said things were different now after the outcome of GE14 on May 9.

“On May 10, I opened my window and I took a nice breath of fresh air and it was wonderful.

“Last time, I couldn’t answer certain things but now, I can because there is freedom of speech. I know I won’t get into trouble for making statements that I want to make,” he said at a hotel here yesterday.

In March, a 37-year-old Datuk Seri was picked up by MACC for allegedly receiving RM19mil from CZC to “help settle” investigations into the controversial RM6.3bil mega project comprising an undersea tunnel and three highways.

Former chief minister Lim Guan Eng said the state government was shocked at the news that CZC allegedly paid RM19mil to an unnamed businessman and RM3mil to an MP.

Zarul Ahmad said they had provided an explanation about the incident which was accepted by the Penang government two weeks ago.

CZC, the special purpose vehicle of the Penang project, had come under the spotlight after its two senior directors were picked up to assist in MACC investigations over alleged corruption claims.

MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong had raised numerous concerns about the project, including why the special pur­pose vehicle did not meet the RM381mil minimum paid-up capital requirement during the tender process.

Zarul Ahmad said they were adopting the just-in-time (JiT) philosophy, meaning the paid-up capital would only be increased when necessary.

He said 90% of the financing was done through the banks and they did not want to incur interests for nothing.

“That is the only way to reduce our cost and maximise returns.

“Why should we increase our paid-up capital to RM300mil or 400mil when we are only using a certain amount,” he said.

By Tan Sin Chow and Saran Yeoh The Star
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Looking East policy with a twist to China ?


 

Japan may have led Malaysia’s Look East policy of yore, but the stakes are heavily tipped in China’s favour now as the leader of the new world order.

PRIME Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (pic) has announced that Malaysia is renewing, or to be more precise, upgrading the Look East policy he adopted as a foreign policy 30 years ago.

It was unveiled after he came to power in 1981 and now, as the premier for the second time, he has picked up the pieces of his past and repackaged it.

His inclination to Japan then was understandable since the country was the rising star of Asia.

Although Look East included South Korea and Taiwan, it basically meant Japan.

There were sound reasons to why Dr Mahathir wanted Malaysia to emulate some of the East Asian characteristics, both economically and ethically.

I think any Malaysian who has visited Japan can vouch for the people’s work ethic, honesty, orderliness, politeness, punctuality, cleanliness, precision, dedication to excellence, innovation and good manners.

Malaysians in Japan feel safe – they rarely get cheated despite being tourists, which is more than can be said for many countries.

Personally, Japan remains my No. 1 holiday destination. Like Dr Mahathir, I have the highest admiration for the Japanese. They are certainly exemplary, and that is indisputable.

Dr Mahathir has continued to have high regard for the Japanese and history seems to be repeating itself.

His Look East Policy shocked and confused the Malaysian foreign ministry, with many officials viewing it as undefined and vague.

The Ministry being left in the dark about the Prime Minister’s move led to it being unaware of how to implement the policy.

Fast forward to 2018. It’s likely that his new batch of ministers were also caught off guard with the revival of the Look East policy, more so when the Foreign Minister has yet to be installed.

Without doubt, Japan is an important partner to Malaysia because we have more than six decades’ ties with the country.

In 2016, Japan ranked Malaysia as its fourth-largest trading partner with bilateral trade standing at RM120bil.The strong trade and investment relations between the nations are also underpinned by the Malaysia-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement.

The latest Malaysia-Japan collaboration includes the Bukit Bintang City Centre project, which has managed to attract the leading real estate group in the Land of the Rising Sun, Mitsui Fudisan Co Ltd, to invest in what will be the mega project’s RM1.6bil retail mall.

But Dr Mahathir’s choice of his first foreign visit to Japan as PM has raised many eyebrows. Perhaps it was just the coincidental timing of the annual Nikkei Conference, which he attends without fail.

I was told that his office had informed the Chinese Embassy here, as a matter of courtesy, to avoid reading into the matter, given the long, bitter rivalry between the two nations.

Dr Mahathir was also visiting Japan after a series of announcements, calling for the review, if not cancellation or postponement, of several mega Chinese-driven projects in Malaysia.

The method of repayments with China, involving huge amounts of money, has, of course, been called into question and condemned. One critic even described the terms as “strange.”

It’s apparent the situation is delicate now, and we need to tread carefully because we are dealing with a global leader.


Powerful alliance

The PM admitted that his government was “dealing with a very powerful country. As such, matters affecting both parties will require friendly discussions”.

Former finance minister Tun Daim Zainuddin also said that Malaysia will carefully handle business contracts with China made by the previous administration.

In an interview with The Star, Daim admitted that the economic superpower is a friend to Malaysia.

“China is very important to us,” the Council of Eminent Persons spokesman said.

“We enjoy very close relations, but unfortunately, under the previous administration, a lot of China contracts are tainted, difficult to understand and the terms are one-sided,” said Daim.

There is plenty at stake here. The world has also changed, and Malaysia needs to be mindful of its diplomatic move. These are sensitive times, and to the Chinese, the issue of “face” is an important one.

Whether we like it or not, the whole world is looking towards China because this is where the fundamental building blocks of a future global digital economic model is being curated and built.

Japan’s economy, on the other hand, has been in regression over the last two decades, and open data is easily available to prove this point. Just google it.

That aside, China is Malaysia’s largest trading partner in Asean, especially after Malaysia-China bilateral transactions rose as much as 28% to RM139.2bil in 2017’s first half.

The Chinese government has been very positive with bilateral relations with Malaysia over the years, and this great foundation is what we must build on. It doesn’t matter who the Malaysian Prime Minister is now.

With Ali Baba and Tencent coming to Malaysia, SMEs – which comprise more than 95% of Malaysian business entities – exporting to China will be a huge foreign trade opportunity.

Of all the Asean nations, Malaysia has the largest pool of businessmen who speak the relevant Chinese dialects and understand the culture. But it’s not just the Malaysian Chinese businessmen who stand to benefit, but other races too.

Let’s not forget that China will be under steady stewardship for the coming decade since Xi Jinping has strengthened his position as the premier. And with Dr Mahathir rightfully announcing that Malaysia will be a neutral country, this will mean a stable foreign policy which is crucial for the rules of engagement.

The same can’t be said of Japan, though, as it has a history of turbulent domestic politics, with frequent changes in leadership.

Truth be told, China has outperformed Japan. The republic has become a model of socio-economic reform that connects, not only the past with the present, but more importantly, can rewrite the history of human development into our common future.

The One Belt, One Road initiative is the future. It was also reported that China has overtaken Japan in global patent applications filed in 2017 and is closing in on the United States, the long-standing leader, the World Intellectual Property Organization said in a report.

With 48,882 filings, up 13.4% from a year earlier, Chinese entities came closer to their American counterparts, which filed 56,624 applications. Japanese applicants ranked third with 48,208 demands for patents, up 6.6% from a year ago, the report, released Wednesday, revealed. According to the Geneva-based institution, China will likely overtake the US as the world’s largest patent applicant within three years.

“This rapid rise in Chinese use of the international patent system shows that innovators there are increasingly looking outward, seeking to spread their original ideas into new markets as the Chinese economy continues its rapid transformation,” WIPO director-general Francis Gurry said.

The overall filings in 2017 were 243,500, up 4.5% from a year earlier.

Data indicates that China and Japan were key drivers of the surge in applications.

“This is part of a larger shift in the geography of innovation, with half of all international patent applications now originating in East Asia,” Gurry reportedly said.

Two Chinese firms topped the list, led by Huawei Technologies Co with 4,024 patent applications and ZTE Corp with 2,965 submissions. Intel Corp of the United States is placed third with 2,637 filings, followed by Mitsubishi Electric Corp with 2,521.

China has also declared its ambition to equal the US in its AI capability by 2020 and to be number one in the world by 2030.

If there is a single country to take a cue from, then it can only be China. Look at its growth since 1957, 1967, 1987, 1997 and 2017, and see the strides it has made in the shortest time. Remember, China was once poor and backwards. Many Malaysian Chinese used to send money back to their families in China, especially in 1950s and 1960s, and even 1970s. But look where the country is now.

Malaysia is in pole position to take advantage since our neighbour Singapore has always been perceived to be too US-centric. It will be a waste if we let politics get in the way, as no one can dispute that China now plays a respected and vital role.

Anyone can tell that China will reshape the new world order. It is the new Middle Kingdom and is the country to look to.

And Dr Mahathir should pick up on this because at the end of his trip to Japan, the press bombarded him with the predictable and nagging question – when will he be visiting China?

By Wong Chun Wai On The Beat

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.

 
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Penang new Chief Minister taking Penang to the next level


 

 

 

Man with a plan: Chow elaborating on his vision for Penang during an interview with The Star at Komtar in George Town.

Man with a plan: Chow elaborating on his vision for Penang during an interview with The Star at Komtar in George Town.

 

New CM Chow has a clear vision of how to develop the state into the next five years

 

“Economic growth with environmental sustainability would be an ideal situation rather than sacrificing the envoronment for the sake of development – Chow Kon Yeow”

 

GEORGE TOWN: It’s easy to understand why Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow is such a popular figure in Penang despite hailing from Kuala Lumpur.

Holding the exco portfolio of Local Government, Traffic Manage­ment and Flood Mitigation for the last two terms here was not an easy task, but Chow’s simple, frugal and austere ways won over the people and even his harshest critics.

Now he is in the hot seat as the chief executive. Here, he shares his thoughts on his plans to move Penang up another notch over the next five years, as well as personal and party matters. Below is an excerpt from the Q&A:

How are you keeping after more than two weeks into the top post in Penang?

It’s a continuation of where I left off for 10 years as a state executive councillor in 2008. At the Chief Minister’s office, I deal with a wider range of issues than my portfolios under Local Govern­ment, Traffic Management and Flood Mitigation, which were more focused.

As Chief Minister, I also have to look into investment and economic issues, besides being chairman of Penang Development Corporation, PBA Holdings Bhd and other state statutory bodies.

Which plans do you intend to see through in your first term?

Upon taking office on May 14, I took up the Transport portfolio because I intend to see to the implementation of at least some of the projects under the Penang Trans­port Master Plan (PTMP). It is too ambitious to say that we will implement all the projects, but they will be a priority.

On the projects by Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd (CZC) comprising the RM6.43bil undersea tunnel and three paired roads, we will likely begin construction for one of the three major roads.

As for SRS Consortium, the project delivery partner of PTMP, we will start the Light Rail Transit (LRT) project. Since it is tied to Penang South Reclamation (PSR) in the southern coast of Penang island, the reclamation of three man-made islands will have to start as well to finance the LRT project.

(The PSR is a massive plan to reclaim three islands totalling 1,800ha off the southern coast of Penang island. The success of PTMP, the state government’s multi-billion ringgit public transport project involving LRT, monorail, cable cars and water taxis, depends on funding from property development on the islands.)

One important element here is that people see the reclamation as solely financing the infrastructure projects, which is true in a sense. The man-made islands will not only finance the infrastructure projects, but the lands made available will help meet the development needs of Penang for the next 30 years.

It is near to the Bayan Lepas industrial electronic and electrical cluster. Taking it away from the cluster will not produce the synergy effect.

And preferably, the expansion of our industrial zone into the future must also be near to the cluster and Penang International Airport facilities.

So we can safely say that the three man-made islands are a sure thing?So we can safely say that the three man-made islands are a sure thing? /b>

It is subject to review by the Federal Government. We need approval from the Federal Govern­ment for any large-scale project and the reclamation is one of them. It has to be approved by the National Physical Planning Council. If we can get all the necessary reports to support our application, it will be tabled at the National Physical Planning Council for approval.

You said the LRT component of PTMP is your priority. When can we expect to see it materialise?

We have made a submission to the Land Public Transport Commis­sion (SPAD) since March 2016 for a railway scheme.

Besides the LRT line from Komtar to Bayan Lepas, we have also submitted the other alignment as a full package, as our depot will be built on one of the man-made islands that has yet to be reclaimed. We are still waiting for the environment impact assessment approval.

I believe our application is still active. Hopefully, it will be brought before the Transport Ministry for deliberation and approval.

Previously, it was either an undersea tunnel or a third bridge to link Bagan Ajam and Gurney Drive. What will it be now?

It is still too early to say. We can always make changes because of the cost factor. There is no firm decision on this. CZC will have to complete the feasibility studies first, which are now at 96%.

There is no hurry because even if we were to build the undersea tunnel, it would only take off in 2023.

Right now, CZC’s priority is to start building the 5.7km paired roads starting from Jalan Kampung Pisang in Ayer Itam and connecting with the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Express­way in Gelugor. It is one of the three major roads undertaken by CZC.


What are your thoughts on the claims that CZC paid RM22mil to cover up anti-graft investigations on the mega project comprising the undersea tunnel and three paired roads?

It is entirely up to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate, as it has nothing to do with the state government. We are not the approving authorities.

The concession companies ap­pointed by us are responsible for getting all the approval. What CZC told us was that it was basically political extortion. They were under great duress and had no choice but to believe that the other party could help smooth the process of getting the necessary approval.

This had nothing to do with the state government and we had no prior knowledge of it until it was reported in the media.

Penangites have been plagued by floods on some occasions. What are your plans to resolve this?

The first phase of Sungai Pinang Flood Mitigation project was completed in the late ‘90s and it never went beyond that. This project has been delayed for 18 years.

We need about RM600mil to resolve the problem. The money can be used to build a barrage along the river near the People’s Housing Project in Sungai Pinang. If there is a barrage, backflow from the sea during high tide would not flow inland.

Other components include the construction of pump houses, retention ponds, collector drains along the river, deepening of rivers and the raising of bunds. All these measures are expected to be completed in three and a half years.

We believe these measures will help mitigate floods. All designs can only cater to a certain capacity, so we cannot say that there will be no floods after this.

It is important to secure approval and funding from the Federal Gov­ernment. The Sungai Pinang Flood Mitigation project is vital because it has impact upstream, as there are six tributaries linked to Sungai Pinang.


Many hillslope developments have taken shape, especially in the Tanjung Bungah area, which has drawn concern from environmental activists. What is your take on this?

The current state government will not change the tight guideline of restricting development 76m or 250ft above sea level, although the national guideline can go up to 500ft. The guideline is very restrictive as it will prevent a lot of hill lands from being developed.

This guideline only came into place under the Penang Structure Plan approved in 2007. Before that, approval had already been given to certain developments we can’t stop abruptly. Under this category, there are many projects approved that went beyond the restriction.

I will get the Penang Island City Council to brief me on how much land is still left that is restricted by the guideline. If there is not much land left, we will consider that the guideline will prohibit hillside deve­lopment in the future.

If the guideline is still in place, the people of Penang must confront the fact that there won’t be any development beyond this guideline. Land will become expensive. If there is no reclamation, what will the future hold for Penang island?

Gentrification is an issue in George Town, with foreigners snapping up properties within the Heritage zone. What do you think of this?

Prior to interest in our heritage buildings and before the inscription of the Unesco World Heritage Site, there were a few hundred houses in need of refurbishment. Some houses collapsed during storms.

If you look at the heritage site today, there are few dilapidated houses left due to the interest in heritage properties. The owners have greater appreciation of their value.

My personal stance is to save the house first. If there are buyers, we should save the buildings and negotiate on their use later.

The Opposition in Penang is down to only three representatives – two from Umno and one from PAS. Will they be given any allocation?

They will be given allocation, although the figure may not be the same as the Government’s assemblymen. They rejected it last time, thinking that we were setting a trap on them.

Previously we offered them RM40,000 in annual allocation, but it will be more this time. The funds can be used to support the community, as well as assist organisations in their work and in getting facilities such as fax machines. The funds are meant for the people.

The Opposition is weak in the state assembly. How do you view this matter?

In a healthy Western democracy, when there is a weak Opposition, backbenchers play a more active role in scrutinising government policy. It is a working mechanism. A new check-and-balance in the ruling coalition can emerge to play this role of checking the executives and government on the use of public funds and policy.

Regarding tourism, is there any new programme that your administration would like to introduce to attract visitors within the next five years?

We should be more selective not only in terms of quantity matters, but in terms of quality as well. We need to have niche tourism markets to get high spenders.

At the moment, we cannot be choosy as we need them to fill up our hotel rooms and patronise our local businesses. But there will come a time when it will negatively impact the local environment.

We should move up a notch by focusing on higher spending and business travellers rather than the usual travellers.

In your own opinion, what should an ideal Penang look like?

Economic growth with environmental sustainability would be an ideal situation rather than sacrificing the environment for the sake of development.

Development has to be balanced not only geographically, but also in the strata of society, meaning that the B40 class (households earning RM3,900 a month or less) must be able to benefit from the economic development.

There must be job opportunities and stable income for them. They must not be sidelined or living in poverty without jobs. If jobs can be made available to foreign workers, why can’t it be the same for locals?

You won the Pengkalan Kota state seat in 1990, but lost it in 1995. What was it like having to start from square one?

I was back to full-time party work in 1998 to lead the party after the “Knock Out Kit Siang” internal party strife. After 1999, I was picked as state DAP chairman to continue the party’s struggle in Penang.

What was it like being a DAP-elected representative before and after 2008?

Very different. The government representatives have more resources to serve the people better. But we keep instilling the idealism of our party struggle and the long-term vision to win Federal power into our representatives so that they see a bigger vision for the party and themselves.

Many Penang DAP leaders are now in their 60s. Has the state party leadership identified the next echelon of leaders?

The party made a bold decision by fielding many new candidates in the 14th General Election. They have potential for future development in the Government and party. This is a rejuvenation process to prepare them for the future.

Source: The Star by alex tengtan sin chow

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Huge landslide in Tg Bungah hill

To Malaysia with love, from the world

Huge landslide in Tg Bungah hill


Disaster zone: An aerial view of the recent landslide in Tanjung Bungah, Penang.
An aerial view of the brown water flowing into the sea from Sungai Kelian.

GEORGE TOWN: Nobody knew a natural disaster was waiting to happen until Sungai Kelian in Tanjung Bungah turned brown and silty.

The sudden profusion of laterite mud flowing out to sea was caused by a landslide even bigger than the one that killed 11 people at a Tanjung Bungah construction site last year.

But it was so far uphill – 231m above sea level – that Penang Island City Council (MBPP) had to use a drone to find it.

As it was a natural landslide, residents are now worried about the fragility of slopes in the Tanjung Bungah hill range and want tighter scrutiny on the many development projects slated for their neighbourhood all the way to Batu Ferringhi.
MBPP issued a statement on Sunday after discovering the landslide on Bukit Batu Ferringhi, in the forest reserve about 1.5km uphill of a disused Penang Water Supply Corporation (PBAPP) intake station.

PBAPP chief executive officer Datuk Jaseni Maidinsa clarified that the station had not been in use since 1999, after the Teluk Bahang Dam was completed.

An MBPP engineer said the landslide was about 40m long and 20m wide, but geo-technical experts were unable to reach the site to determine what happened because there are no jungle trails to reach it.

A group called Nelayan Tanjung Tokong shared a video on Facebook last Thursday, showing the russet brown water flowing into the sea from Sungai Kelian and expressed concern.

Tanjung Bungah Residents Asso­ciation chairman Meenakshi Ra­­man said it was worrying because the landslide happened without any human disturbance.

“It shows the hills in the vicinity are ecologically fragile, and we don’t want any untoward incidents to happen again.

“We hope the authorities will tell us what is being done to prevent further landslides,” she said yesterday.

Former Tanjung Bungah assemblyman Teh Yee Cheu said he knew the area well and believed that the landslide took place near the source of Sungai Kelian.

“I have always stressed on how sensitive the hill slopes here are. There are many underground springs in the hills,” he said.

State Works, Utilities and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari said the landslide happened in the middle of a forest reserve and experts need time to study the slope to understand how it gave way.

He gave an assurance that the mud washing down the river would clear up in due course without long-term damage.

Zairil also stressed that no deve­lopment had been approved near the landslide area.

“The state government’s guidelines on hill slope development are tighter than those used by the Federal Government. We will not approve developments without pro­per compliance,” he added.

Penang Drainage and Irrigation Department director Mohd Azmin Hussin said that it would be difficult to transport machinery to the source of the landslide for mitigation works.

“There are no access roads and the team will have to hike to the site,” he said. – The Star

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Image result for Tanjung Bungah landslide
Image result for Tanjung Bungah landslide
Image result for Tanjung Bungah landslide

Image result for Tanjung Bungah landslide

Image result for Tanjung Bungah landslide

 

STATE exco member Jagdeep Singh Deo should stop talking only of the 76m altitude restriction and also talk of 25-degree slope gradient restriction on hillside development.

According to The Star on Labour Day, state exco member Jagdeep Singh Deo wrote in his Facebook page: “I want everyone to get their facts right during this election campaign…”, and he went on to state that the Penang government did not approve projects on land more than 76m (250 ft) above sea level.

The Penang Structure Plan clearly states that sensitive hill land is defined not only as land over 76m above sea level but also slopes of more than 25 degrees; the development of such land is restricted to “special projects” only.

Any construction on slopes of more than 25 degree contravenes the second condition. Hillside development cannot be discussed only with reference to the altitude.

For slope stability, the higher the slope face and the steeper the angle, the higher the risk of slope failure.

While the previous Barisan Nasional government here approved many such hillside developments, the record of the present state government shows that more development on sensitive hillsides have been approved.

State exco member Chow Kon Yeow, in his reply to an enquiry in the State Assembly on November 2015, revealed that 56 high-rise towers have been approved on sensitive hill land between 2008 and end-2015.

In the case of the Tanjung Bungah landslide tragedy, DAP leaders claimed that the project was on flat land when it was evident that it was built on land that was once a slope and had been cut flat.

During the earthworks stage of that project, a 20m high, 60-degree angle slope was then formed at the boundary.

It was this slope that failed and buried 11 workers alive.

Under the Hillside Development Guidelines 2012, such a slope is classified as Class Three. Submission requirements include a geo-technical report by a geo-technical engineer and a geo-technical review report by an independent checker.

At present, another proposed project above the Miami Green Resort Condominium is on Class Four land (with slopes greater than 35 degrees) which is classified as “Environmentally Sensitive Areas with Disaster Risk”.

Under the draft Penang Structure Plan 2020, no form of development is allowed on such land.

A technical review of the site by Zeezy Global, a consulting firm, found that the proposed development is on a hill, on Lot 62, with height ranges from 40m to 140m above sea level.

Almost 50% of the slopes have a gradient of more than 25 degrees, and in some areas as steep as 40 to 50 degrees. Some parts of the area designated for construction are higher than 76m.

The project consists of two 34-storey towers of serviced apartments, each with 336 units, and a 20-storey “affordable housing” tower with 197 units.

Two retention ponds larger than an Olympic-sized pool with total capacity of 5.2 millon litres on the hill are planned to cater to expected high surface run-offs during and after construction.

The existence of such a huge mass of water poses potential risks to residents if the slopes de-stabilise during or after construction, particularly if monitoring, maintenance and enforcement are weak.

Existing gunite slopes in Miami Green are not designed for additional loading.

With the new project, exertion of loads at the upper slopes could endanger the residents.

The disturbance from the construction could affect the integrity of the existing slope. No assurance has been made regarding risks of landslides or slope failures during and after construction.

In light of the Tanjung Bungah tragedy, lessons must be learned. If the local and state authorities do not have the technical capacity to implement, monitor and enforce the present hillside guidelines, a moratorium on hillside development should be imposed until such time that this problem is resolved.

The public should not be put at risk anymore. Eleven lives were lost and hopefully not in vain.

By Dr Lim Mah Hui Former Penang Island City councillor
Dr Lim says hillside development cannot be discussed only with reference to the altitude

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